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Film producer Colin Vaines smokes a Cuban cigar

#EGMeets: Colin Vaines

by Nick Hendry

Cuban cigars, like international football, can be a wonderful leveller.  Gathering to support the nation of your birth or sitting together for a smoke can bring together people from all walks of life, and be the foundation on which relationship that cross professional, political and social divides.  It is probably my favourite feature of this wonderful community.  Bonding over this passion – which is not as widely-held as many of us may think it should be, and even considered taboo in some circles – has led me into some weird and wonderful situations and introduced me to friends I am lucky to have, and who are considerably more amiable and interesting than I am.  One such friend, I am proud to say, is the film producer Colin Vaines.

Colin Vaines is a perfect example of the kind of people who make the cigar world so good to be a part of: accomplished, without being arrogant; generous, without being ostentatious.  We first met on the cigar terrace of the Soho Whisky Club, so it was there that we chose to catch up over a couple of Montecristo No. 3 and talk through his long and varied career in the film industry, and how his love of cigars has played a part in it.

After a childhood spent fascinated by film, and in admiration of the journalist father of his best friend, Colin’s journey into film actually began as a writer.  “I thought if I could become a journalist…I might be able to become a film critic eventually.  That was the pinnacle of my ambition.”  Leaving school and studying journalism led to work for Time Out, before moving on to trade paper Screen International.  “I’ve said many times, I got the job because I knew a phenomenal amount about films, and because the publisher couldn’t believe how cheap I was!”  This origin story gives us a succinct portrait of the man – extremely passionate and knowledgeable, but humble and self-deprecating.

Film posters for Gangs of New York and Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool

2 of Colin's greatest hits: Gangs of New York (left) and Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool (right)

The role at Screen International proved invaluable for a young man keen to make his way into film, providing an education in all facets of the industry and an opportunity to build a network of contacts which would be the envy of most.  This network brought him the opportunity to head up the British Film Development fund (a predecessor of the BFI), which in turn led to a whole host of script development and production work with some of the leading names in British cinema at the time.  Eventually, he was asked to go to New York to be Head of Development at Miramax.

“Within weeks of arriving there Miramax had bought the rights for Gangs of New York from Disney.”  These rights had been passed between studios for years, as trepidation about the viability of the project - “[Scorcese] didn’t help by pitching it as ‘a Western set on Mars’” - led to a lot of developers changing their minds after acquiring the project.  “I was developing about 100 projects [for Miramax] while simultaneously working full-time on Gangs of New York.”  Production meant the best part of a year spent in Rome, and the “constant immersion” over this period is something Colin is thankful for.  The people he was fortunate enough to work with; the “big pond”, as he puts it, he got to work in were a privilege.  Subsequent years were spent working on films like The Rum Diary, The Young Victoria, W.E (directed by Madonna, although they never had the chance to smoke together) and My Week with Marilyn, followed by a return to being an independent producer.  “Under my own steam, I want to make films that I really care about and commit to myself.  I know that my real strength lies in doing something I care for passionately.”

That passion, and the reach of the network he began building so early in his career, combined in the creation of Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool in 2017.  Jamie Bell and the great Annette Benning were both nominated for BAFTAs for the leads, in a film which was produced with the help of long-held friendships.  The sheer clout of Barbara Broccoli – “She is Pinewood” – opened a lot of doors.  “A lot of what I do is about relationships.”

Colin Vaines enjoying a Montecristo No 3

Colin enjoys a Montecristo No 3 at Soho Whisky Club

So if relationships are key in the film industry, do cigars play a part?  A significant percentage of the people I have spoken to who both work in that world and enjoy cigars say yes – the most rewarding moments of their careers, the little chance meetings that have led to a step-up in level, have happened over a cigar.  Colin’s case is the reverse – the career led to the cigar. “I was out on a quest for finance for an independent movie, and was offered a Montecristo No. 4.  I took 2 puffs and thought ‘Oh my God, what have I been missing?!’”.  Now, this particular relationship has been cemented.  “To me it’s like meditation.  There’s nothing I love more than that morning smoke;  A cup of coffee and a short smoke, like a Media Corona or a Petit Edmundo, and I can get my head sorted and work out what I’m doing for the rest of the day.  The biggest thing for me is that [cigar smoking] opens up my world, I get to meet people from every walk of society.  And you sit, for whatever length of time it may be, and you talk.”.

Montecristo Cuban cigars

Montecristo were the brand which sparked Colin's love of cigars

It is for that exact reason this series on the EGM Blog exists.  The shared passion for cigars opens up conversations that would not, in any other circumstance, become as long or as in-depth.  Stories are told, secrets revealed, and new perspectives found which all lead to new ideas and fresh collaborations.  Above all, friendships are founded which can span decades.

Speaking of friendships which span decades, if a Montecristo No. 4 was his first cigar, then which is now Mr Vaines’ favourite?  “I’m very fond of the Ramon Allones Specially Selected, and had a period where I was almost obsessed with smoking Bolivar Belicosos Finos, but I always find that Montecristo is the blend I love the most.”  A classic Cuban cigar brand for a classic gentleman of the cigar community.

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