SXSW keynote Christine Vachon: It’s not filmmaker anymore, it’s storyteller

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Julianne Moore appears in a scene from the film, “Still Alice.” (Linda Kallerus)

At her SXSW Film keynote address Tuesday morning (which was really a Q and A with Variety film critic Todd Foundas,) Killer Films producer Christine Vachon made the case for replacing “film-maker” with “story-teller,” reminded everyone that VOD might not be a cure-all and told the assembled  that after seeing Todd Haynes first movie, the somewhat mythical “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story,” “I never wanted to see another of his movies without my name on it.” And she hasn’t.

The interview with Vachon went in a couple of different directions; she seemed of multiple minds on a couple of subjects. Here are some highlights

* Like Mark Duplass a few days earlier, Vachon emphasized filmmakers finding a community. For example, Vachon sees crowd-funding more about building an audience and a community for the film more than serious fund-raising. “Community is really critical in this day and age” to tell your stories, Vachon said. “It has never been more important for storytellers.”

*Unlike Duplass, she questioned the notion that video on demand was a savoir. “How we consume is affecting the content,” Vachon said, noting that downward pressure on budgets has sped everything up: prep, shoots. etc. “Falling budgets forced us to interrogate the scripts in a way we didn’t have to before,” Vachon said.

* (Vachon didn’t say this, but it is worth noting that this feeds into a critique of the Duplass model. After all, Duplass, by his own admission, specializes in producing low-budget relationship movies, i.e. movies that probably play just as well if not better on the small screen.)

Julianne Moore in "Still Alice"

Julianne Moore in “Still Alice”

* Then again, Vachon said that getting the money to make a movie of some scale is still very often based on pre-sales to foreign markets, which means movie stars.  In re: Killer Films’ Oscar-winning “Still Alice,” Vachon said that female-driven dramas are tough to get made. “Financiers are like, ‘Who is gonna play the husband? even on ‘Still Alice’ where we had Julianne Moore.”

*On television: “As indie films become more risk averse,  television is more willing to take those chances,” Vachon said. These days, instead of cutting down a four-hour cut opf “Boys Don’t Cry,” “maybe we’d make it as a miniseries.”

* After all, she noted, far more diverse stories on television than movies: “TV has left film in the dust; I don’t have cut and dried answer as to why the film business had resisted what ever other media has embraced” in re: diversity.

* Besides, she said, “lines start to blur when you’re watching everything on your computer.”

* One of the keys to creative partnerships: “Make sure everyone is making the same movie.”

* People coming into work force have this set idea of what they do, she said. Instead, one should “walk through the doors that open to you.” Even if you think you are director, take a job in the art department.

“Every great filmmaker I know watches EVERYTHING,” she said. “They take pleasure in the work of others.”

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