Christine Vachon says her job as a movie producer is like the engine on a train that keeps a film project moving. With her production company Killer Films, Vachon has been the “little engine that could,” bringing more than 100 movie projects to the screen.
Vachon will be Film Cincinnati’s special guest Wednesday night, March 6, at 7 p.m. in the Jarson-Kaplan Theater at the Aronoff Center for “An Evening with Christine Vachon” to discuss her career and the ins and outs of the movie business. In advance of her appearance, Vachon chatted with Film Cincinnati about her career as a producer.
Vachon, along with her business partner Pamela Koffler, founded Killer Films in 1995 and have produced such movies as Boys Don’t Cry, Far From Heaven and Still Alice. But over the last few years Cincinnati has become almost a second home for Killer, shooting such movies as Carol, A Kind of Murder, Goat and My Days of Mercy here. Vachon says picking Cincinnati for a film location is an easy choice for a producer.
“When we came with Carol, we really discovered that there was an ability to recreate 1950s New York here that seems very unique,” she said. “As people in Cincinnati are well aware, there’s a similar, but on a much smaller scale, grid system downtown. We even scouted the Cincinnati subway for another movie and even though it’s falling apart, you can see it was modeled after a New York subway.
“So that was what brought us here originally. And then what really kept us here was because Kristen (Schlotman) and her office at Film Cincinnati work so beautifully with productions in terms of easing their way, helping you figure out what makes sense pragmatically and creatively. That’s a tremendous asset, and it’s hard to quantify, but it’s not just about saving money but it’s the ease of the experience.
“And there’s a good crew base here that’s getting stronger and stronger. I love seeing that there are people who were just starting out on Carol who are now really active in the film community. It’s just a nice place to shoot.”
Vachon currently is in Cincinnati with the crew of Dry Run, directed by her friend Todd Haynes, whom she has known since their days at Brown University. She and Todd have worked together on a number of other projects, including Carol, Wonderstruck and I’m Not There.
“We started working together on his first feature film, Poison (1991). We have had a really wonderful collaboration; he’s a very good friend. I don’t do what he does, these are his movies, but I consider myself extraordinarily privileged that I get to help bring them to the screen.”
Bringing movies to the screen may sound like a glamorous job, but Vachon has her own take on what she does, especially for an independent film producer like Killer Films. “Every movie is its own epic tale of how it almost didn’t come together but then it did. A good producer is one part tireless cheerleader, another part pragmatist. So much about producing is figuring out what is that one thing you can do to advance your film towards production or your content, whatever it is.”
As the director of the Master’s in Fine Arts program at Stony Brook, Vachon hears a lot from students who want to get into the business. “Usually you can cure someone from wanting to be in film by having them spend a day on a film set,” she said. “That old axiom, hurry up and wait all day, it’s very true. It’s pretty much what you’re doing, sitting around, waiting for something to happen. But the few who actually stick with it, it’s incredibly rewarding to tell stories that people respond to.”
Vachon’s films have won Oscars (Boys Don’t Cry and Still Alice) and Independent Spirit Awards (Far From Heaven). She has had movies at Cannes, at Sundance and at the Toronto film festival, among others. But she says the most satisfaction she gets from her films, comes from the local movie theater. “Film festivals are one thing,” she said, “premieres are another thing, and they’re great, but what’s really a celebration for me is the first time a paying audience sees a film and appreciates it.
“When people are plunking down their money and have made a decision to see YOUR movie, to go out, pay the babysitter, do whatever they have to do to get them into a theater, that’s intensely gratifying.”
Tickets are still available to see Christine Vachon Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at the Aronoff Center. Tickets are $20 general admission, and students are free. Tickets are available at Cincinnatiarts.org and at the Aronoff Center ticket box office.
Photo credit: Christopher Patey