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!"
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
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
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.