Last Thursday, producer Christine Vachon of Killer Films visited campus to introduce a screening of the 2015 film “Carol” and answer audience questions afterwards.
During the screening, Vachon sat down for an interview with the Wellesley News to discuss her illustrious career. Vachon and fellow producer Pamela Koffler co-founded the independent film production company Killer Films in 1995, which has since produced more than 60 films, including “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Far From Heaven,” “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” “I’m Not There,” “Still Alice” and of course, “Carol.” The name of the company, Vachon explained, came from the use of “killer” as a positive descriptor, which was quite popular at the time, adding “we just liked it.” While “killer” no longer fits in the modern vernacular the way it once did, Killer Films has grown in both size and recognition in the past two decades. “We’re making more movies than we ever have,” Vachon said. Indeed, six feature films produced by Killer Films are being released this year alone, with several more in the work. These include “Wonderstruck” with frequent collaborator Todd Haynes, director of “Carol,” and a television series, “Z: The Beginning of Everything,” with Amazon Studios.
Regarding her own career path, Vachon said that while deciding to become a producer was a conscious choice (“I don’t think you can fall into something that is that all-consuming”), she did not take a direct path: “I started working in film and doing various jobs and then finally realized that what I was really interested in was the person who seemed to be calling all the shots in a very quiet way, and was looking at the movie from a very holistic point of view, which is very interesting to me, and could do that with more than one movie at a time.”
Vachon noted that the industry itself has changed considerably since Killer Films was founded. “These days, what do you even mean by a film?” she questioned. Regardless of whether it’s a film or a television series, modern audiences primarily watch content on devices like laptops or phones, as opposed to going to a cinema, which, Vachon asserted, makes all the difference. “Do you really make the distinction to yourself that this is film and this is television and this is a miniseries and this is a limited series? You probably don’t so much.”
Still, Vachon did note some key differences. “Television has become, in many ways, kind of ironically, the place where the more exciting stories go. Where people go to see ambiguous heroes and provocative endings,” she said. “Film has become more risk averse.” She similarly sees television as leading the film industry on the matter of increased diversity, “really just by doing the whole ‘if you build it, they will come’—and they do. Ultimately, people like to see stories that feel more inclusive than exclusive, because those are the lives we’re leading.”
But, regardless of the format, Vachon maintained that the same underlying principle is always at work. “I think we need storytelling. I think people thrive on it, they seek it out,” she said. “Sometimes that’s a podcast. Sometime’s that’s a sitcom. That’s what people really respond to—it’s narrative. I think that’s not going to go away.”
While by name it is as well known as “director” or “writer,” many people are a little less clear about what exactly the job of producer entails. “A producer is basically the engine that’s running the train. It’s pulling together the financing and all the other elements,” Vachon explained. “It’s the person who keeps it going, months, years at a time, trying to get it to the finish line. The finish line is initially just actually getting it into production and then there’s getting it out into the world and getting people to actually see it. So that’s really what a producer does, they do everything to keep the train on track.”
Vachon’s advice to any Wellesley students interested in pursuing a career as a producer? “I would say have a very open mind. Understand that the traditional paths to success don’t really exist any more.” She said that discovery often proves upsetting, but said that what newcomers need to realize is that, “sometimes you just have to go through whatever door opens. If you really want to be a content creator, then create content, you know? Start doing it now. When I started out, we could only shoot on film, that’s all there was, we didn’t have phones you could tell stories with but now you do, so that’s what I would say—just start creating content.”