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Talking with Christine Vachon; Unmasking the “Problem Director”

Talking with Christine Vachon; Unmasking the "Problem Director"

Killer FIlms producer Christine Vachon showed up at the IFP Market on Tuesday afternoon to promote her new book “A Killer Life,” the follow-up to her essential early tome “Shooting to Kill.” While the conversation (of which I moderated) was fruitful, the IFP organizers severely screwed up the venue choice, holding the talk in the middle of the IFP’s happy hour drinks in the cavernous main room of the Puck building. While I was trying to discuss the changes in the independent marketplace with the legendary producer, young filmmakers schmoozed in the background, clammoring for free cups of bad wine. The one consolation of the evening was that I got a free copy of Vachon’s latest producing autobiography and a nice conversation (even though half the room wasn’t listening to it).

I’ve only skimmed the book, but one particular chapter, called “Crashes and Burns,” immediately caught my eye. In the section, Vachon –and cowriter Austin Bunn — detail the problematic shoot of a particular film, without ever mentioning the project, or “The Problem Director,” by name. “No one told us the Director was, as we came to learn, a mess and unproduceable,” they write. The story goes on with bickering and threatening letters between “the Writer” and “the Director,” the Director alienating the studio, and the film eventually getting dumped.

With five minutes of detective work on IMDB, along with clues dropped in the book, it’s obvious the project was MGM’s “Crime and Punishment in Suburbia,” directed by Rob Schmidt and written by Larry Gross. I actually kind of liked the film when I saw it at Sundance 2000, and I had actually championed Schmidt’s work as a director, having visited the set of his earlier film “Saturn” for this indieWIRE story. We even named the film one of indieWIRE’s Best Films without Distribution of 1999.

I had always wondered what happened to Schmidt. Judging from Vachon’s book and his subsequent credits on IMDB, it sounds like he’s had a tough time bouncing back from the “Crime and Punishment” debacle.

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