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L’Histoire de la Mili-Teri


An interview with filmmaker Dawn Westlake

How did you come up with this project?
DW: My husband  had just been shipped on January 5th to
Kuwait to cover the war as a news producer. Two days later, I was in the shower wondering whatever happened to this woman I once knew in Spain named MariPili (short for Maria Pilar), and then I thought, wouldn’t it be funny if there was someone in the world named Milicent-Therese and her friends called her Mili-Teri? The whole thing literally took off after that. I sat down and wrote the script that week, got confirmation from my co-director/DP Richard Berman that he could start shooting on January 25th, and I already had cast the piece amongst good friends and neighbors.

But, where did you get Mili-Teri’s authentic uniforms on such short notice?
DW: Well, I had played an Englishwoman who was in the French Foreign Legion in a feature film called HENRY X over the summer, and I bought my uniforms from the producer of that film because I thought they’d make good Halloween costumes some day. In fact, the producer/writer/co-director/star of HENRY X plays Colonel Michel de la Petit Mort in this film…in his HENRY X costume! So, same regiment, but we went from British accents in his project to French accents in mine.

But, why the "don’t ask, don’t tell" angle?
DW :Both my husband and I are huge supporters of civil rights for gays and lesbians. I find it appalling that so many of our great soldiers are homosexual, and they are expected to fight and die for a country that won’t even recognize their love relationships legally. On the lighter side, I really enjoyed playing with the stereotypes of straights in the military and just switching them; for example, when it’s revealed that Mili met her husband in a gay bar. It’s humorous to think that she walked in there in her dress uniform, looking to pick up a young man (like soldiers look for young women on leave), and she was successful because as her husband Leisle informs us in the next scene, "She was the most masculine thing I’d ever seen!"

You mentioned earlier that you cast out of good friends and neighbors…tell me about your crew and other logistics of the shoot.
DW: Well, I’d worked with my editors, Tom and Joel Moser, as animators on my last film, DOTTIE: THE LITTLE GIRL WITH THE BIG VOICE; and I met co-director/cinematographer Richard Berman as a fellow actor on HENRY X. He was a co-captain in the French Foreign Legion with me! We had just the two of us and the actors and one helper per day, so it was extremely intimate, and I think that’s the only way a film like this could be done so quickly. We shot over three days…two Saturdays and a Sunday. It was edited together in 3 days and then the graphics and sound mix took just 7 more days.

What are the advantages of being an actress/writer/producer/director? And, what are the difficulties?
DW :Acting is a vacation for me; writing is a passion; producing is a chore; and directing I’ve only recently stumbled into, so I’m not sure what I think of it yet. However, I cannot direct myself, so Richard totally did that. The advantages are that you get to tell your story on your terms, but I’m very collaborative (I think my crew would agree…HA!), so I listen to everyone and then make a decision…and many times, my ideas are changed and made better with the help of the extra "heads" on my crew. The disadvantages are that I wish I had money for an assistant. For example, I spent TWO DAYS running around looking for fake plastic poo for Mili to do her push-ups over. It was a nightmare. I kept thinking, "I have to have something better than this to do. Is this joke even that funny?"

This is your third short. Don’t you want to write/produce/direct features?
DW :Well, of course! And, I have written several feature scripts. However, it comes down to money and "attaching" names always, and I don’t find those things very inspiring. In fact, those activities can be the death of a creative career. An actor should act, a writer should write, a producer should produce, etc…and the short form lets you do that, instantly. You don’t have to take endless meetings with flakey stars and flakey financiers who keep you mired in rewrites and actor-scheduling nightmares while you wait for the cash to come in. Peace of mind is extremely important to me, and through experience I’ve found that productivity brings that peace, so up until now, I’ve just been trying to do the best I can with my short films. I do have two feature scripts I think I can pull off with my skeleton crew and my skeleton budgets, so I am looking into making them my next projects.

What are the future plans for the film?
DW:I want as many people as possible to see it. So, I’m lining up festivals, screenings, broadcast possibilities…I want to get it to some organizations that deal in conflict resolution and non-violence education to perhaps make a difference that way. Also, I hope it’s a vehicle for me, for the other actors in the film, and Richard, and the Mosers to get our names out there and all have more work, of course.

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