Going to an award ceremony is a vague Angeleno fantasy. If you are or are not in The Industry, the culture of entertainment award ceremonies can occasionally envelop parts of the city, making you wonder what could possibly be going on on those red carpets and in those tents that is so fabulous. Surely it cannot be that great. We never would have guessed that we would ever attend an award ceremony. My childhood dream of attending the Oscars was squashed after living in this city for a year, resulting in assuming an “I don’t give a shit about this self-congratulating Hollywood money trap!” mentality. It’s a common mindset this time of year in Los Angeles. It’s almost always trendy, too.
When we got an invitation to attend the Film Independent Spirit Awards with some cool folks from event sponsor Jameson, we were a bit excited, not necessarily hesitant, but very surprised that such a “big name” ceremony happens, that we were largely unfamiliar with it, and that we would be attending. Little did we know that the ceremony and culture surrounding the IFC ceremony represents the real spirit and the real craft embedded in the film community. Events like the Film Independent Spirit Awards renew your faith in the movies and inspire you to want to make one yourself.
The ceremony takes place at the far end of Los Angeles, in a tented huge parking lot overlooking the Santa Monica beach. When you arrive, you slide down into said lot and find all these tinted, driver’d cars perfectly parked and arranged as if a Disney Concert Hall conductor had placed them all in a musical game of Tetris. Unlike the Oscar shenanigans I’ve watched walking to the Metro every day for two weeks, this Westside show was absolutely drama free. As we made our way to the entrance, a giant gate with people next to the skating/biking/walking beach path stand and call out to arriving celebrities. We shrugged and thought “Typical.” but if there were ever a time a celebrity would stop, say hello, or sign something, it would be now. From Kerry Washington to Salma Hayek, we saw a ton of big name people leave their car, wave and interact with this giant crowd, and then scurry away to get into the ceremony. It was so laid back.
Speaking of, the look of everyone is so anti-formal. Taking place the day before the Oscars, there is a strict Los Angeles beachy casual dress code enforced that sees no one in black ties, all the ladies in advanced cocktail dresses, and several oddities like a sweatsuit wearing bro, several jeaned whoevers, and even one or two persons who appeared to have grabbed the nicest clothes from the Urban Outfitters on the Promenade and then walked over. (That’s a compliment, I assure you.) There is nothing stuffy or boring or Hollywood yuck about the Film Independent Spirit Awards.
Walking a parallel, magenta carpet to the pre-show holding area, you start to have the very LA “Is that–no, it’s not–but is that??” feeling that you know everyone around you but also no one around you. You see a few tents–one for JCPenny, one for Stella Artois, one for Lincoln–and people proudly drinking in the sunlight as there is still an hour or so before the ceremony begins. We dart for the Jameson tent because, duh, Jameson and find that it is the most built out and fancy tent out of the bunch: they nearly built an entirely wooden cabin inside of a tent that was decorated with bottles of classic Jameson, leather seating areas, and signs telling the brand’s story. We opted for a noon neat Gold Barrel and neat Black Reserve as that is what is recommended. We think nothing of it because we figure this whole event is going to have Jameson flowing out of every pore and we better get on the bandwagon.
After saying hello to a random friend from college who flew in from New York for the ceremony and after spotting an ex-boyfriend in attendance and cringing, we make our way inside to grab our seats. Entering from the back we were led closer and closer and closer to the stage, finding ourselves stage left of center seated a table over from Sofia Coppola, a table above Helen Hunt, to the left of Ellen Page and Quvenzhané Wallis, and closer to the stage than Matthew McConaughey, Paul Rudd, and the entire cast of Silver Linings Playbook. It felt weird–but we also had no complaints.
Every table is covered in odd little food items so that you have the option of eating at your leisure and, of course, each table had a Methuselah sized bottle of G.H. Mumm and literally a gallon of Jameson that every table but ours (Of course.) was too scared to open. We lunched on a small tomato tart and tiny wrapped grilled cheese sandwiches and everyone else around us–including Kevin Spacey’s agent and producer, who were physically present but gave no shits about anything around them–did not touch a thing. Who are these people?! If they were all starlets, sure: we buy that. They were all grown ass men, though.
The award ceremony was a surprisingly hilarious and laid back. Hosted by Andy Samberg (who we weren’t expecting much from), the relaxed air carried from presenter to presenter and funny bit to funny bit. That Hollywood freshness and new excitement about movies is very clear as there are awards for Best First Feature, Best First Screenplay, and niche awards like the John Cassavettes Award and Robert Altman Award for new filmmakers and teams. Pairing the laissez faire attitude with Industry newness, the first award handed out hit this note hard: Best First Screenplay was awarded to Derek Connolly’s work on Safety Not Guaranteed and was received by a young guy who was visibly drunk and who Kerry Washington had to corral and speak for ultimately ending with Bryan Cranston taking the stage, pouring Connolly a shot of Jameson, and then taking him backstage. What other ceremony in the world that assembles A-Listers and No-Listers would ever allow for a situation as such to occur? There is no other world where this would happen.
The show lasted a quick two hours and you notice a few award show things that you don’t see when watching from home. First, no one cares about your speech. Unless you are a super celeb, no one cares. People talk and they eat and they drink and they chatter over your talking because they all know that the camera is recording you now and not anyone else. If your speech lasts ten seconds, you have all ears. Any longer? Chatter kicks in at the eleven second point. There was a moment where noted cinematographer Harris Savides was remembered and celebrated by the room and, boy, does the air change from happy to super sad as we–strangers and friends of he and his family–recall his talent. That is something you do not feel watching from home either. Surprises like a Bad Lip Reading taking on the Best Screenplay nominee promos and refreshing speeches by big names like Jennifer Lawrence were great additions and hints at who would win big the following evening.
The Film Independent Spirit Awards was a surprising good time and, even though the least Independent of all the films swept, no one cared because everyone was just happy to be there and everyone had a good time. Regardless of if you were going to the Oscars the following evening or not, this was your chance to eat, drink, and be merry. There is a lot that can be learned from the Film Independent Spirit Awards in that it was so easy and so unpretentious and so willing to make fun of itself. If award ceremonies were people, this would be that Industry type you actually met and liked versus the many others who seem like their head is always up someone else’s butt and they don’t have time for you.
We don’t regularly attend any award shows. If we could regularly attend them, this is the only we would want to be at since it is such a tangible show, one that regular people can participate in because they love films and that locals can volunteer for because it’s fun. Los Angeles is home to a lot of award ceremonies but the Film Independent Spirit Awards actually feels like our show. It’s beachy casual, it’s California cool, and it is aware of how silly the film industry can be. It doesn’t get any more LA than that.