For some reason, I’ve always been enamored with the Oscars. Since I was young, I knew I wanted to be on that stage and it would be the pinnacle of my life. Other awards shows, I couldn’t be bothered with, but the Oscars were it. I used to root for my favorites and throw things during upsets. Think Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture or Lord of the Rings: Return of the King over City of God for Best Editing. For some reason, I find the latter one particularly hard to let go of. However, over the years, I’ve matured and grown wiser. No longer do I truly care who wins, as long as it helps me maintain my thorough dominance over my peers in the annual Oscar pool. I realize that it’s all a political game. So much money is poured into campaigning for each particular movie, it’s ridiculous. What does winning an Oscar really mean? Does it still mean that film was the best in that particular category that year? Did it ever mean that? Or does it mean you were just the most publicized in the mind of a person who couldn’t be bothered to actually watch your film and compare it to others.
THIS > THIS?
What if you had a chance to cast a ballot for an awards show? How would you treat your duties? Have you ever wondered how the voting process for an awards show is run? Today’s the day that curtain is unveiled. This year, I voted for the Independent Spirit Awards, and I’m telling you all about it.
Ever since that aforementioned Shakespeare in Love triumph over Saving Private Ryan on March 21, 1999, the media has been clamoring for the Academy to release their voting results, or at the very least to publish the difference between first and second place. Even College Football (the game which refuses to change) decided to share the results of their weekly Coaches poll. “Entertainment Weekly” did a piece just a few weeks ago about an Oscar re-vote. They mailed re-vote ballots to voters, going through the five major categories (Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress) over five different years and shared the results. Although I don’t have insight into the process of the Oscars, I’ll take you on the Independent Spirit Awards journey from nominations, through screenings, to voting and finally, reveal my ballot for you to see.
As a member of a group titled Film Independent, which hosts a few independent film screenings each month and also grants its members access to a plethora of rental equipment to aid them in the process of making their own films, they also happen to host the Independent Spirit Awards. Members get to cast their vote and decide the winners. Finally, a chance to have my voice heard and be a part of the process I’ve revered for so long.
The nominations for the awards were released in December. Members had no input in the narrowing down of the nominated films. The nominations were chosen by a committee of people from three different groups. There were 16 people on the committee narrowing down the Narrative films. Nine people choosing the Documentary selections. Seven individuals tackled the Foreign category.
After the nominations were announced, as members we received an e-mail stating that screenings were going to be held for each nominated film at a theater in Los Angeles, and for the first time, we’d have the option of electing to have screeners sent. I jumped at the chance to sign-up to receive screeners. There was an online Terms & Conditions policy that needed to be agreed to. This was mainly stating screeners were for voting purposes only and not for distribution or sale as most nominated films had not been released to home video.
A couple of weeks later, we received an e-mail stating the screening schedule had been released and posted at SpiritAwards.com. Screenings during weekdays began at 7:00 p.m and there were two screenings per night. Screenings during the weekends were five a day, starting at noon. The first screening in L.A. was January 9 and went through each day according to schedule until January 22. About half of the screenings had a Q&A with one or two people involved in the film’s production. Charlie Kaufman was present for Synecdoche, New York. Each nominated film only screened once during the screening process. If you didn’t see it during their one showing, you were out of luck, unless you paid to see it in another venue.
Around the time the screening schedule had been released, we received yet another e-mail letting us know when to expect the screeners and which films were to be included. Only eight out of over thirty nominated films were going to be made available via screener. Those eight were: The Visitor, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Take Out, Prince of Broadway, In Search of a Midnight Kiss, Afterschool, Ballast and Turn the River. Although the screeners themselves wouldn’t be received until mid/late January, this let us know that if we planned on seeing a particular movie we’d have to see it during a screening if it wasn’t going to be included on a screener.
Attending Spirit Awards screenings was a different experience from most hosted by Film Independent. They were all housed at a theater I had never been to (Laemmle Sunset 5) with a pay parking structure. Naturally, the movie theater validated parking, but the validation was only good for three hours. If you were seeing movies back to back, you’d have to exit the theater, run down to the parking lot, exit the lot, pull right back in, re-park and run back up to the theater. Heaven help you if you decided to do a five-film mini-festival on a Saturday or Sunday. The only alternative was to take the parking fee, which was $1.50 per 15 minutes, or $6 per hour. I found myself in the exit/re-park predicament during a back-to-back screening of The Wackness and The Wrestler. This was on the last night of screenings, and for obvious reasons The Wrestler was going to be the most attended screening for the Spirit Awards. I had to miss the Q&A with The Wackness writer/director Jonathan Levine, just to re-park my car. When I got back into the theater, I had to wait in line (I was in 70th place) behind the members whom purely chose to see The Wrestler. Luckily I had someone saving my seat from The Wackness, otherwise I was essentially going to be penalized for seeing the first film. Most of the Spirit Awards screenings did not require arriving very early. I found that 15-20 minutes early would grant you a great seat, if not your first choice.
As previously mentioned, the eight film screeners were received at my residence mid/late January. To my surprise, The Visitor screener was the DVD you’d find at any retail store. It was completely sealed, with extras and everything. Take Out and Prince of Broadway were included in a double-DVD case since they shared the same director, Sean Baker. Vicky Cristina Barcelona came in a DVD case-sized cardboard sleeve (think the DVD release for An Inconvenient Truth) with “For Your Consideration” written on it. The other four movies were included on a DVD placed in paper sleeves.
Even with the screeners, I was not been able to see every nominated film. I felt it unfair to cast a vote in any category in which I hadn’t seen all the nominees and therefore refrained from checking a box in those instances. The following is a list of the nominees with my votes for the winners highlighted in red.
FEATURE (Award given to the producer)
Ballast – Producer: Lance Hammer, Nina Parikh (Trailer)
Frozen River – Producers: Chip Hourihan, Heather Rae (Trailer)
Rachel Getting Married – Producers: Jonathan Demme, Neda Armin, Marc Platt (Trailer)
Wendy and Lucy – Producer: Larry Fessenden, Neil Kopp, Anish Savjani (Trailer)
The Wrestler – Producers: Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin (Trailer)
The Class (France) – Director: Laurent Cantet (Trailer)
Gomorra (Italy) – Director: Matteo Garrone (Trailer)
Hunger (UK/Ireland) – Director: Steve McQueen (Trailer)
Secret of the Grain (France) – Director: Abdellatif Kechiche (Trailer)
Silent Light (Mexico/France/Netherlands/Germany) – Director: Carlos Reygadas (Trailer)
FIRST FEATURE (Award given to the director and producer)
Director: Antonio Campos
Producers: Sean Durkin, Josh Mond
Medicine for Melancholy (Trailer)
Director: Barry Jenkins
Producer: Justin Barber
Sangre De Mi Sangre (Trailer)
Director: Christopher Zalla
Producers: Per Melita, Benjamin Odell
Sleep Dealer (Trailer)
Director: Alex Rivera
Producer: Anthony Bregman
DOCUMENTARY (Award given to the director)
The Betrayal – Director: Ellen Kuras & Thavisouk Phrasavath (Trailer)
Encounters at the End of the World – Director: Werner Herzog (Trailer)
Man on Wire – Director: James Marsh (Trailer)
The Order of Myths – Director: Margaret Brown (Trailer)
Up the Yangtze – Director: Yung Chang (Trailer)
Summer Bishil, Towelhead (Trailer)
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married (Trailer)
Melissa Leo, Frozen River (Trailer)
Tarra Riggs, Ballast (Trailer)
Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy (Trailer)
Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Trailer)
Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married (Trailer)
Rosie Perez, The Take (Trailer)
Misty Upham, Frozen River (Trailer)
Debra Winger, Rachel Getting Married (Trailer)
Woody Allen, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Trailer)
Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, Sugar (Trailer)
Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche, New York (Trailer)
Howard A. Rodman, Savage Grace (Trailer)
Christopher Zalla, Sangre De Mi Sangre (Trailer)
Dustin Lance Black, Milk (Trailer)
Lance Hammer, Ballast (Trailer)
Courtney Hunt, Frozen River (Trailer)
Jonathan Levine, The Wackness (Trailer)
Jenny Lumet, Rachel Getting Married (Trailer)
Maryse Alberti, The Wrestler (Trailer)
Lol Crawley, Ballast (Trailer)
James Laxton, Medicine for Melancholy (Trailer)
Harris Savides, Milk (Trailer)
Michael Simmonds, Chop Shop (Trailer)
JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD (Given to the best feature made for under $500,000; award given to the writer, director, and producer)
In Search of a Midnight Kiss (Trailer)
Writer/Director: Alex Holdridge
Producers: Seth Caplan, Scoot McNairy
Prince of Broadway (Trailer)
Director: Sean Baker
Writers: Sean Baker, Darren Dean
Producer: Darren Dean
The Signal (Trailer)
Writer/Directors: David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry
Producers: Jacob Gentry, Alexander Motlagh
Take Out (Trailer)
Writer/Director/Producers: Sean Baker, Shih-Ching Tsou
Turn the River (Trailer)
Writer/Director: Chris Eigeman
Producer: Ami Armstrong
ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD (Given to one film’s director, casting director, and its ensemble cast)
Synecdoche, New York (Trailer)
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Casting Director: Jeanne McCarthy
Ensemble Cast: Hope Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Tom Noonan, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest, Michelle Williams
IFC/ACURA SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD
Barry Jenkins, director of Medicine for Melancholy (Trailer)
Nina Paley, director of Sita Sings the Blues (Trailer)
Lynn Shelton, director of My Effortless Brilliance (Trailer)
PIAGET PRODUCERS AWARD
Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy, producers of Treeless Mountain (No Trailer) and I’ll Come Running (No Trailer)
Jason Orans, producer of Goodbye Solo (No Trailer) and Year of the Fish (Trailer)
Heather Rae, producer of Frozen River (Trailer) and Ibid (Trailer)
Yes, I did think Rachel Getting Married was robbed of Oscar nominations and was easily one of the best films of the year.
Sadly, Film Independent members and voters are not invited to the awards ceremony. One would naturally have to cough up money to do so. I will be sitting on my couch watching it on February 21, 5PM E.T./2PM P.T. on IFC or 10 PM E.T./P.T. on AMC like the rest of you. We’ll see if any of my votes win.
Overall, I enjoyed the process. However, I wish their were more opportunities to see the films on the big screen as opposed to just once, at one theater. I prefer the silver screen experience over watching a screener at home, but with the current format, it seemed like a great way to give voting members an opportunity to see a particular film at their leisure. Hopefully, in the future either more screeners or more screenings will be available. I can only hope next year I’m at the podium.