is writer and director based in NYC. Her documentary, “The Perfect Victim
,” was on the PBS series “America Reframed
” after premiering at the Hot Springs International Film Festival. The film won a Telly Award and was nominated for a Silver Gavel Award. Rohrbaugh previously worked as a writer and director at MTV, where she won an Emmy Award and multiple Ctam Awards.
” will premiere at the 2017 La Film Festival on June 15. The film is co-directed by Daniel Powell
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.ER
” is the story of an aimless singer-songwriter who moves back in with her mom, a former nun, after her cross-country move to be with her long-distance girlfriend ends in disaster. After weeks of moping, Becks
begins exploring her hometown of St. Louis in a half-baked attempt to put her life back together.
She begins singing and playing music at her friend’s bar where she finds catharsis in playing her breakup music. She meets and befriends the wife of the guy who outed her at prom and starts giving her guitar lessons.
As she struggles to put the pieces of her life together she learns to look at her past from a new perspective and works to let go of co-dependent relationships.
W&H: What drew you to this story?ER
: This story is loosely inspired by a very good friend of mine, Alyssa Robbins
, whose music is used throughout the film. She is a singer-songwriter and teacher who was going through a difficult breakup during a time that I was back in my hometown of St. Louis.
She found herself back home with her mom and began touring through the Midwest performing her music at local bars and clubs. She came through St. Louis and played at a tiny retro 24-hour diner on a Sunday night and the show was bizarre and beautiful, and filled with an odd but enthusiastic crowd.
The cathartic and honest nature of her performance even left the owner — a gruff man likely in his mid 70s — in tears as he reflected on his relationship with his own daughter. I left that evening feeling like I had lived a scene from a movie, and became drawn in as I reflected on my own place in life.
Despite the fact that from an outside perspective it would seem that Alyssa and I lived very different lives, we were actually in the exact same place — too old to not have our shit together and too young to be having our respective midlife crises.Dan Powell
and I had been working to collaborate on a feature narrative together and were throwing ideas around when I told him about this experience. We became very inspired by the idea of using a real person as the basis for a character — finding a way to practically incorporate her music, and creating a modern musical.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?ER
: I would like for the audience to leave the theater feeling inspired and moved to make an active change in their lives. I know — that’s a tall order.
I hope that people will love the music and the incredible performances from Lena Hall
, Mena Suvari
, Christine Lahti
, and Dan Fogler
, and will feel touched by the film’s ending.
I hope that the characters feel like real to life, complex, and fully formed people. I would like to send the message that people are messy and imperfect beings, and that nobody really has it figured out.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?ER
: Honestly, as far as production goes I had a glorious, amazing, life-changing experience. I had so much fun and Dan and I work splendidly together. It was my first time co-directing and it was wonderful. The entire shoot came together very quickly and having two directors allowed us to give attention to details that could have otherwise gone ignored had we not had the bandwidth.
Finding our key location was very difficult as we needed to be able to find a spot in the NYC area that could pass for suburban St. Louis and had no time and no money. Ultimately I found a place on Airbnb that was perfect and that we could afford.
For me personally, I was in the middle of moving two children and a household from St. Louis to Brooklyn and basically had to ignore living in squalor out of boxes for a couple of months. My parents and husband were incredibly supportive taking me off mom-duty entirely during prep and shooting.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.ER
: Our funding came from Dan and my’s production companies, Irony Point and Outer Borough Pictures respectively, along with an investment from Tony Hernandez
at Jax Media
. Jax also provided us with all of our office space for pre-production and production.
We have a stellar beast of a producer, Alex Bach
, who was masterful at making this film happen. I still don’t know quite how she pulled it off with our budget.
Dan and I have also been working in the industry for a decade each and called in all of the favors we had waiting for us.
W&H: What does it mean for you to have your film play at Laff?ER
: I am thrilled and excited and also a nervous wreck! But that is just who I am. I actually love observing an audience watch my work to gauge their reactions to lines, jokes, emotional scenes, and so forth.
To be able to premiere our first feature at one of the top indie film festivals in the country is a dream for me — probably in the way that some people dream about their wedding. I fantasize about film festivals.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?ER
: The worst advice I have received — I will not mention who gave it — is that in a relationship only one person can have a focused career, particularly when kids come around. I very briefly followed that advice and was very depressed and unfulfilled. I have since discovered that my professional passions are a large part of my relationship and my family as a whole, and have become a much happier person as a result.
The best advice I have received, from my husband, was to start career and life coaching, which I have done with Betsy Capes at Capes Coaching. It has helped me remove the clutter of insecurity and distraction and helped me focus on getting what I want. It has been a phenomenal way to find my career path.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?ER
: My advice is generic but true, which is that this is quite hard and takes a long time. Do this if you love it and if you love it then do it all the way. Make stuff as much as you can. Save up and make a short. But make sure that the script is on point and the casting is the best that it possibly can be — that you have prepared everything.
Hire the best people you can possibly afford, trust them to be professionals, and know what they are talking about. Develop friendships with talented people who you can collaborate with for years to come. Look at your peers — these are the people you will come up with so begin working together now. Develop a shorthand. And trust your vision above all else.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.ER
: “Slums of Beverly Hills
” by Tamara Jenkins
. I haven’t seen it for years and have no idea if it holds up. “The Savages
” is probably technically a better movie as I think her style became more nuanced and sophisticated, but I still love “Slums” more.
I was shown her shorts at Nyu in a film class and was immediately obsessed. She spoke the female coming-of-age language in such a fresh and different way and I adored it. I love Kevin Corrigan
as the romantic interest in “Slums” and Natasha Lyonne
After I saw the shorts I requested an interview with her for a class. She let me come to her apartment and interview her, which devolved into me professing my admiration and asking if I could work for her for free. She politely declined.
W&H: There have been significant conversations over the last couple of years about increasing the amount of opportunities for women directors yet the numbers have not increased. Are you optimistic about the possibilities for change? Share any thoughts you might have on this topic.ER
: I deeply hope that more female filmmakers are recognized by the film community. From my time as a film student at Nyu I have always been aware that this is a male-driven industry and it takes chutzpah to persist in a field where you may not always be taken seriously.
That said, I have had tremendous mentors, male and female, who have supported me wholeheartedly throughout my career. I love working with female crew members on set and feel that it lends itself to a very collaborative process.
When we wrapped “Becks
” I said that my life goal is just to get to do this again and again and again. I can only hope that the work resonates with a wide audience because that will ultimately prove our worth.
Unfortunately, getting a movie made is difficult and there is no rule book. I think we need to just keep pushing, and making stuff and moving forward. I’m writing another screenplay right now and will crawl through the mud to get it made.
Laff 2017 Women Directors: Meet Elizabeth Rohrbaugh
” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium
, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.