It was important for me to hear Christine Vachon’s Keynote speech, because my interests lie with the more “artistic” side of filmmaking, so I don’t know a whole lot about the world of producing. Surprisingly (though maybe it shouldn’t have been) the art of filmmaking was brought up more than a few times.
Wait, sorry, “storytelling,” not “filmmaking.” That was one big thing Vachon emphasized; she’s trying to train herself to say storyteller rather than filmmaker, because with all the avenues and platforms available for projects, they don’t always end up on film. She said nowadays one of the first things her production company, Killer Films asks when taking on a project is, “what makes [it] theatrical?” Sometimes they have a story that doesn’t really work as a theatrical production, but they still want to make it. According to Vachon, many young filmmakers she works with are very transmedia savvy – they don’t just think about the film version of their story; also the web series version, video game version, and so on. Unfortunately, it can be incredibly difficult to pitch these kinds of stories to very traditionally minded film executives.
She also mentions something that was brought up during the Film Criticism panel and by Jeff Nichols during his panel: the financing of indie films is based heavily on foreign pre-sales (and the financiers typically don’t want anything different or challenging); it’s been that way for years; it’s unbelievably outdated, but nothing has come along to replace it. The issues of making female driven stories also came up (as it did in Film Criticism). Vachon used as an example one of the most recent films produced by Killer Films, the Oscar-winner Still Alice. She called it a battle every step of the way, “like threading a needle in a snowstorm.” Despite securing Julianne Moore in the lead role, the financiers kept asking, “so who’s going to play her husband.” Vachon said with the success of other platforms (like television) with female leads (again, I refer you back to Film Criticism), film seems to be getting left in the dust. She doesn’t know why film has resisted progress for so long.
Like the other Keynotes, Vachon was kind enough to some advice to budding filmmakers, sorry, storytellers. She said good storytellers should watch everything, don’t limit themselves by genre or content, and, “take pleasure in the works of others.” Also, be open to new avenues, no matter how different from your chosen path; if you want to be a stoyboard artist but get offered the job of cinematographer, take it. For my money, that’s advice worth taking no matter what kind of storyteller you are.