Going into this year's Spirit Awards, I was actually excited to see what the change to Friday night (from Saturday afternoon) and Downtown Los Angeles (from the beach in Santa Monica) would bring. Unlike some who were trapped in Friday afternoon traffic, I only live 15 minutes from the LA Live venue, so it was a brisk trip via side streets to this year's awards.
But it turned out that the biggest change (and the one most detrimental) was replacing long time Spirit Awards Executive Producer Diana Zahn-Storey with a cookie-cutter production team from dick clark productions, who apparently thought that the Spirit Awards = any other awards show + cursing. Gone was the irreverent, sometimes homemade charm that makes the event so enjoyable. Those funny song spoofs that lampoon the Best Feature nominees? Replaced by a lackluster Jeff Bridges performance and yet another congratulatory lap around the track for Anvil. As much as I love Anvil and ANVIL!, the set by the band just before the presentation of the Best Documentary award felt really wrong - and not just because of the ties (not mentioned) between Film Independent and ANVIL! producer Rebecca Yeldham.
Host Eddie Izzard was a true bomb, which was especially disappointing given the amount of enthusiasm for him prior to the event, and the layout for the show was awful, doing him no favors. On the beach the tent is laid out sideways, with the stage at the 50 yard line and tables no more than 10 or 12 rows deep; downtown the stage was at one end of the field, with many indie stalwarts stuck seemingly blocks away, watching on the large overhead monitors.
But worst of all, the one truly bullshit call of the night was to rush through the Film Independent grant recipients. Instead of showing clips from the nominated films by these up-and-comers and getting to walk to the stage like the other winners, grant nominees were huddled backstage and sent out once the winner was announced. Since grant nominees had been told that they needed to be placed on opposite sides of the room so that camera crews could capture their reactions, one can only assume that the decision was made during the show dut to the production running behind. In any case, Bill Ross and Turner Ross, the Truer Than Fiction honorees for 45365 took to the stage and delivered a gobsmacked acceptance, even though presenter Matt Dillon never named the film for which they won.
When Film Independent does their morning after assessment of this year's awards, they will likely hear that the downtown setting and the Friday night time slot were missteps. But unless they bring in a new Executive Producer and give respect to the true indies in their midst, the change of time and setting will be the least of their problems.
Update: More pans from Anne Thompson ("I had a miserable time"), Shawn Levy (watching and cringing from home), Jeffrey Wells (wondering why the director didn't give the audience an establishing shot of the new venue). Roger Ebert is more charitable: it "had its moments". The indieWIRE team liveblogged and recaps the winners. The high point of the night? Dusty Smith's live tweeting at @spiritawards.