Interview: Christine Vachon, producer of Velvet Goldmine and Mildred Pierce

Christine VachonThe glittery new Blu-ray edition of the 1998 glam-rock movie Velvet Goldmine (Blu-ray $19.98, Lionsgate, release Dec. 13, 2011) features a lively new commentary track by director by Todd Haynes and producer Christine Vachon, who acknowledge that the film was a major professional and personal milestone for them both. Haynes and Vachon have been collaborating on films since 1991’s Poison, Haynes’ first feature film. Their most recent movie is the acclaimed HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce (Blu-ray $49.99, DVD $28.98, HBO, release Jan. 3, 2012).

Disc Dish spoke with Vachon about her work on Velvet Goldmine and the importance the film holds for herself and her favorite director.

Disc Dish: I’m psyched to be speaking to you about Velvet Goldmine, which I know meant a lot to you and [director and longtime collaborator] Todd Haynes.

Christine Vachon: Oh yes. We both love this movie so much.

DD: Prior to Velvet Goldmine, you produced two of Todd’s earliest features, Poison and Safe. What kind of benchmark was Velvet Goldmine in your professional and personal relationship with him?

CV: The experience of making it brought us so close together, and we found ourselves really leaning on each other both creatively and emotionally. Professionally, I guess the way I can best put it is that it was the time we began making movies with real stars and real budgets. I can’t remember Velvet Goldmine’s budget exactly, but it was somewhere around the $7 million range, which at the time was a lot of money. And it was an incredibly ambitious film filled with costumes and stars and set pieces. It had to feel real big and real and I think it did.

DD: The movie is probably best known for its soundtrack, which is filled with period songs, cover versions, new material and an original score. You could probably make a documentary on how you put all that together.Velvet Goldmine Blu-ray cover

CV: It was unbelievable, all the music. Right, rights, rights…

DD: David Bowie famously refused to grant you the rights to use his material.

CV: He did. That was early on, when Bowie’s camp told us we could not use his music. Todd had really conceived the film with all of Bowie’s music in place. But when we found out we couldn’t use it, in a weird way it was very liberating, because it gave us a chance to re-conceive the entire film, for the better, I think. I don’t know if Todd would completely agree with me.

DD: Starting anew certainly gave you an opportunity to deal with a handful of amazing musicians.

CV: It did. We had an an incredible dinner with Brian Eno and Bryan Ferry in London and they made amazing contributions to the film. All the musicians did — Grant Lee Buffalo, Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead, Placebo, Teenage Fanclub, so many.

DD: It must have been a daunting task to put it all together.

CV: It was definitely hard to keep it all organized. There was no Internet back then, of course, and my music supervisor was in New York City with musicians recording tracks and then FedExing them to us in London. We would get back our comments to them and there would be more FedExing back and forth and then we’d move forward.

DD: Yow. And that doesn’t even include the live music that was being shot on-set.

Velvet Goldmine movie scene
Jonathan Rhys Meyers goes glam in Velvet Goldmine.

CV: The live music and the performances were positively exhilarating. It always brought everyone to their feet and reminded us all of what we were doing.

DD: Both you and Todd talk about that in the new commentary track you recorded for the Blu-ray.

CV: You listened to the commentary? How was it?

DD: Outstanding, truly. I listened to it the whole way through, something I haven’t done in quite a long time, but that’s because you were both so into it. And Todd brought so much supplemental material with him to the recording session — notes, stuff from the Internet, old magazine articles. It was like listening to an eager dissertation.

CV: Todd took this commentary very seriously, just as he did the movie, which has really taken on a life of its own over the years. He really wanted to do it justice and give its fans all he could.

DD: Your contributions were also quite fine.

CV: Well, thank you. We had never done one for Velvet Goldmine, though I did them with Todd for Poison and Safe. Getting to watch the movie again was a real treat. We set out to make Velvet Goldmine the movie that it was at a time that was very important for both of us.

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.