All weekend here in Los Angeles, a number of folks in the indie film community complained about this year's Spirit Awards move from an afternoon celebration on the beach in Santa Monica to an evening event downtown. Well, yesterday in Malibu, some insiders got what they wanted. Independent spirit was celebrated in a tent overlooking the Pacific Ocean when "The Hurt Locker" - a modestly budgeted feature film -- won the Academy Award for best picture of the year.
Uninvited from this year's Oscar ceremony after he campaigned for his film by email -- lobbying passionately for his first Oscar nomination -- "Hurt Locker" producer Nicolas Chartier toasted the film's Best Picture Oscar with about 300 friends and fans yesterday.
One week ago, Chartier was having lunch with William Morris Endeavor's Graham Taylor and producer Lynette Howell. Chartier was under fire for sending out emails lobbying AMPAS voters on behalf of "The Hurt Locker" and he had a sense he might be uninvited on Oscar night. Taylor and Howell invited him to watch the show in their Venice living room.
Days later, when the Academy voided his Oscar ceremony tickets, he accepted their invitation. Word of the party spread and it was moved to Malibu as the guest list swelled.
Many indies have risen to Chartier's defense over the past week. Scott Rudin or Harvey Weinstein never would have been penalized they way Chartier was, some said. Others observed that his outsider status, being a first time nominee who hails from France, made him an easy scapegoat for the Academy.
Whatever the case, Chartier took the reprimand in stride and never lashed out at AMPAS. If he won best picture on Sunday, he said, he'd still receive his Oscar.
Instead, he told me last Wednesday, he'd just watch the show with some friends.
Oscar Night in Malibu
A red carpet lead guests to the large white tent for the party on the grounds of producer Mike Fleiss' home. At the entrance, a full color poster featuring Chartier's headshot was emblazoned with the word, "BANNED." And nearby a life sized Oscar statue, just like those seen at AMPAS' Beverly Hills headquarters, was fitted with a red beret. French flags were draped around the tent in honor of Chartier's homeland.
The crowd was a mix of agents, actors, producers and others, from both Los Angeles and New York. There was no list at the door, but a trio of local cops were on hand just in case. From what we could tell -- other than a lone European camera crew -- Brian Brooks and I from indieWIRE were the only journalists reporting from the event.
Nicolas Chartier worked the room smiling. He seemed cool and collected but later said that he was anxious. His mom and girlfriend were in attendance.
The crowd was clearly biased in favor of "The Hurt Locker" and when the movie won the final award of the night, an uproar was unleashed. Chartier silenced the crowd to listen to the televised speeches and then stepped onto a footstool for his own acceptance. Someone handed him a small plastic statue that looked a bit like an Oscar.
A complete recording of the speech is available at the end of this article.
"I am going to name names, just in case someone is taping them," Chartier said, thanking the many distributors of the film around the world. And then he related a story about how he made his way into the business in the first place. He prefaced it by saying, "I have longer than 45 seconds..."
A Start in Cannes
Like "The Hurt Locker," which had its start on the festival circuit, Nicolas Chartier put his foot in the door at the Cannes Film Festival.
"When I was 18, I was a janitor at Euro Disney," Chartier began. He had written a science fiction script in the mid-90s, went to the Cannes Film Festival and slipped a treatment under hundreds of doors and a call back came from William Morris' Cassian Elwes who met with Chartier, read the script and sold it the next day.
Chartier spent six years working as a writer before moving into financing, producing, selling and distributing films. His company is Voltage Pictures.
He thanked many people and organizations in his lengthy remarks, laughing and joking with guests along the way. On numerous occasions Chartier reiterated a message: Be passionate.
"Keep trying," he said, near the end of his speech, "Everyone in this room, keep trying, keep pushing, keep knocking on doors if you believe you have something." Continuing, he added, "If you have talent, keep writing, directing, producing. Keep fighting for your projects."
"Making films is tough, but we're so lucky, we do something we love," Chartier said last night, "It's not about the girls, money, and fame," he added, pausing for a response from the raucous crowd. Laughter and cheers.
"It's about the movies," Chartier continued, "This is what we live for, to tell stories, to make people laugh and cry. To entertain and sometimes to make art."
"We have this chance to live our passion," he concluded, "So keep knocking on doors and keep making movies, everyone."
As Brian Brooks and I were leaving the party, we ran into Nicolas Chartier near the Oscar statue with the red beret. We opened up a MacBook Pro to show him the front page of indieWIRE featuring a lead story with his photo, delivering his Oscar speech at the party.
Chartier said he was about to head to the Vanity Fair party to continue the celebration. And then he paused.
"This is what it's about," Chartier told us, "Being passionate for independent movies."