On Tuesday, the Film Independent Spirit Awards announced the addition of five new categories, expanding their indie movie ceremony to honor television for the first time in the show’s 36-year history. The new categories – Best New Scripted Series, Best New Non-Scripted or Documentary Series, Best Male Performance in a Scripted Series, Best Female Performance in a Scripted Series and Best Ensemble Cast in a Scripted Series – notably recognize only new series, a first for any major award ceremony featuring television categories, according to Variety.
Have you heard the news? It’s true! We’ve officially announced the addition of new television categories for the 2021 FilmIndependent #SpiritAwards, and submissions are open! Read all about it: https://t.co/uhd52IQb4G https://t.co/RTNbSnZbP2
— Film Independent (@filmindependent) September 30, 2020
Setu Raval, Film Independent’s associate director of nominations, spoke with Variety to elaborate on the show’s new categories. As an organization that champions low-budget (under 22.5 million), indie filmmaking, the first item Raval needed to address is how that “indie” definition applies to the realm of television. Raval admits that, in terms of funding, television and film are entirely different beasts. Film Independent has often championed self-financed films, putting filmmakers front-and-center, but Raval confesses that TV is “more corporate” than that, via Variety. “The way things are greenlit, the power is generally not in the hands of the individual creators,” Raval demarcates the differences in format “especially when it’s somebody young and starting out” (Variety). In terms of the financial discrepancies, Raval tells Variety “the budgets of TV, even in low-budget TV are significantly higher for the most part than if you’re self-financing a feature.”
Despite these technical differences, in terms of production, Film Independent wants to honor television programs that capture the spirit of the indie features they nominate. “Aesthetic, original provocative subject matter, unique voice and diversity” Raval commented on the types of television projects Film Independent hopes to honor in it’s 2021 ceremony “the types of work that we celebrate on the film side, and TV side, they’re going to look very similar” (Variety). Producer Mynette Louie (The Tale, The Invitation), who was involved in Film Independent’s expansion into television, commented on Twitter that the state of the industry allows for more “specialty” stories to be explored on the small screen.
Truth is, it seems to be getting easier to get “specialty” projects made as TV series than as feature films. I’ll always love feature film format most, but these are the times we live in. Glad to’ve been part of this decisionmaking process @FilmIndependent https://t.co/a3DeHuPcHi
— Mynette Louie (@mynette) September 29, 2020
Limiting television nominees to freshmen projects ensures a fresh slate of nominees each year, avoiding the ruts of seeing the same contenders awarded time and time again. According to Raval, first seasons are “that moment where the creators have that opportunity to step outside some of the boundaries of television and be able to create some original content” (Variety). Additionally, having no limitations in terms of genre, as is typical in other award shows, ensures that Film Independent will “always end up with a list that’s quite eclectic” when it comes to nominees, via Variety.
Other restrictions in the television categories bar certain networks and types of series from entry. A required episode length of at-least 18 minutes eliminates short-form streaming platform Quibi from the running. A total series run of at-least three episodes excludes two-part miniseries or documentaries from entry. The final specification is that episodes “must have been broadcast, transmitted or available via a commercial streaming platform within the eligibility window. Series must be available via network, basic cable, pay cable, pay television, pay-per-view, interactive cable, broadband, or digital distribution through streaming platforms” (Variety). This rule eliminates smaller series published directly to the web from the competition.
Fleabag, Dear White People and Gentefied were all series mentioned by Raval as ones that would’ve been in the running if Film Independent had included television categories prior to the 2021 season. Variety mentions I May Destroy You, We Are Who We Are, Small Axe, Monsterland, The Good Lord Bird and Gangs of London as likely contenders for Film Independent’s television categories in 2021. When covering the story, IndieWire included a screenshot from Hulu’s Normal People, asserting that the miniseries may also be a contender.
Television shows that adhere to the above requirements and have aired their first season between Jan 1 and Dec 31 2020 will be eligible for nomination in the Film Independent Spirit Awards new categories. Nominations will be announced on January 26 2021, with the ceremony airing on IFC April 24, the Saturday before the Oscars.