Legendary producer and indie film powerhouse Christine Vachon of Killer Films has joined the Stony Brook Southampton faculty, moving the vibrant and emerging campus a giant step closer to the goal of establishing a new, innovative graduate program in film.
“Adding Vachon to the faculty is especially exciting,” said Associate Provost Robert Reeves, “because she is bringing her production company, Killer Films, with her.”
Last week Reeves and company extended a warm welcome to the prolific producer, honoring her at the fifth annual Pakula Prize evening in Avram Theater. Vachon’s extraordinary career as a producer includes more than 60 feature films, among them award-winning titles such as Boys Don’t Cry, Far From Heaven, Happiness, I’m Not There, and Mildred Pierce for HBO.
Joining with Killer Films, Reeves added, creates a significant opportunity to build a cutting-edge graduate program. “By adapting to the enormous changes in technology and extending our existing strengths in all forms of storytelling, we can put Stony Brook Southampton at the forefront of master’s-level education in film.”
“The goal,” Vachon says, “is to match the reality of the film business today. That means turning the traditional film school on its head.” The new program will train the filmmakers of tomorrow to be expert storytellers with the grit and imagination to reach their audiences in “platform-agnostic” ways.
“Revolutionary change in technology has made filmmaking accessible,” she added. “Students are coming to film programs with greater literacy in visual storytelling than ever before. At Southampton Arts, we will have the luxury of starting at ground zero to envision a new of model for instruction that embraces new platforms for distribution. The approach will be hands-on and experiential, and the emphasis will be on the production of new work.”
The film program leverages the strengths of the award-winning faculty and existing courses at Stony Brook Southampton, which already include scriptwriting (with, among others, John Patrick Shanley and Jon Robin Baitz); directing (with Obie Award winner Mark Wing-Davey); acting and performing the song (with Joanna Merlin, Anne Runolfsson and Julie Andrews); screenwriting (with Annette Handley Chandler, Frank Pugliese and Christina Laziridi); sitcoms, webisodes and digital filmmaking (with Mitchell Kriegman and Magdalene Brandeis); and film criticism (with Neal Gabler).
Killer Films plans to split its operations between Manhattan, where it currently resides and where Stony Brook already offers classes, and the Southampton campus.
Killer Films productions will provide real-life learning labs for students at both sites, as the company takes advantage of the facilities and human capital that Stony Brook has to offer. An innovative curriculum gives students the chance to intern at Killer Films.
“Perhaps most exciting is the opportunity to forge a partnership with content providers like YouTube, Google, AOL or any platform eager to develop a channel for short and feature-length visual storytelling,” said Vachon. “They need content, which we can provide, creating high-profile opportunities for budding auteurs to get their work made and get it seen.”
“It’s not only graduate students who will benefit from the arts programs at our Southampton location,” said Dennis N. Assanis, Stony Brook University Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs. “Under Bob Reeves’ leadership, the new film program can be an incubator for the arts and technology, drawing to the Southampton location and the East End economic activity that will benefit the entire community.”
Other partnerships will enhance the educational and economic opportunities. The film program will form alliances with a number of important University programs in science and technology, as well as with the Stony Brook Film Festival, a nationally prominent program that every July screens features, documentaries and shorts in the 1,000-seat theater of the Staller Center. Staller Director and founder of the film festival, Alan Inkles said, “It’s a real coup to get Christine Vachon. She has enormous credibility within the film industry, and she is absolutely in tune with what’s happening today in film. Having her at the helm of a new graduate program is extremely good news for the University and for the Southampton campus.”
All of this will happen at an extremely competitive price for students. Stony Brook Southampton already offers a 12-day digital filmmaking course, in which students make a short film, for $2,600, including in-state tuition, room and board. Incorporating that educational model with the production expertise of Killer Films, Stony Brook Southampton’s film program will be unique in offering an elite education with affordable SUNY tuition rate.
“The exorbitant cost of higher education is now drawing national attention,” Reeves said. “Those costs have always been a concern to students pursuing the arts. I’m proud that at Stony Brook Southampton we can offer the kind of education that is typically available only to the one percent, at a price that the 99 percent can afford.”