Meet The Woman Who Produced Both White Girl & Kids

Photo: Christopher Patey/Getty Images.
White Girl's director Elizabeth Wood will be the first to tell you that the 1995 indie drama Kids was a big influence on her first feature film, in theaters September 2. Both films peel back New York City's glamour to show youthful hedonism in a realistic, relatable (if tragic) way. White Girl is about an optimistic blonde who begins to see the invisible privilege that buoys her naiveté; Kids shows teens partying and drinking, a vision of adolescence without judgment or lectures. It's fitting, then, that both movies share the same intrepid producer: Killer Films CEO Christine Vachon.

Since the release of Kids, Killer Films has been a leader in independent filmmaking, particularly in telling stories with compelling female characters: Carol and Still Alice are recent achievements. Kids was Vachon's earliest indie hit, and it continues to strike young people with its candidness. In it, Rosario Dawson and Chloë Sevigny play teenage girls who giggle about the first boys they had sex with, while their guy friends smoke weed and scheme about sleeping with pre-teen virgins. But the film went deeper, of course. HIV, sexual assault, and drug use shouldn't be relegated to movies about adults, and Kids showed exactly how teens in New York in the '90s struggled with these things, too.

"Kids came out 21 years ago," Vachon says, "and it felt like something wholly original." She told Refinery29 the same is true of White Girl, which she executive produced. "I believe it will find its audience, and that people will feel it’s speaking to them in a specific way that they haven’t heard before."

Vachon spoke to Refinery29 about how Kids has aged, why streaming services have changed the indie film industry, and how she finds projects that are right for her company.
How did you get involved with White Girl?
“Two of my colleagues came to me and said, ‘We’ve finally read a script that’s about something we feel like we’ve been looking for. We feel like we’ve finally been able to find a way to tell this story.' It feels so much about where we are right now, in terms of class and race and gentrification. We’ve found it all, and here it is, in this script. That was my introduction to it.”

Do you think White Girl builds upon a conversation Kids started 20 years ago?
“I think in some ways, it’s a feeling of freshness. It’s another movie that takes the gloves off and shows you a part of New York and a part of youth culture that people allude [to], but doesn’t really get shown in a very authentic way. When I made Kids, I was a lot closer to the age of the kids than I am now to the ages of the kids in White Girl. So Kids didn’t feel so far away from me in terms of what they were going through and what I was going through.”
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Photo: Courtesy of FilmRise.
Were you ever surprised, looking at White Girl, that young people are still acting this way?
“No, of course not! That’s part of the reason why when [my colleagues] came to me and said, ‘This is it,' I totally recognized what they were responding to.”

How do you think Kids has aged?
“I do find that when I speak at college campuses — which I do a lot — I often ask people if they’ve seen this movie or that movie of ours. For a long time, people hadn’t seen Kids. In the past few years, it’s become, for whatever reason, rediscovered. Suddenly I’ve found that many people have seen it. Young people, especially. They feel that it’s very relatable. I also think they feel, sometimes, a nostalgia. It was sort of the last grasp at an authentic film about youth with no social media whatsoever. It was almost like the last time you could do that.”

Wow. There’s not a lot of social media in White Girl.
“Right, but there are cell phones. It feels of this time. When we were shooting Kids, we gave all the kids beepers so that we could keep track of them. I remember constantly beeping the kids to tell them when they had to be on set, et cetera.”

Was there a sense on the set of Kids that you were all making a movie that was going to turn into something so important? And so cool?
“There never is that sense. I think if you knew that, then you could make sure you only made movies like that. And then I’d be a billionaire instead of a working stiff.

"When we were making Kids, it was pragmatic: It was the same as any other movie. We had this amount of script to shoot, this amount of days to do it in, this actor’s unavailable on this day… How are we going to make it all work? It was a very typical question of how do we fit our ambitions into a box but still make something extraordinary."

For a long time, people hadn’t seen Kids. In the past few years, it’s become, for whatever reason, rediscovered.

White Girl will have a theatrical run and then find a home on Netflix. What do you make of this model, which certainly wasn’t available when Kids was released?
"A movie like White Girl — and another movie we had at Sundance this year called Goat, with Nick Jonas — are films that have theatrical releases with a streaming component. These films are targeted for a young audience, and that’s how they see movies.

"I love seeing White Girl on a big screen, because it’s beautifully shot. I see something different in it every time I watch it. I’m amazed each time at the extraordinary work that Elizabeth [Wood] did. But I also know that people are not necessarily always going to go to the theater to see that movie or almost any movie. We’re still consuming narratives, and that’s the most important thing to me."
Photo: Everett Collection.
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I read a great quote of yours about timing — sometimes it’s hard for the right script, the right talent, and the right financing to all come together in the right zeitgeist. Why do you think this is the time for White Girl?
“It’s very authentic. It’s the kind of movie that makes people recognize that they’re feeling and sensing these same [observations] today. It hasn’t been tested yet — It’s had great festival play and some great reviews, but now we have to see if an audience embraces it. I believe it will find its audience, and people will feel that it’s speaking to them in a specific way that they haven’t heard before.”

There was a lot of controversy surrounding Kids when it came out, about how frank it was about sex and drug use. There was criticism that it was exploitative of young talent — what’s your take on that?
“No, I think that’s spurious. Kids was cast. There was a mix of ‘real actors’ and local, authentic kids in the film. White Girl was also cast with very professional actors who were doing a job. Kids had more [young actors] who’d never been on a movie set, and were definitely potentially vulnerable. But I feel like we protected them.”

How do you know when a project is a fit for Killer Films?
“First, I have to gauge its makability — is this something I can get financed, and get made, and get out into the world? Or is it something that feels so tough or specific or for such a small audience that I don’t feel like it’s something I can effectively get done? The scale and scope have to match the financial limitations.

"Then I have to think about the people who are involved — are we all making the same movie? And where can Killer make a difference? I try and make movies that I want to see myself."
This summer, we're celebrating the biggest movie season of the year with a new series called Blockbust-HER. We'll be looking at everything film-related from the female perspective, interviewing major players in the industry and discussing where Hollywood is doing right by women and where (all too often) it is failing them. And now...let's go to the movies!
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