DECADE: Vachon, Part 2
by Maya Churi and Mark Rabinowitz/indieWIRE
indieWIRE's conversation with Christine Vachon continues...
iW: How is the environment for financing indies now? For you it is
probably easier, but in terms of sources that are there and methods that are
Vachon: The single biggest change is that the importance of cast
has infiltrated every level to the point, I mean, one of the fun things
about making a movie for under a million or two bucks was that you could
really cast whoever you wanted. And now, even when you're making a movie
for peanuts, you're still being told about this kid from "Dawson's Creek,"
about this kid from "90210," it's kind of insane. At every level, casting
becomes a nightmare. Somebody asked us, how did we think of casting Hilary
Swank in "Boys Don't Cry" and Pam [Koffler] said, "Well, actually, we were
able to cast the movie." Which is so unusual these days that you can
actually bring people in, have them read for the part and pick the best one.
So that's the single biggest thing that has changed in a way that's been a
big pain in the ass. But otherwise, there's just a constant ebb and flow,
the conventional way to finance a movie shifts all the time. You can go to
a studio, you can work with a sales agent, work with a bank, all those
different kinds of ways.
And in a way for me, I try to start putting together a movie and then I
start trying to listen with my ear to the ground, what is the market saying
back to me? Like, how commercial is this film? Which translates to me, how
much money should it be made for to not lose everybody [whose] involved's
money. I need our movies to make money at least part of the time or else I
can't keep making them, so I have to be very cognizant of that, even though
I also remain a bastion of integrity [laughs]. But then it's like, okay,
what kind of cast, and if it's this cast then it seems more appropriate for
this kind of character trait, and then that seems like that will appeal to
this kind of -- you see what I mean? It's kind of listening and constructing
as I listen, what seems the most probable scenario for this film to get out
in the world. And sometimes I'm wrong. And sometimes a company that I would
have thought wouldn't have had anything to do with it says, no, no, we want
to be in the business of this filmmaker. It really depends.
iW: You have been able to remain independent and hold on to the reputation
of being independent and working with directors with independent vision. The
indie film equivalent of keeping your head while everyone else loses theirs.
How has that worked out?
Vachon: We really made a decision not so long ago, I mean, we look at our
competitors/colleagues, which I guess here in New York are The Shooting
Gallery and Good Machine, and both of those companies, while they still
produce movies, have really gone into other businesses. Because producing
movies is just a difficult, miserable way to make a living [laughs]. So
Good Machine has really gone into the foreign sales business, and that's
great. And Shooting Gallery has started a great post-production facility,
and those are things that make money, and are certainly a lot more reliable
than producing these insane films. We contemplated that for a while. Then
we realized that the thing that happens when you start to do that is that
starts to be what you are, because it's a much easier way to live your life.
And we know how good we are, we know that we are fantastic producers, we
know that our taste is terrific, and we finally had to reconcile the fact
that that's what we are. We are great producers. So that's the business
we're going to stay in.
"...the importance of cast has infiltrated every level...one of the
And even though it is difficult and every year when you think it's going to
get easier, it doesn't. And sometimes Pam and I just look at each other and
laugh that we are still dealing with the same stupid problem that we dealt
with two years ago, like the PA who goes home with the keys to the grip
truck, or something like that. And it's just like, how come we are still
here? At the same time, we have the enormous privilege of making movies
like "Boys Don't Cry," "Crime and Punishment in Suburbia" or whatever it's
being called these days, which are just exciting and fresh and fabulous and
it's great. And "Boys Don't Cry" is an example of a movie that took us five
years to get made, and it was just like dogged determination, somehow, some
way, we believe in it and we're just going to get it there.
iW: Maybe it's always happened, but I've noticed more recently, both larger
studios and their specialty divisions have been almost poaching from the
indie film world in terms of not necessarily talent, though that's there
too, but in style of filmmaking.
Vachon: Yeah, but filmmaking is so derivative anyway, everyone's always
poaching from each other. It's one of the beauties of the art, don't you
iW: True, but now a studio like Dreamworks making a $15 million film like
Vachon: I just did a series of meetings last week in Los Angeles, and
virtually every studio head or studio executive has their "why I passed on
"American Beauty" story. So it's not like other people didn't have the
chance, you know what I mean? So if someone was smart enough and visionary
enough to see what that movie could be, then more power to them whether
they're at Dreamworks or Miramax or some guy on the street.
iW: I was surprised to find out that it was a studio [Disney's Touchstone] who financed "Rushmore."
Vachon: It think there's a bit of a feeling now that in some ways the
studios are taking bigger chances than the independents. A lot of the
independents have become somewhat formulaic and we certainly don't
discriminate. We don't really care. We have movies right now with Miramax ,
a Kasi Lemmons movie, a movie with New Line, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."
We've got a movie with Renaissance in Britain, Rose Troche's next film. We
are financing our movies in a variety of ways. "Crime and Punishment" was
financed by MGM/UA. Whatever it takes. So I guess I'm too pragmatic to look
at it in any other way. I don't care. My ultimate feeling is, independent
film is sort of a misnomer anyway, because no film is really independent.
The only really independent film is a movie that you make with your own
money that you earned yourself. Otherwise, it's dependent on somebody or
something, and somebody's looking to get it back, whether it's a studio or
your uncle Joe. That's what it's about. So I guess in the way the term has
become more meaningless to me.
"...independent film is sort of a misnomer anyway, because no film is
iW: How have you seen the environment change for first-time filmmakers?
Vachon: It's tough, I feel like we're in a good position because we have a
very good reputation for them, picking them, deciding which ones actually
have it and surrounding them with the kind of team that will get the best
work out of them. They're hard, first-time filmmakers. They're no walk in
the park. But at the same time, first-time filmmakers tend to be making the
movie that they've spent their lives dreaming out. And there's an
excitement being around that