MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

Precious Reigns at Revamped Spirits

The annual Independent Spirit Awards have been slouching toward mainstream for most of the last 10 years, or, roughly, since television fell in love with any awards show that could coax a celebrity to leave his or her Malibu cocoon for the price of a swag bag. Before that, hardly anyone walking down the red carpet was asked whose designs they were wearing, because the answer invariably was Levi Strauss or the Salvation Army.

Now, though, nominees and presenters are expected toe the same fashion line as those selected for the Oscars. Publicists cling to their clients, directing them toward pet paparazzi and celebrity outlets with the highest ratings and circulation. God forbid, there should be an unscripted moment on or off stage.
Nevertheless, it would be difficult to find anyone who didn’t enjoy spending a few hours on the beach on a sunny Saturday afternoon, among friends, in the service of independent and other low-budget films. Trophies tended to go to the right people and the food wasn’t bad.
Friday night, about 15 miles east of Santa Monica, a very different scenario played out. It’s unlikely that anyone was terribly surprised that Precious dominated the evening, winning trophies for Best Feature, Best Director, Best Female Lead and Best Supporting Actress, or that Crazy Heart grabbed Best First Feature” and Best Male Lead. The show’s logistics were what kept the independent community buzzing this week.
Film Independent dared mark its 25th anniversary ceremony by migrating East of La Brea, to Los Angeles’ revitalized Downtown. The trademark white tent was pitched on the second floor of a parking structure (a.k.a., L.A. Live Event Deck) across the street from the Nokia Theater, next door to a movie multiplex, within spitting distance of a veritable chain of chain restaurants and a short stroll to Staples Center, where the Clippers were playing something called the Thunder. Klieg lights raked the skies and parking tabs ranged from $5 to $20, although free street parking was available three blocks away. Almost as tellingly, Dick Clark Productions was enlisted to streamline the show.
Organizers argued that the move was made in an effort to “shake things up” from years past. They seemed to agree that things had gotten a bit stale, as the standards embraced by Spirits’ executives began to merge with those of television producers. How much damage had been done to the “brand” remained open to question. The 8 p.m. start – 11 p.m. for audiences on the East Coast – suggested that ratings may not have been the primary consideration.
Sadly, the show’s announcer felt it necessary to remind viewers on IFC telecast that the Spirits ceremony was the “uncensored and unpredictable” awards show, just as the Golden Globes were misleadingly pitched as “Hollywood’s biggest party.” Host Eddie Izzard did caution, however, that the C-word was verboten and F-bombs were discouraged. Happily, the latter boundary was destroyed early and often by presenter Ken Jeong, who repeated some of the dialogue that helped to push The Hangover into R-territory.
This year, too, a larger-than-usual number of movies nominated for Spirits also were competing for honors Sunday night at the Kodak Theater. Reporters, encamped in a smaller white tent adjacent to the Big Top, exploited the coincidence by asking winners, “what do you think will happen at the Oscars,” “how will you spend the day before the big night” and “who do you want to see win.” Duh, duh and duh.
The people’s favorite, Mo’Nique, was the easy reply to the first and third questions, of course. She continued her winning streak Friday and is the prohibitive favorite to take home an Oscar, as Mary, in Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. Once again, she praised her co-star Gabourey Sidibe and director Lee Daniels. She also said that her greatest moment of the publicity campaign came after a DGA screening, when a fan came to her in tears and said, “I was Mary.” It represented for her the kind of response she’d been getting from people who identified with the characters in Precious, almost all of whom were unique to the big screen, outside the art-house circuit.
Backstage, Sidibe said that Oscar night won’t be the same, because she won’t be able to continue her tradition of watching The Simpsons, instead.

It has been duly noted in the local press that the absence of The Hurt Locker among this year’s nominees was the result of it being submitted for consideration in 2009. It was a quirk in the rules that Film Independent executive director, Dawn Hudson, said would be addressed.
No doubt, the emotional highlight of evening came when critic Roger Ebert’s contributions to independent film were recognized by the organization. The audience gave him a sustained standing ovation, as much for that as his courageous and very public battle with cancer. It was announced this week that Ebert and his wife have established the Chaz & Roger Ebert Truer Than Fiction Award, with a gift through their family foundation. It includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant, designed to support emerging directors of non-fiction features. This year’s winners were Bill and Turner Ross, for “45365.”
Another change for this year’s show came in the selection of interstitial entertainment. Instead of presenting song parodies, as has been the tradition, Jeff Bridges sang a song from Crazy Heart and Anvil performed a heavy heavy-metal song that might have been heard in Santa Monica. It certainly shook the concrete floor of the parking structure. Later, Anvil: The Story of Anvil would capture the Best Documentary trophy.
Among the other winners were: Woody Harrelson, for Best Supporting Male, The Messenger; (500) Days of Summer, Best Screenplay; An Education, for Best Foreign Film; Humpday, the John Cassavetes Award; and A Serious Man, for Best Cinematography and Robert Altman Award.

– Gary Dretzka
March 5, 2010

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

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My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon