Interview with Christine Vachon, producer of Kill Your Darlings
You have been an independent film producer for three decades and founded your production company, Killer Films, in 1995. How did you become a producer and what aspects of the job do you enjoy the most today?
I became a producer… really I started working on movies as a production assistant and started exploring other aspects of production like location managing and assistant directing, in particular. Then just slowly it dawned on me that the most interesting to me was the person who was kind of calling all the shots, which was the producer. Also at that time Todd Haynes and I were working together, and he made a film called Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, and when I saw that film I really felt like, OK, this guys is insanely talented and I want to produce for him. So that was kind of how it began.
And what do I enjoy about the job?
Getting the movies off the ground. That’s like every time we do it, it’s like a miracle.
You have produced critically acclaimed, daring films like Boys Don’t Cry, Far From Heaven, and I’m Not There. Now that big studios are more interested in making franchises and reworking already recognizable material, what role do you think independent films play in providing an alternative for moviegoers?
What role do independent films play in providing an alternative? I mean, I guess that’s really what they are. They are the alternative. Especially these days when the studios become more and more risk averse, the independent films are the only place where you can really go on the big screen—not on the small screen because the small screen is doing it too—but independent films are where you go to find ambiguous endings, non-likable heroes, etc.
You have worked with women directors such as Kimberly Peirce and Rose Troche. Do you think it is harder for women directors to have their projects green lit?
I think it’s just harder for women to be directors and nobody really likes my answer why, which is because women tend to want to have children and it’s just a very bad combo. It’s very tough, you know, and most women, not all, but most women are the primary caretakers of their children, and if you’re investing 10 million dollars into a film, you don’t want to hear that the director can’t show up because her kid is sick, you know what I mean? That’s just the reality, and I think it’s harder for women to occupy that sort of mindset of being able to only focus on the movie and not on their families. I just think it’s tougher.
So I happen to know that you have a child—
But I’m not a director.
So I was going to say, does that affect your role as a producer or do you think it’s easier as a producer to have a child?
I think it’s easier as a producer because you can be focused on several different things at the same time and when you’re a director you really cannot.
Many of our readers are emerging women filmmakers interested in making independent films. Do you have any advice for them as they hone their craft?
No, I don’t. I mean, they have to tell really compelling stories. I never am good at that advice question. I don’t really know what people want to hear. It’s just like, advice? Just go fucking do it.
That’s great advice, actually.
As the walls between film, TV, and made-for-the-web content come down, what can filmmakers do to make relevant and visible work?
They should just keep doing what they’re doing. It just means that it’s easier to get eyeballs on their work.
Most of the questions we receive at agnès films have to do with funding fiction films and documentaries. When seeking to fund a project, what sorts of avenues are in your opinion more successful, especially for people embarking on their first feature?
You know, if you’re embarking on your first feature, the best avenue is your parents. Look, it’s tougher now than it’s ever been to find financing for these movies, especially for films that are personal and not riddled with big stars, so I think filmmakers have to really think about who they’re making their movies for and start thinking about ways to reach their audience almost before they start making their movie. They have to start really thinking about what is the relationship between the budget of their film and the accessibility/commerciality of their subject matter.
Are there any particular strategies that are good in terms of finding funding besides having a good sense of who your audience is and what their needs are?
No, I mean, that’s really what it’s all about.
We also receive a large number of queries regarding how to obtain theatrical and TV distribution. Can you discuss the approaches you have found useful in distributing films in those venues?
How do you get distribution? Well, you make a movie, take it to a film festival, and try and sell it is the answer, but these days that’s not always so easy, and even if you do manage to do that, not that many films are sold these days, and not that many are sold for theatrical, so I think filmmakers should be exploring more and more ways of self-distribution, different platforms that they can access themselves, etc.
Are there particular festivals that are better for finding distribution?
You know the answer to that.
[Laughs] I know, but our readers don’t.
Yes, Sundance, Toronto, Cannes, South by Southwest. Those are the biggies.
Can you discuss the role of VOD (Video on demand) in making a film financially viable even if its theatrical run is not a great success?
Well, VOD is becoming more and more the place where movies do make their money, and, in fact, I think most distributors are starting to consider theatrical simply a fairly expensive advertising for the VOD. What hasn’t happened yet is VOD numbers aren’t really transparent, so it’s hard to know the same way we know what the number 1 film was this weekend. We’re not adding in VOD numbers into a movie’s successful financial life because we don’t know what they are, and I think that has to change.
Kill Your Darlings, a John Krokidas film you produced, is currently in theaters and has had excellent critical reception. What aspects of this film do you think audiences will connect to the most?
The Daniel Radcliffe aspect.
[Laughs] Anything else?
Yes, I mean, it’s a great story. It’s got some thriller elements. It’s about young characters that I think people can relate to. It’s about finding yourself. It’s got a lot of universal themes.
What projects is Killer Films working on right now and what plans do you have to stay on top of the constantly changing film landscape in the coming years?
We’re working on two movies. One I can’t talk to you about yet. We’re working on another one called Carol that Todd Haynes is directing with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. It’s based on a Patricia Highsmith novel.
And do you have any strategies for staying on top of things?
I just keep doing what I’m doing.
We’ll leave that as the advice for our filmmakers. How about that?
To learn more about Kill Your Darlings, click here.
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