There's no arguing that Christine Vachon and Pamela Koffler's New York-based production company Killer Films is synonymous with the indie film movement. Since breaking out onto the indie scene in a huge way by taking the 1991 Sundance Film Festival by storm with their Grand Jury Prize-winning stunner "Poison," directed by a then up-and-coming Todd Haynes, Killer Films has made good on their breakout calling card by becoming one of the most influential indie production companies in the game ("Boys Don't Cry," "Far From Heaven" and HBO's "Mildred Pierce" are among their most high profile projects to date).
And by all accounts, their stature shows no signs of dwindling. This year alone, they have a staggering seven films either completed or nearing it, two of which are world premiering at the Sundance Film Festival this weekend: "Magic Magic," starring Michael Cera and directed by Sebastian Silva ("The Maid"), and the long-in-the-works beat poet biopic, "Kill Your Darlings," starring Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Elizabeth Olsen and Ben Foster.
Indiewire caught up with Vachon and Koffler earlier this week in New York to discuss their Sundance slate, how the festival has evolved over the years, and their thoughts on the other Silva/Cera collaboration that just premiered last night, "Cystal Fairy."
We're less than two days away from Sundance. How are you two keeping up?
Vachon: You know, it's been the curse of Sundance -- and I say this with tremendous gratitude, of course. It's after the holidays, which means that unless you're that rare movie that's finished way back in October, you're usually finishing it over Christmas and New Years, which isn't for the faint of heart.
When did you lock on both films?
Vachon: Oh (laughs), like last week. They were both mixing over the holidays.
Having seen your company grow in stature over the years in tandem with Sundance's own growth, how has your relationship evolved since first breaking out with "Poison."
Vachon: Actually the first time I went tot Sundance was with my own short film, and my short film was programmed by Alberto Garcia, who worked under Tony Safford…A long time a go (laughs).
The festival, when we brought "Poison" and "Swoon" there, it wasn't really a place you went to sell films. There wasn't a market there, not really. And then "Go Fish" sold there -- that was the first film of mine to sell at the festival. But the thing is, look, we've had our fair share of disappointments at Sundance like anybody else. But I have to say what I've really seen over the years under Jeff's guidance and now under Cooper's, is that the festival has really managed to stick to its own guns.
Koffler: It's always like this catalyst of thought. What does it mean? How do we take away what Sundance showed and how the business was and what movies were working, just on a creative level -- and talk about it. It's a reflection and a refraction at the same time.
How do you view the festival now? When you go with two films, as you are doing this year, what matters most: getting the film swiftly picked up, or garnering a positive critical reception that could help lead to a coveted future deal?
Vachon: Well they're related you know what I mean? Look, when you go to Sundance, you want your movie to be one of those lightning rod movies that everybody's talking about. The amazing film about a film festival is how the rest of the world falls away. Everything is just about the movies. And then of course all the business, what sold for what.
Was Sundance always on your minds when first conceiving “Kill Your Darlings” and “Magic Magic”?
Vachon: Well "Kill Your Darlings" absolutely. He's a first time filmmaker and his short showed there. Also the subject matter -- that kind of personal filmmaking is really right for Sundance.
And "Magic Magic," Sebastian premiered "The Maid" there a few years ago and that put him on the map.
How early in the process of making a film do you start thinking of what festival would be the best fit?
Koffler: It's really decided by when you think you'll be done.
Have you two ever put a film on a shelf for an extended period of time in order to premiere at the festival you deemed a best fit?
Vachon: I don't think so.
Koffler: I think there's enough opportunity in festivals to really time when it's done and ready. I can't think of one where that was an advantage to say, “Let’s not go to Toronto. Better wait for Sundance.”
Beat poets seem to be all the rage right now in indie film, thanks to films like "On the Road," "HOWL" and last year's documentary "The Beat Hotel." What do you account for this sudden interest in this world on film?
Vachon: I don't know that it's so sudden. The reason I feel the beats are always kind of with us in this way is because there's something about the books, the poetry and the way they lived their lives that feels extremely young and full of possibility. I feel like because of that, it allows a new generation to discover them. I mean I remember…I sometimes tell this joke that a million years ago when we were making "Velvet Goldmine," Jonathan Rhys Meyers came to set and was listening to "Blood on the Tracks," and he said to me "Have you heard this, it's so amazing!" And I was like "Everybody's heard that!." But he was 18-years-old. But Bob Dylan has that quality in a way -- that timelessness that allows each generation to say, "That's mine."