Interview with Christine Vachon, founder of Killer Films, at our Columbia New Media Producing class

Nov 14, 2012 

Rm 511 in Dodge Hall, Columbia University, NYC

Professor Lance Weiler interviews Christine Vachon

Lance: Can you talk a bit about how you balance the director’s creative impulses with your producer’s financial mindset?

Christine: Creative and financial decisions are utterly intertwined. When a director tries to divide them, it has a negative effect on everyone. When you believe everyone is watching your back, it frees you to say what you think. At the end of the day, I know that anything Todd (Haynes) wants to do, I want to do.

Lance: Can you talk about the series? You said you’ve made six films since January. Can you speak to volume?

Christine: Nowadays, we make six movies and we make on six what we used to make on two, so it has turned into a volume business. But you can’t really schedule exactly when you’re going to make a movie.  The casting, the locations, the financing and all these aspects need to come together. Suddenly the movie comes to life and you just have to run after it. But they all follow the model of “let’s take them to festivals and sell them.” We look into new ways of distribution, but the investors still want to do it the old way.

Lance: And why is that?

Christine: We’re obviously in a time of great change. But the sales agents, the foreign buyers… it’s all we know how to do. Even though our piece of the pie gets smaller and smaller, we’re gonna keep doing it.

Lance: You said you’ve done some TV. Can you talk about that?

Christine: My first TV series was This American Life, which won an Emmy. It’s a revered radio show, so the question was how to adapt it. Mildred Pierce was like making two movies. It was like making anything with Todd (Haynes), but there was an airdate that was set in stone. In fact, Todd’s mother died at the beginning of post-production, and HBO called Todd and said, “we’re so sorry…take all the time you need” and then they called me and said, “we are not changing the airdate. Communicate that to Todd.”

Lance: Is there anything Killer hasn’t done that you want to do?

Christine: The only thing we really want to break into is how to work with brands. We did a successful Ace Hotel program with Massify. We had a contest for short films and produced three. But we could have produced ten – they were so good. For me, it was the perfect collaboration with brands and film in a way that everyone benefits. So I’m always looking for that, but I have to build those relationships with the brands.

Lance: In closing, is there anything you wish that someone had told you that you had to find out the hard way?

Christine: I don’t know because I don’t know if there’s anything people can tell you. There are things like, be true to yourself and stick to your guns, but the biggest thing is that as soon as you learn something, everything will change and it will be a whole new thing so you really have to love the time you’re in and don’t be nostalgic. Love the time you’re in.

Lance: (To students) Do you guys have any questions for Christine?

Student: How do you see growth with the product and the brand?

Christine: At the end of the day, I want to make cool work. I’m always looking for opportunities to do that. I like working with first-time filmmakers who are new to the business and aren’t following a traditional trajectory. So I try to leave room for Killer to do that. So how do I do that? I can’t just give grants. So I see working with brands as another way to bring new filmmakers into our fold. And there are things that wouldn’t fit with what we do. But the work with Ace Hotel gave me a cool creative box to work with three new filmmakers and make three cool films. I’m currently looking for brands to sponsor a project with actors directing shorts that feature them doing something they don’t usually do. And I think that’s just cool since it means being able to work with new line producers, DP’s and crew – it’s just good for the new blood of our company. 

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