Wise Words From a Hollywood Producer

Professor James Jennewein held a (A with world-renowned producer Christine Vachon at Fordham Law School (ELISABETH O'NEILL/THE OBSERVER)

Professor James Jennewein held a (A with world-renowned producer Christine Vachon at Fordham Law School (ELISABETH O'NEILL/THE OBSERVER)

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By ELISABETH O’NEILL
Staff Writer

What do Academy Award nominated films “Carol” (2015), starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, and “Still Alice” (2014), starring Julianne Moore have in common? Christine Vachon. On Thursday, March 15, professor James Jennewein moderated a special Q&A with the world-renowned producer sponsored by the Fordham chapter of the New York Film & Television Student Alliance (NYFSTA), an organization allied with the Governor’s Office of Film & Television that aims to bring in professionals “who have years of real-word experience telling stories either in, from, of or behind the camera,” according to Professor Jennewein. In addition to producing Oscar nominated films, Vachon, along with partner Pamela Koffler, is the co-creator of the Killer Films production company, which has produced over 100 film and television projects. As Jennewein raved, “Christine Vachon is one of the leading indie film producers of our time.”

The Q&A which took place at the Fordham Law School building, began with Vachon talking about her early years in producing. Growing up in NYC and attending Brown University, she highlighted three different channels that aspiring producers usually take early in their careers: production, distribution and development. Vachon took the production route early in her career, when she was “interested in swelling of art [and the] mix of fashion, film and music.” In the 1980s, Vachon became interested in the rise of “personal filmmaking,” or movies that were personal and original but still needed production, from directors such as Spike Lee. She also attributed the start of MTV to opening up a new production market for music videos. Today, she is mostly interested in producing movies that are “arthouse,” movies that follow the filmmakers personal and artistic vision, and “character driven.”

When asked what a producer specifically does, Vachon explained that a producer provides “the engine on the train.” The producer also “attaches elements,” “oversees budgeting” and “keeps it alive” – “it” being the project the producer is managing. On many films, there are usually several producers listed in the credits. As Vachon states, this begs the question: What exactly makes the producer? She says that you do not necessarily need to be “the one sitting at the monitor” to be considered one of the producers. As an example, she states that a line producer, one who manages the daily budget and operations of a movie, is still an integral part of the production team, though they may not be on set for the majority of filming.

Throughout the interview, Professor Jennewein quoted Vachon from a speech she gave when accepting a lifetime achievement award at Sundance Film Festival. Titled “Tips on Surviving as a Producer,” Vachon discusses several essential points when becoming and being a producer. When describing what the job of a producer involves, Vachon relayed what a friend had joked to her: “You send out the invites, book the caterer, manage the guest list. And then, not only are you not invited, you are expected to pay the tab, and then clean up when everyone leaves! Ok, so it’s not all that bad, but there is a kernel of truth there.” Vachon also agreed with Professor Jennewein when he stated that a “successful producer is about endurance.” This was especially prevalent when she described the production of a movie she is working on taking more than two years.

During the Q&A, Vachon provided the audience with an insider’s scoop on the producing industry, one that was especially insightful since she is one of the most successful people in her field. She inspired everyone in the room, including aspiring producers like Isabella Malfi, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’21. Already being familiar with some of Vachon’s work, Malfi shared, “Producing is definitely something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I didn’t really know how to put a name on it, or like what it is exactly.” When hearing Vachon describe the different channels one can pursue in producing, Malfi also mentioned, “It was so enlightening to know it’s not so cut and dry.”

Christina Vachon, along with her team at Killer Films, are on their way to producing more films that achieve cinematic excellence. Their latest endeavor, “Vox Lux,” starring Natalie Portman and Jude Law with music by Sia, just finished filming and is currently in post production.