SFIFF: State of the Cinema Address

Last night I attended Christine Vachon’s State of the Cinema address. By her own count, Vachon has produced over 60 films (IMDB says 65), including Boys Don’t Cry, Happiness, I Shot Andy Warhol, and The Notorious Bettie Page. On the other hand, she’s also produced I’m Not There and Cracks; not everything she made is a masterpiece.

But she’s definitely an independent producer with an extremely impressive track record. Her films have been daring and experimental, and have helped launch numerous careers. And enough of them have been profitable to keep her in the business.

If I was trying to break into movies, I’d want her on my side.

She came onstage in an untucked tee-shirt and jeans at 9:00, carrying a wine glass. “It’s like midnight for me," she admitted, apparently having just flown in from the East Coast. "They supplied me with a glass of wine, so I’ll be really honest.”

She talked a great deal about how television and the Internet are changing the nature of the business and the art, and about how overall this is a good thing. Television offers more artistic freedom than movies these days, and the Internet allows unknown filmmakers to get their work seen.

She noted that a lot of filmmakers are reluctant to embrace new technology. “I remember when we changed from cutting on film to Avid, and a lot of filmmakers objected."

Here are a few choice comments:

  • “I’ve produced over 60 films, which is unreal. It doesn’t make sense to me either. I’ve seen independent film die and be reborn over and over."
  • While discussing contracts that require her to regularly post about the movie on Facebook and Twitter. "We have to think about how we build community now."
  • “When I started, there was Hollywood, and there were experimental films…then I started to see filmmakers like Jim Jarmish…and the Coen Brothers making movies, and not asking permission to make them. That’s what filmmakers are doing again."
  • “Cinema is happening on YouTube. The state of cinema is not necessarily taking place in theaters.”
  • "TV is so much less risk-averse than cinema these days. Young people have grown up with fantastic television."
  • "It’s super-exiciting to me that it’s so much easier to make a professional-looking movie. When I was making Poison, a $100,000 didn’t get you much. Today you can make an extraordinary movie for half or a quarter of that."
  • "Hulu’s what HBO was 15 years ago. It’s beginning to do original content. I feel that the play with portals is just going to become more interesting."
  • "You have more access to 1974 content than you had in 1974."
  • "Working with HBO was terrific. It’s a terrific company with a real vision of what they do and what they’re trying to accomplish. Nothing bad there."

At one point, in defining the types of films she makes, she used a term that I’d never heard before but liked very much: execution-dependent. It means that your film has to be well-made to work. Hollywood prefers films that are execution-independent.

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