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Book review: <i>Shooting to Kill</i> by Christine Vachon with David Edelstein



Shooting to kill is part biography of Christine Vachon’s vault into Producer Super Stardom and part DIY manual for struggling indie film-makers.

Vachon defines the often ambiguous role of Producer and the process by which she has helped create films of depth and resonance such as “The Velvet Goldmine”, “Poison”, “Safe”, “Kids”, “Boys Don’t Cry” and “I Shot Andy Warhol” all on tenuous and often changing budgets.

Vachon describes her collaborations with directors and screen writers like Todd Haynes and Gus Van Sant while divulging secrets of budgeting and fund raising for major motion pictures.

A sizeable section of the book is made up of actual budgeting broadsheets and production reports, the raw bones of any motion picture production. With these, Vachon goes to great length to demystify and explain, bit-by-bit, how a film is financed and made. While this may sound a little dreary, Vachon manages to squeeze in fascinating artefacts of the film-making industry and inject some of her own New York wit.

“You can’t really mess around in this area: (Special effects) You don’t want to risk your actors, let alone something irreplaceable like your camera.”

The budgets and broadsheets illustrate how an entire budget is spent and accounted for on a feature film. Vachon explains every single expense and how it fits into the budget as a whole. In addition to this exhaustive analysis of the finance of film-making, Vachon discusses more pragmatic issues such as the producer/director relationship, dealing with actors and extras and dealing with the ubiquitous S.A.G.

Apart from the dry anatomy of film production and budgeting, Vachon gives the reader a thrilling peek into the life of a motion picture producer through day-to-day production diaries, step-by-step descriptions of production deals and an overview of the entire process of production of Vachon’s current project (at the time of publication) “The Velvet Goldmine”.

Within this account, Vachon imparts several important lessons in independent film-making. She details key moments in the production of “The Velvet Goldmine” including a tragic “Deal gone Awry” section that documents the devastating culling of Velvet Goldmine’s budget from a modest $10 million down to a positively meager $2 million.

Shooting to Kill is a good mixture of practical, hard-edged information and learned, but world weary, knowledge. Vachon constructs a good balance between the DIY sections of the book and accounts of her own experiences in the film production world. The reader is a voyeur into the strange and tumultuous land of movie making and is let in on hundreds of stories about directors, big name actors, heavyweight studios and a riotously amusing battle between art and finance.

Vachon’s stories within Shooting to Kill are inspired and lighthearted but, at the same time, she does her best to earnestly prepare people for the world into which they are about to embark whether as students of film-making or only as casual readers of her book. Shooting To Kill is honest and passionate because Christine Vachon is passionate about her life’s work and it is this that she shares in Shooting To Kill—her passion and her desire in the world of making film, where so often artistic merit is bargained out for the good graces of rich film distributors.

Overall Shooting to Kill leaves the reader amazed and with a burning desire to become a film producer. Well if not quite that, then at least a feeling that such a task is indeed possible and a respectable insight into the often confusing world of film-making.

In short

Title: Shooting to Kill: How an Independent Producer Blasts Through Barriers to Make movies that Matter
Author: Christine Vachon and David Edelstein
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
ISBN: 0380798549
Year published: 1998
Pages: 352
Genre(s): Non-fiction
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