Thriving over autism: RRFC student Dylan Rothbein graduates Recording AND Film Connection, releases debut short film!

“Mirror Indifference” directed by Dylan Rothbein

Talking with recent Film Connection grad Dylan Rothbein of Brooklyn, NY, not only is it evident he is something of a creative auteur, but it’s also evident he has some stories to tell. Catching up with him in person on the final day of his studies with Film Connection mentor Zef Cota of Alphabet City Films in New York, he was just putting the final touches on his debut short film Mirror Indifference, which he wrote and directed and for which he provided the original music!

Dylan describes his film as a satirical piece exposing some of the corruption he’s witnessed within the disability rights movement. It’s a topic close to his heart. As someone who lives with autism (he specifically identifies as Asperger’s), he has firsthand experience with several residential treatment centers and considers himself an activist for disability rights.

“A lot of the people who are in these settings can’t speak for themselves,” Dylan explains, “either because the severity of impairment is too great for them to do that, or they’re not in a position to. So I figured this would help give a voice to those people.”

To give context for his recent success, it’s worth mentioning this isn’t Dylan’s first experience with RRFC. A few years ago, he went through the Recording Connection program for audio engineering, which he explains was a natural progression from a passion for music he developed in his early teens.

“When I was 12 years old,” he says, “I was what’s called selectively mute…selectively I was not speaking. It’s considered to be a psychiatric disability. During that time, someone played me [the rock opera] Tommy. I became obsessed with rock and roll. Three months later, I wanted to start playing guitar. A couple years later, I started writing songs, and then when I was 14, 15, I went through therapy so I could speak…I got into all different types of rock and roll, folk music, blues, and all these things. That led to an interest in recording.”

After high school, Dylan says he tried college but soon found it wasn’t for him. “Through no fault of my own, the nature of the impairments…made it such where I was unable to complete college,” he says. “When college didn’t work out, I had to find a program for myself…I found Recording Connection, and I called them up and said, ‘This is what my needs are,’…I would have to say that Film Connection and Recording Connection, out of all the programs that I’ve been to, they’ve been the most accommodating by far.”

During his time in Recording Connection, Dylan’s interest in film was sparked when he inquired about getting his music placed in an indie film project called Keep the Change. “They ended up casting me as an actor, and I performed one of the songs I wrote in the film,” he says.

Film Connection mentor Zef Cota and crew

Dylan had an interest in writing stories, but because he was severely dyslexic, writing a book seemed impractical. Filmmaking offered an excellent alternative to tell stories visually, so after checking out several film schools, he returned to RRFC and enrolled as a Film Connection an extern. His mentor, Zef Cota, who was also present for this interview, picks up the thread:

“I didn’t know much about autism until I met Dylan,” says Zef. “I wanted to make sure that I was the right fit…because I’m not a guy that always sugarcoats things. So our first meeting together, we kind of put that on the table…I think we had a good rapport right away, and I saw that he was very driven and very passionate about kind of telling stories about this cause that he wants to raise awareness to and his own life’s story, which is pretty interesting…I saw that he was very serious about doing things.

Dylan doesn’t let obstacles stop him from accomplishing what he wants to achieve,” Zef adds. “That’s something that resonated deeply with me and something that I respect, quite frankly. So then it kind of fostered that collaboration of me wanting to help him even with a short.”

The resulting short, Mirror Indifference, became the focal point of Dylan’s training; Zef not only used the project as an opportunity to show him the ropes, but he also took an active role in producing the film. Meanwhile, Dylan shows no signs of stopping; he’s since written a script for his first feature, an autobiographical film based on his experiences. Due to his dyslexia, Dylan says he wrote the 100-page script by dictating it to a scribe.

“I figured out that the most marketable story I had was my own,” he says, “and there’s a market for the story I have to tell.”

Dylan is putting his original soundtrack for Mirror Indifference up for sale online, and plans to use proceeds from those sales to help fund the feature. In addition, his mentor, Zef, helped Dylan procure a producer to help with the next steps in getting his feature made!

“He’s in really good hands [with this producer],” says Zef. “I want him to be independent enough to hit the ground running, and then I want to basically be in the loop of all these wonderful things that are going to be created.”

Now embarking on the next stage of his creative journey, Dylan sees his time with Zef and the Film Connection as very formative for his future work.

“It’s not just film,” he says. “I’m more critical of my own work than I used to be. Because I realize a lot of principles, especially around writing…I’m now taking more time rewriting the songs that I’ve written and redrafting that…Also as a filmmaker, from a production standpoint, I learned a lot about production, about storytelling…I think I’m a better quality artist and a better musician because I was here, as well.”

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