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The Milk Man Cometh: Channeling a Passion for Film into an Honors Thesis

Publication date

September 22, 2020 2:45 PM


Julia Prager-Hessel



Ben Davis knew he wanted to pursue filmmaking when he was in high school; after watching low-budget, yet meaningful movies, he knew that he could produce films too. Now, he has integrated the production of his first feature-length film, Milk Man, with his senior Honors Thesis.

Milk Man is the story of Roman Jack, a college student who often gets himself into trouble. Ben classifies the film as a “collegiate crime thriller,” with an underlying love story at heart. He has always been interested in centering anti-heroes in his stories; “you want them to succeed, but you don’t know why,” he says. He says that, at the surface, it is a simple story, but it is designed with improvisation and deep character exposition in mind. In the end, he hopes it will carry a “naturalistic, documentary-esque feel.”

As Ben started writing the script for Milk Man this past summer, he was largely inspired by the “Dogme 95” filmmaking movement. “Dogme 95” was a Danish movement that emerged around the turn of the century as a rejection of elaborate special effects, focusing instead on the story and artistic expression by the writers and actors. Though Ben’s film does not adhere strictly to the rules of the movement, the “rawness” of the Dogme philosophy has helped him navigate budget and COVID-19 restrictions while also providing an academic framework for his film. Ben has always gravitated toward crime films, and started writing this first film with the genre in mind because he felt that he could fit the form well while working within his limitations. In fact, Ben says that limits have made him more creative. 

Ben conceived the plot and wrote the script, and is now working with fellow Honors Thesis writer Ross Brill on the performance and production aspects of the film. While the pair had initially planned to work on the film independently of Tulane, they decided to reach out to the theater department to develop the production. Ben credits professors Jenny Mercein, Victor Holtcamp, Monica Payne and Jeffrey Gunshol of the Department of Theatre and Dance with guiding the development of this project, his thesis, and his academic perspective on filmmaking.

Ben has been thinking about how his film will reach audiences nearly from its conception. “Distribution isn’t putting the cart before the horse,” he says, “especially when you’re making something for the price of a small sedan.” Ben plans to submit Milk Man to festivals, launch it on online platforms, and eventually have a screening, COVID-19 permitting. Ultimately, though, Ben hopes that the film will incite an audience response, whoever that audience turns out to be. “I think the worst thing is if you come out of a movie not either loving or hating it,” he says. “I want them to feel strongly about it for a reason.” While he doesn’t write with an end theme or meaning in mind, Ben wants his audience to come away from the film thinking about desire, as he says that Milk Man is, at its core, about “not wanting to hurt those you love, but not really having a choice.”

Ben intends Milk Man to be the first of many films. “I like the fact that it’s a lifelong endeavor to learn filmmaking, and I want to do it for the rest of my life,” he says. He says that expensive, elaborate Hollywood productions sometimes feel empty, and that he wants to bring back the “grittiness.” Inspired by the Dogme 95 movement of the 1990s and early 2000s, Ben wants to be part of a movement in the future. “One of my huge goals in filmmaking is to be at the forefront, or be with a lot of fellow filmmakers, that are spearheading a sort of revolution in film that you saw in the ’60s and early ’90s.” If all goes as planned, Ben plans to start shooting Milk Man early next semester, and to have it edited by April. Make sure to look out for Milk Man– the film and the thesis– soon, and more films by Ben Davis in the future.