It's hard for Vachon to watch a movie sometimes without thinking about this stuff. She notices how many camera angles were used in a particular sequence, for example, or will find herself thinking, "That scene took five hours to light." When your life is about getting quality movies made with limited resources, it's hard not to obsess.
"Our company is about putting the money up on the screen," Vachon will say, "though we're not adverse to making money. I know we're bastions of integrity"--she smiles and rolls her eyes--"but we have to make a living."
Vachon means it when she uses the word "we." She's worked with Koffler, 34, for seven years, and their complementary partnership is talked about within the industry as a perfect match: the tenacious, pragmatic and sometimes sharp-tongued Vachon and the diplomatic, unflappable and organized Koffler.
Over a hasty lunch between screenings the other day, Koffler clicked off her cell phone and announced good-naturedly: "We're having a typically Killer problem." She'd just learned that the print of "Crime and Punishment," which was supposed to be at Sundance already, had not yet arrived in Utah. Vachon looked momentarily stricken. Koffler was unfazed.
"We've got to give you something to scream about," Koffler told Vachon sweetly before picking up her phone to solve the problem.
Later, Vachon would explain that being a worrier works for her. "Whenever I'm nervous about something, there's always a reason. I do get insane, but I'm always right."
'Fierce Determination in This Woman'
Vachon's parents took her to see "Patton" when she was 7. She's been passionate about movies ever since. Growing up in Manhattan, she frequented theaters that showed classics like "Rules of the Game" and "The 400 Blows." But she also admits to seeing "The Poseidon Adventure" five times.
At Brown University, she studied film in the semiotics department, immersing herself in theory and history. She did not go to film school. "I know, lots of people learn the basics there," she wrote in her book. "The problem is that everyone who comes out says, 'I want to be a director.' Somebody has to make the coffee."
She worked a lot of unpaid jobs--gofer, prop girl--to learn the business, working nights as a freelance copy editor to pay her rent. When she finally began to get paid, it was very little money for all kinds of work: assistant editor, location scout, script supervisor. Then, in 1987, she, Haynes and another friend from college formed Apparatus Productions to help fund and produce experimental work.
"Christine had the most experience," Haynes remembers of that time. "And there was a fierce determination in this woman that seemed to withstand anything."
Vachon, meanwhile, was inspired by Haynes, who at the time had just finished a 43-minute stop-action film, made with Barbie dolls, that has since become a cult classic. Titled "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story," it charted the rise of the Carpenters pop duo as its lead singer wasted away from anorexia nervosa. Never released (Richard Carpenter blocked the use of the original music and sicced lawyers on Haynes), the movie was, Vachon thought, precisely the kind of filmmaking she wanted to do.
Their first feature together was "Poison," a film whose homo-erotic themes (and partial funding by the National Endowment for the Arts) sparked the wrath of the Rev. Donald Wildmon, head of the American Family Assn. Vachon credits the letters Wildmon sent to every member of Congress with helping to fuel interest in the film.
Next came "Swoon," Tom Kalin's 1992 feature about the famous Leopold and Loeb murder case. Vachon was dubbed "the Queen of Queer Cinema," an appellation she says she loathed. But she didn't change course. In 1994 came the lesbian love story "Go Fish," by director Rose Troche, and Steve McLean's "Postcards From America." The next year Vachon produced three movies: Haynes' "Safe," Clark's "Kids" and Nigel Finch's "Stonewall," about the historic gay rioting in New York.
In 1996, Vachon and Koffler--who'd line-produced "Kids"--formed Killer Films. The name was drawn, in part, from their first project: "Office Killer," directed by photographer Cindy Sherman. They've made eight films since, and have scores more in development, including Whit Stillman's adaptation of the novel "Red Azalea" and John Cameron Mitchell's film of the off-Broadway smash hit "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."
Asked what draws her to a project, Vachon ticked off three essentials: "One, the screenplay itself--is it provocative and fresh or can you put it down? Two, the director--are they a psycho or are they collaborative? Can you stand to spend two years with them? And three, is it something we can sell? Is there a role that a great actress is going to be dying to play?"
When told that some will be surprised that she takes a movie's commercial prospects into consideration, she made a face.