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On the Eve of the Spirit Awards, 4 Questions for Dawn Hudson, Executive Director of Film Independent

On the Eve of the Spirit Awards, 4 Questions for Dawn Hudson, Executive Director of Film Independent

Chatting with Variety editor Peter Bart and film producer Peter Guber on this weekend’s special Independent Spirit Awards episode of “Sunday Morning Shootout,” on AMC, Spirit Awards host Sarah Silverman was asked whether she is looking forward to hanging out with indie people this Saturday at the annual ceremony in Santa Monica. “Yeah, mostly because they are huge movie stars” she said, with her trademark wit, “Its great to give people a chance, you know like George Clooney and Ang Lee…”

Indeed, some have complained that the Independent Spirit Awards favor higher profile, bigger budget movies from the specialty divisions of the Hollywood studios. However, as Film Independent executive director Dawn Hudson explained when she sat down with Bart & Guber on the same program, the event is about honoring the range of independent and specialty work. Watching the program, I felt that Hudson didn’t get enough time to thoroughly explain her views, so I dropped her an email asking if she would agree to answer a few questions. Hudson quickly got back to me and this week took time out of her busy schedule supervising the production of Saturday’s big show to answer our questions by email. Her responses were so thorough, we decided to run them in their entirety.

indieWIRE’s questions, and Dawn Hudson’s answers follow:

indieWIRE: With such a tremendous overlap this year between the Oscar and Spirit Awards nominees, what do you feel distinguishes the event?

Dawn Hudson: It’s true that independent films are getting more attention every year from the Oscars. What distinguishes the Spirit Awards from the Oscars are our overall nominees including: “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” “Thumbsucker,” “The War Within,” “The Puffy Chair,” “Conventioneers,” “Beautiful Country,” “Jellysmoke,” etc. The important thing about the Independent Spirit Awards is to shine a spotlight on the full spectrum of independent films, not just the higher profile independent films.

iW: How do you go about emphasizing that difference?

DH: Our mission is to give filmmakers access to the contacts and information they need to get their films made. All filmmakers. We wouldn’t be doing our job if only the high-profile independent filmmakers were nominated and celebrated at the Spirit Awards. We’ve added categories over the years to ensure that smaller independent films are well represented, categories like Best First Feature, Best First Screenplay, and the John Cassavetes Award for films with budgets under $500,000. We also added three filmmaker grants (honoring fiction filmmakers, documentarians, and producers) to encourage talented new filmmakers in the most helpful way possible: by giving them each a check for $25,000.

iW: Can you talk a bit about why awards, specifically the Spirit Awards, are important to independent and specialty films?

DH: The awards season has benefited independent filmmakers in unprecedented ways; it does the heavy lifting of marketing independent films to a wider audience. It’s the kind of marketing that more independent distribution companies can afford: sending out DVDs for $2 a piece to potential voters is a lot cheaper than buying commercial spots on national TV. Not only does the awards season benefit the specific films that are nominated, it benefits all independent filmmakers by highlighting how a low-budget, original film can go on to…win awards! make a lot of money! More filmmakers have been able to attract investors for supremely quirky and personal films, promising that theirs may be the next “Crash”, or “In the Bedroom”, or “Lost in Translation.” So the awards season has a positive ripple effect throughout the independent film industry. That’s why we fought so hard against the MPAA’s screener ban two years ago; those screeners – for independent films – help level the playing field among the big-budgeted studio films and the smaller budgeted independent films.

This year, the Spirit Awards nominated 38 films and an additional 12 filmmakers for our Filmmaker Grants (the Someone to Watch, Truer than Fiction, and Producers Award). First, and most important to Film Independent, is that the Spirit Awards create a community among these artists. We bring them together at parties and seminars and screenings leading up to the ceremony on March 4th so they can meet each other and form new alliances — which have resulted in more projects getting made. And being with other artists who are passionate about making original films supports the creative process and helps firm an artist’s resolve to keep working, to keep telling these personal, unique stories. At least we hope it does!

The Spirit Awards benefit each of the nominated films and filmmakers in other ways. For some, it may be the recognition that gives their distributor the confidence to promote the film as strongly as possible throughout the awards season. Others get offers for DVD deals or a commitment to the filmmaker’s next project. Nominees get agents or additional theater bookings or get hired to direct an HBO show that supports them through making their next independent film! Our goal is to provide each of the nominees with more access, more awareness, more fans for their work — and a fun party on Saturday.

iW: There is such a wide range of work recognized with Spirit Award nominations this year, including some small, relatively unknown films… Can you talk about how the Spirit Awards can bring more attention to these movies?

DH: Our partnership with Netflix has helped all the films, and especially the smaller, under-the-radar nominees. Now every voting member can view these films, and there’s much more awareness of these films throughout the industry and with audiences. We announce the nominations as early as humanly possible to benefit the smaller films in particular. The filmmakers use the entire three months, from the announcement of the nominees until the show itself, to meet with distributors, cable channels, agents, and potential new investors — with anyone who can help increase the audience for their films and further their careers. The Spirit Awards give these filmmakers more access to the people who can help them. We hope the recognition gives them the encouragement they need to keep doing this great work.

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