SANTA MONICA – The Artist won 4 awards. But its distributor The Weinstein Company swept 5 at today’s 2012 Film Independent Spirit Awards, including Best Picture, Best Male Lead, Best Female Lead, Best Director and Best Cinematographer. Hosted by Seth Rogen, the 27th annual awards ceremony took place during a luncheon in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica. The Spirit Awards celebrate artist-driven filmmaking and recognizes the best achievements of today’s independent filmmakers. This year the weather was cooperating: sunny and warm as the looky-loos lined up on the sand to snap a picture and grab a handshake from their favorite stars arriving in a fleet of black limos and cars.

Seth Rogen opened the show by continuing the Spirit Awards’ long tradition of provocative standup, saying: “I have no fucking clue why we’re in a tent right now. There are previously existing structures where we could have done [the awards]. You know you are at a class awars show if they have porto-potty.”… He notes how he’s “hosted a few Seders” before this. I don’t know what the opposite of selling out is, but I want that to happen.”

He tells the audience, “I’m committed to watching all your movies. I made it through the first 5 minutes of every single one of them. Some start out slow, pretty fuckin’ slow. [He draws that out so it’s funnier.) … Rogen lampoons Spirits for giving awards for “Tallest Horse, Prettiest Pig”… He calls Spirits “the only awards show that is completely inconsequential. Nothing will come of this, absolutely nothing. It won’t help you get paid any more. If anything, it proves you’ll work for nothing.”

Of all the four seasons there’s no season like awards season. Without awards season we wouldn’t know what a horrible bigot Brett Ratner is.” … “The Grammy’s seem much more forgiving than the Oscars altogether. At the Grammys you can beat the shit out of your girlfriend and they’ll ask you to perform. Twice.”

Rogen made fun of The Artist: “Didn’t we learn anything from Roberto Bernini?”

And he gave some backhanded compliments to George Clooney. “I loved The Descendants. I now know how George Clooney would look at a Jimmy Buffet concert: pretty fuckin’ sexy. You know a movie is good when it makes you feel bad for George Clooney.” … Rogen said it made him want to “hold him, caress him, undress him, then fuck the shit out of him.”

About the movie Drive, Rogen joked, “It made Jews look so scary I thought Mel Gibson made it…

About the film Shame, Rogen noted how “Michael Fassbender’s dick almost got the role of the knob in Albert Nobbs.”

Rogen went on to say, “Great year, I just learned there was another Olsen. The best one. Where were they keeping her?”

Later, during the Spirit Awards show, Patricia Clarkson led a toast to the memory of independent film executive Bingham Ray who passed away at the most recent Sundance Film Festival: “In January, we lost Bingham Ray. He was an independent film. He was gutsy, ingenious, a little out of focus, heartbreaking, unforgettable, and way too many curse words for PG-13. Please join me in a toast for this man that we loved very much. To Bingham. Thank you, Bingham. Wish you were here. Cheers, thank you.”

2012 Film Independent Spirit Award Winners

BEST FEATURE

The Artist – Producer: Thomas Langmann

Langmann onstage talked about how hard it is getting film financing, then gave special thanks to Cannes Film Festival chief Thierry Fremaux and The Weinstein Co’s Harvey Weinstein.

Backstage, Langmann was at first asked a question in French, drawing howls of protest from the English-speaking press. But the accommodating producer joked, “I don’t speak French,” then immediately translated the question: “It’s about Harvey Weinstein, what is most important about him. [It is] his weight,” he said, to laughter. “I mean, he’s big. And this is the end of our American career.

He went on to praise Weinstein’s tenacity in getting the movie made. “He came. He flew. We were totally unknown, and he went to see a movie that was silent and black and white. Our stars were not known here. He thought there was something that made it worth flying to come to see the movie. And he did, and here we are today. I have nothing bad to say.” He called having this movie recognized a “tribute to Hollywood cinema, a dream come true.”

When director Michel Hazanavicius arrived backstage to join Langmann and actors James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller, Langmann deferred to the director.  “This is Mr. Magic,” he said.

Said Hazanavicius, “There is no recipe to build magic,” and credited luck and hiring talented people. He joked about the demands of constantly appearing at awards shows this season. “It’s not the worst job you can find. People say you are nice guy, you are talented, you have a very charming French accent. And we have the police come to escort us from the airport. That was great!”

The director said he’s feeling “a little stage fright” for tomorrow’s Oscars. “I can’t say I’m super cool. But today – this is important too. This means a lot because it is a small movie, it’s not expensive, we did it with small money, and it’s black and white and silent.”

But, with another apparent wink to Weinstein, “Small money, but his money,” the director added.

BEST DIRECTOR

Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist

The Artist filmmakers just landed from the French Casar Awards and drove here with a police escort (your tax dollars at work), according to Hazanavicius in his acceptance speech: “We just arrived from France five minutes ago. We came from the airport with a police escort so it was like a theme from Drive. As for independent film, you’re never really independent because you always need somebody.”

BEST SCREENPLAY

Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash – The Descendants

BEST FIRST FEATURE (given to the director and producer)

Margin Call – Director: J.C. Chandor; Producers: Robert Ogden Barnum, Michael Benaroya, Neal Dodson, Joe Jenckes, Corey Moosa, Zachary Quinto

Chandor said backstage: “There was a tremendous concern in bringing this property to the screen and in shopping this around we could not find the money to do it. There was trepidation about it.” Chandor noted that Quinto helped get his friends to take roles. “Casting was always a big moving puzzle. But one by one, it came together.”

Quinto said backstage: “The thing that actors respond to is material. When I read the script, it was unequivocally clear that I wanted to get behind this project. J.C.’s affability, his ability to articulate his point of view put actors at ease and disarmed them. I think all the credit goes back to J.C. Everyone signed on because of him and his screenplay. I just had to twist some arms.”

Quinto said he’s producing Chandor’s follow-up which is going into pre-production soon.

BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY

Will Reiser – 50/50

Reiser onstage said he “had to give credit where credit is due — to cancer”. (At 24, Reiser was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Six years later, he got a clean bill of health and wrote a film comedy based on his cancer experiences.)

The best part of winning, Reiser said backstage, was being part of a “prestigious list of names, writers who have been major influences. To be listed amongst those names is really special. I had no idea how much the movie would connect with people, because it was so personal to me and the guys, Seth and Evan.” He was affected by “how it has really touched people and connected with people, especially people who have been affected by cancer who can really relate to it.” He added that winning an Indie award was especially gratifying because in commercial film there “is less and less room for films like these.”

And if you thought cancer was funny, Reiser says his next project is a comedy about Alzheimer’s disease based on a vacation he took with his grandmother who was in the early stages of the disease. He and grandma mistakenly ended up at a Jamaican couples resort. “And I lost her,” Reiser said.

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD – Given to the writer,directo, and producer of the best feature made for under $500,000

Pariah Writer/Director: Dee Rees; Producer: Nekisa Cooper

Rees said onstage: “Anytime we can have two whiskies before noon is alright…”

“Pariah is a film about identity,” said director and writer Dee Rees backstage. “It’s a universal concept that everyone can relate to. I only referenced one other film in making this, and it was Paris Is Burning. The filmmakers of that movie thrust you in, exploring their world. We trusted the audience and didn’t want to overexplain. This award is meaningful to me because Cassavetes is one of my favorite directors.”

Producer Nekisa Cooper said backstage: “You make a film for a half a million dollars and you’re always a winner. It took a village to make this film — IFP, Sundance Institute, Spike Lee.  Our D.P. built lights to try to figure out ways to make shots better. We shot in 18 days, and we had a creative and technical crew. Our production designer transformed a 4-story brownstone into 10 different locations.” Cooper gave this advise to wannabe filmmakers: “Find a good producer. Someone who’ll support a good vision around your film.” (more…)