Back a few decades ago, as the IFP had picked up steam, I was invited, in the wake of the marginally successful All the Vermeers in New York, to the new-spangled Indie Spirit Awards. It had been going on a few years, and getting ever more “important” in the little burgeoning petri dish of “independent” cinema. I was there to get a little honorific piece of paper, along with producer Ed Pressman: the John Cassavetes Lifetime Achievement Award. I guess I was supposed to die soon. I was 48.
The Spirit Awards move to the Beverly Hills Hotel with an attendance of 550 guests. Kevin Costner delivers the keynote speech and Oliver Stone is the event’s Honorary Chair. Edward R. Pressman and Jon Jost are recipients of a new award given in recognition of a bold, creative body of work and established in honor of the late maverick filmmaker John Cassavetes. Bravo produces a cable special on the event, hosted by Charles Champlin.
Noting the new locale, the pink Beverley Hills Hotel, gathering place of old-line Hollywood honchos, and the keynote speaker, Mr Costner, I didn’t feel it had much “indie” about it, or at least not in any terms I could acknowledge. Costner’s agent, the most powerful man in Hollywood, Michael Ovitz (at the time – Hwd is fickle, and he took a great fall since), was sitting there in the first row. Costner gave a little talk saying that any “good” script will get made in Hollywood, so if your script wasn’t made it must mean… He didn’t mention that a lot of really really bad scripts also get made. Ironically I was the next speaker, and noted that my films had no scripts usually, and that perhaps it was one of Hollywood’s problems that their films start on paper instead of cinematically, though this is logical since their real purpose is merely to make more paper: money. Scripts are written by accountants. I had been told by gushing IFP people that after this prestigious pat on the head studios would soon be knocking on my door. Naturally none did.
All the Vermeers was made for a budget of $240,000, in 35mm. SAG, a 3 person crew: myself as director, camera and edit; Sarah Cawley as assistant camera/focus puller; and John Murphy doing sound. It ran 6 months in a few places – Chicago and San Francisco. Only one week in a recently changed Village porn house in NYC. In LA it opened the first day of the Watts riot to 7 good reviews and no open cinemas….
Now, two decades later, the awards have bloomed into day-before Hollywood glitz, and “independence” costs a mere 10-12 million bucks, or so the budget for this year’s winner was said to be.
Black Swan and Fox Searchlight triumphed at Saturday afternoon’s  Indie Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, while 127 Hours, Winter’s Bone and The Kids Are All Right left a notable impression.
The budgets on the other films were 18, 2, and 4 million, respectively. To place this in perspective my own last narrative films, in DV, cost from $500 to $2000 each. Actors naturally mostly not paid. Nor me. Free place to stay courtesy of friends. And of course they will make no money. And of course never shown in America, and certainly not in the running for Indie Awards. As the old American maxim goes, “money talks, bullshit walks.” Sub-millions = BS.
I’d be happy though to place those films on an artistic scale with the multi-million budgeted ones.