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Houston Filmmakers and Actors: It All Depends What You Mean by 'Independent

Monday, January 24, 2005

It All Depends What You Mean by 'Independent

January 23, 2005
It All Depends What You Mean by 'Independent'

I SEE now what all the excitement is out here in Santa Monica," the actor Bill Murray said, accepting his 2004 Independent Spirit Award for best actor last February. "For a great number of the people in this room, this is as dressed up as you're going to get all year. And for an equally large number, this is as casually dressed as you're going to be all year."

Off-the-cuff as Mr. Murray's quip seemed to be - he joked that prepared remarks "wouldn't be independent" - it captured something about the Spirit awards, which have become the meeting-place for Hollywood's glamour crowd and low-budget, seat-of-your pants filmmakers. Twenty years after the nonprofit Independent Film Project (I.F.P.) started its low-key annual tribute to indie film, a then-neglected corner of the arts, the Spirits have grown into one of Hollywood's glitziest and quirkiest parties of the awards season. They continue to honor idiosyncratic films made on minuscule budgets - the trophy depicts a bird, representing the independent spirit, wrapped with shoestrings - but fringe filmmakers like Todd Haynes and Errol Morris now share the ceremony with people like Tom Cruise, Lucy Liu and Jennifer Aniston, who were among the awards presenters in 2004. And the show itself now has all the staples of a Hollywood gala: corporate sponsors, five-figure ticket prices, gift bags filled with expensive giveaways and a star-studded red carpet.

In a landscape crowded with televised awards shows, the Spirits, which will be broadcast starting at 5 p.m., Eastern time, on Feb. 26 (the day before the Academy Awards) on Bravo and IFC, has found a niche with a show full of spontaneous fumbling of the sort that the Academy Awards' producers work hard to avoid.

"We want it to feel onstage as though you're getting a glimpse at what's going on backstage," said Diana Zahn-Storey, who has produced the Spirits since 1995.

That let-it-all-hang-out tone was on display at the 2000 ceremony, when the actress Ally Sheedy gave an unhinged 10-minute acceptance speech, gushing about the resurrection of an aging actress in Hollywood and refusing to yield the podium.

The underground film director John Waters, host of the Spirits since 2001 before passing the baton to Samuel L. Jackson this year, described the show's ethos in an interview: "It doesn't have to appeal to mid-America. We're doing it for the niche audience that had seen all the movies, that were supporters of independent films. We don't have to pretend to cross over into an audience that wouldn't watch the show."

To that end, the show is peppered with tongue-in-cheek celebrations of independent film's more alienating qualities, illustrated by a bit performed at the 2002 show by the actors Rachel Griffiths and Alan Cumming; it deplored the small number of people who had sex after watching indie movies like "Donnie Darko" compared with how many had it after going to films like, say, "The Mummy."

But while the Spirit awards have grown into a Hollywood institution, as recently as a decade ago they occupied an obscure corner of the entertainment industry, as did the independent film sector as a whole.

"It was lunchtime" and everyone was getting drunk, Bingham Ray, the former president of the indie powerhouse October Films, recalled of the early gatherings. The producer Christine Vachon ("Far From Heaven"), a Spirits regular since 1990, remembered a chummy get-together where, she said, "everybody drank too much, and there was no press there, so nobody watched what they said."

When Dawn Hudson, a vivacious Arkansas native and former actress and screenwriter, took over as executive director of the I.F.P.'s struggling Los Angeles chapter in 1991, she found herself at the helm of a ceremony more notable for its intoxicated languor than for its glitz or clout. The 1991 show, she recalled, ran four and a half hours and featured a 45-minute keynote address by Francis Ford Coppola. Built around an analogy comparing filmmaking and wine-making, the speech seemed to touch on each and every phase of a vintner's work.

The next day, Ms. Hudson was taken to task over lunch by Kenneth Turan, film critic for The Los Angeles Times, who said that the out-of-control show wasted an opportunity to build support for the organization's independent film services. "You start out with all the good will in the room and you burn it up by the time we leave," she said he told her.

Ms. Hudson, the head of a two-person organization kept afloat by promissory notes from its board members, needed to rein in a show created to celebrate eccentricity and individuality. Over the next few years, the Spirits cut the time-devouring keynote address and pepped up the proceedings with snappy film clips, while trying to preserve space for the sort of gaffes and rhetorical over-reaching that gave the show its atmosphere of indie-world spontaneity. Bleeped-out swear words, for instance, are still common and, Ms. Storey says, presenters are encouraged to ignore the scripts provided them and fumble freely.

The most immediate beneficiary of the show's growth has been the I.F.P., which uses the ceremony as a fund-raiser. Tables cost $10,000 to $40,000 and, Ms. Hudson says, there is an extensive waiting list to buy one, as a presence at the Spirits has become de rigueur for Hollywood's major players. As John Waters described a recent crowd, "Every person who could ever let me make a movie was in that one room."

Overall, the Spirits generate $1.5 million for the I.F.P.'s Los Angeles chapter, a quarter of its $6 million budget (up from a $350,000 budget in 1991). As a result, I.F.P./L.A. is now well past its days of dodging creditors, offering an array of film production and distribution services to the 6,000 members who join for a $90 annual fee.

The I.F.P. also functions as an advocate for independent film. In 2003, when the Academy of Motion Pictures tried to ban the distribution of screeners - privately circulated DVD's of Oscar candidate films - a move many thought would hurt less visible films, the I.F.P. led the lawsuit that forced the academy to back down.

With the Spirits' success, however, has come concern that they no longer serve a beleaguered corner of the entertainment marketplace. Peter Biskind, whose book "Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film" (Simon & Schuster, 2004) chronicles the independent film world of the 1990's, said in an interview: "It's pretty clear that the Spirit awards, as they become more and more sophisticated and have gotten more and more attention, have paralleled the Hollywoodization of indie films. I don't think there's anything wrong with the ceremony per se, but they have become mini-Oscars. And that's appropriate, because that's the direction that indie films have gone in anyways."

Much of the grumbling about the Hollywoodization of the Spirits centers on the awards' rather fluid nominating criteria. At first, films were deemed independent based on their sources of financing and had to prove, essentially, that they were free from the taint of studio backing. By the mid-1990's, however, as major studios became interested in financing low-budget films, and independent distributors like October Films and Miramax were bought up by major studios, verifying the fiscal independence of films became increasingly difficult, Ms. Hudson said. "It became kind of ludicrous," she explained. "We had become the financing police to find where money came from."

In 1995, the I.F.P./Los Angeles board scrapped the rigorous formula, replacing it with four criteria: "Original provocative subject matter, uniqueness of vision, economy of means and percentage of independent financing." These serve as rough guidelines that the nominating committee, a group of 15 independent film professionals, use to make their decisions.

If a film falls short on one or more of these, though, the judges are free to overlook it. For instance, this year's committee set a budget cap in the $15 million range, but "Sideways," the film receiving the most nominations, exceeded that total with a budget estimated at $17.5 million.

Decisions like these, Ms. Hudson says, arise out of the committee's grappling for a definition of what independent film really is.

"There's a lot of discussion about the subject matter," she said. "The feeling about 'Sideways' was it was so independent in its vision, the fact that it has a slightly higher budget still warranted including it."

In addition to "Sideways," the 2004 best feature nominees include two relatively high-exposure films - "Kinsey" and "Maria Full of Grace" - as well as "Primer" and "Baadasssss!," whose combined box office tally is less than $1 million.

Once the nominees are chosen, voting is open to the entire I.F.P. membership, whose past choices have provoked further grumbling from some indie filmmakers. Since 1994, an analysis of box-office figures reveals, the best feature award has been won by the highest-grossing nominee, a pattern that will continue this year if the favorite, "Sideways," wins.

Ms. Hudson conceded, "It's never really a level playing field when you have tons of marketing dollars being spent on some of the films and very few marketing dollars spent on others, and you have some films that are in the theaters for a long time and others that are in and out."

But, she said, the I.F.P. was trying to even things up through a new arrangement with Netflix, the DVD-by-mail service, to lend copies of nominated films to I.F.P. members.

Sardonic, quirky and low budget though the Independent Spirit Awards may be, the show has become a part of the annual awards industry, and with that comes accompanying baggage.

"It isn't anxiety free anymore," Mr. Waters said. "People want to win just as much as they want to win the Oscar." In independent film, "people have to pretend a little bit that they don't care," he continued. "But everybody cares. Or else it wouldn't be important.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...


Hi, seeing as you accept anonymous blogging I thought I would send you this info about online gambling from a guy at work. His blog features online casino roulette and he has made a fortune from online gambling.

The Online Casino Startup Bonus

When choosing a trustworthy online casino there are many factors you need to consider. Just because one of the great number of online casinos existent today has impressive graphics, games and offers a wide diversity of bonuses, it doesnt mean its a fair and licensed one. Of course, such cases are rare, and, since today there are hundreds of reputable virtual casinos one can choose from, the most important criteria when deciding which one to play at is what they offer.

The first bonus you can get when you first open an account at a casino is the sign up bonus most casinos offer, an encouraging bonus of at least $25, but it may often be higher than $500. Some casinos even match your first deposit, meaning they double it, for free.

Many casinos also offer hundreds of dollars worth bonuses for new players and, if you're the one who brings other friends to the casino, things are even better than that. Most casinos offer a refer a friend bonus and, the more friends you have, the more fortunate you will get. For each friend you refer to the casino, you will get up to $1000, for each friend that they refer, you'll earn up to $300 and, furthermore, for each person that your friend's friends refer, you will earn up to $100. Once you are confident that particular casino is a reliable one, bring as many of your friends as you can to the casino and you'll have all the reasons to enjoy their games. The only thing you need to pay attention to afterwards is to handle the money wisely and not risk it all in a single bet, however confident you may be.

And most casinos give you an alternative to this. They offer you the chance to practice for free at first, and they also give you money to do that, so, it's practically free and you have nothing to lose. When you find the right casino you'll know it from the first time you play there. From then on, they will remind you how important you are to them by giving you special bonuses every month. These bonuses are somewhere around $100 and even higher and they reward you for being a loyal customer. These casinos also offer the so called comp points that accumulate throughout the course of the games you play and at certain points they turn into real money and, depending how long you have been playing at that casino, you may win lots of money.

The most important bonuses casinos offer are the jackpots and prizes you can win at their games. Casinos reward players with millions of dollars each day for their gaming skills. Tournaments and regular casino games are most profitable for gamblers. Only one progressive jackpot, for one single game of slots, for instance, can be of over $ 2 million. And it's only a matter of seconds and a bit of luck to win it.

Most casinos don't need a special occasion to give bonuses. They offer bonuses for the players third and fourth deposits, for being loyal to the casino, or just for being at a table at a certain time. So, it’s only a matter of finding the right casino and from there on, bonuses will keep coming to you. The only problem is that if you don't have a proper money management you won't treasure what you win, it will go away as easily as it came. We may all want those bonuses, but do we know what to do with them and how much of it we should risk in our next bet?

A guy at work recommends the following Casino Gaming Sites, (the trick is to sign up to each and get your startup bonuses) once you have played each one for a while you will get to know which one suits your style of play and which is therefore the most profitable one for you.

as follows:












March 7, 2007 at 4:37 AM  

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