The 36th Film Independent Spirit Awards made history on Thursday night, with the introduction of television categories which attempt to honor independently-spirited TV series in the same vein as the organization champions independent film.
The five new categories — Best New Non-Scripted or Documentary Series, Best Scripted Series, Best Female Performance in a Scripted Series, Best Male Performance in a Scripted Series, Best Ensemble Cast in a New Scripted Series — had an extremely straightforward set of winners, which cynical minds might suggest is a sign that an organization that specializes in independent film might not be the right awards body to dabble in the messy business of television.
Netflix took home three awards, edging out HBO which topped the other two categories. One of those wins for HBO had been established months ago when the Indie Spirit nominations were first announced, crowning “I May Destroy You” as the best ensemble cast. Michaela Coel’s landmark limited series was also responsible for HBO’s other victory of the night, winning best scripted series.
As for Netflix, its victories came for female and male performance in a scripted series for Shira Haas and Amit Rahav from the streamer’s Emmy-winning limited series “Unorthodox.” Documentary series “Immigration Nation” took home the prize for new non-scripted series.
All of the TV winners from the ceremony were more than deserving and it was particularly gratifying to finally see an outpouring of love and appreciation for “I May Destroy You,” which has gone largely overlooked during the non-Emmys awards season that has occupied the last several months.
But with all of the awards going to the two most powerful TV players, the Indie Spirits might spark more questions than answers. Chief among them: Why is Film Independent trying to recognize TV, anyway?
As gets mentioned a lot around these here parts, for as much as film and TV play in the same sandbox, there are plenty of fundamental differences in things like production plans, distribution models and, well, networks. There have been a few scattered attempts at creating TV festivals — or space at established film festivals — that could turn into launchpads for self-made TV.
But part of the reason no one has yet been truly successful at creating such a space is because a TV pilot is not a short film. Though the amount of effort expended may be similar, the stories they are telling are completely different, even if dealing with the exact same subject matter.
A film wants to tell you a story. A pilot wants to bait a hook and lure viewers into investing not only in the story you’re telling, but also in the story you intend to tell in the episodes to (hopefully) come after. A film, no matter how rustic, is a fully formed flower. A pilot, no matter how pristine, is a packet of seeds.
The issue with the Indie Spirit TV categories is that category breakdowns and eligibility restrictions mean that the awards are honoring a very small sliver of the television landscape. Upon the announcement of the categories, it was determined that shows could only compete with their first season, giving a disproportionate advantage to limited series, for whom every season is their first (and only) season.
Focusing on limited or anthology series means excising the bulk of TV’s episodic and serialized storytelling. In layman’s terms, Film Independent has created TV awards that exclude all of the things that make TV different from film. When you do this, it becomes clear that you don’t actually care about TV. You just wish films were longer.
This is underlined by the fact that there are no budget restrictions on TV submissions at the Indie Spirit Awards, just a nebulous requirement that submitted shows have, no joke, that independent spirit about them.
The problem with forgoing a spending limit is that there are certain networks and streamers (HBO, Netflix, Apple TV+) that have much deeper pockets than others. Without transparency from the TV industry into how much they’re actually spending on shows, it’s difficult to imagine true parity between competitors, which is a real problem when you’re dealing with an honor aimed at “indie” spirited shows.
The Indie Spirit TV Awards weren’t bad — though the ceremony is another story — but they were unnecessary. (Still better than the Golden Globes, though.)