A singular vision
October 20, 2006
''WE'VE got to get rid of the term independent," declares Christine Vachon, a film producer with little time for the verbal prevarications common in her profession.
"Independent film only ever used to mean a film that wasn't financed by one of the
Vachon, a forthright 43-year-old New Yorker, says this even though she's celebrated as one of the founders of modern American independent cinema. As the producer who nurtured Todd Haynes' Poison in 1991 and Tom Kalin's Swoon the following year, she fought for - and occasionally with - a generation of filmmakers whose collective body of work includes Safe, Kids, I Shot Andy Warhol, Velvet Goldmine, Happiness, Boys Don't Cry and Far From Heaven.
But Vachon, who has produced about 50 features and shorts, mostly through her aptly titled production house, Killer Films, is as much an iconoclast as some of the directors, including Haynes and Todd Solondz. She's interested in people with a "singularity of vision", and to get their work onto the screen she'll readily deal with foreign investors, wealthy dilettantes who want an executive producer credit or the "hip" independent wing of a corporate studio.
"Independent divisions are an inevitable development because there's now money to be made with smaller films. And the more of them there are the better off producers are, because there's more financing sources," Vachon says.
"A producer's role hasn't really changed: they're still the engine on a film and that's true whether it's a studio film or not. With the kind of films we make at Killer the financing tends to be as complicated as the production."
While Killer is renowned for introducing politically and sexually challenging concepts to a mainstream audience, Vachon is unassuming and workmanlike, familiar with the more prosaic elements of film producing - in other words, she knows how to fire people.
Her lack of sentimentality was apparent from an early age, when the university graduate with an interest in gender politics who aspired to be a director (an early Vachon short was titled Don't Look Up My Skirt Unless You Mean It) decided that Haynes, a former classmate, was so talented that producing his pictures would be more satisfying than making her own.
When it comes to retrospectives of her career, such as the Australian Centre for the Moving Image's Focus on Christine Vachon, which features 18 titles she has produced, she's proud but not given to introspection. When
"The great thing about filmmaking is that it lasts," she says. "You can actually see what you did years and years later. I'm proud of the work that we've done and that people still see it, but I try not to draw any conclusions from that."
Vachon, who last week finished overseeing production on Haynes' Bob Dylan biopic, I'm Not There, used to joke that when she went to
"The collective experience of people watching a film in a dark room is on the way out, or at least becoming rarer and rarer," Vachon points out. "The fact is, most people now experience a movie in their living room.
"Also, celluloid itself is disappearing. In a few years, with the exception of a handful of purists, there'll be very little celluloid involved in filmmaking. You can lament that, but that's just the way it is."