Indie Filmmakers Hope People Won't Forget a "Really Good Movie" in Crowded Awards Season

Lorene Scafaria at the 2019 Gotham Awards - H Getty 2019
Jemal Countess/Getty Images for IFP

'The Lighthouse' star Willem Dafoe and 'Hustlers' director Lorene Scafaria spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about keeping their projects in voters' minds while 'Her Smell' star Elisabeth Moss and 'The Farewell' director Lulu Wang said their films already had more success and recognition than they anticipated.

Awards season may just be ramping up, with the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards set to announce their nominees this week and numerous critics groups this month unveiling their picks for the best films of 2019, but more awards hopeful films keep emerging, with 1917, Dark Waters, Richard Jewell and Queen & Slim among the projects that have debuted to critical acclaim and awards attention in recent weeks. At the same time, the teams behind well-received films that were released earlier in the year — like The Farewell, Hustlers and The Lighthouse — are hoping awards voters don't forget about their projects amid a glut of other acclaimed films now hitting theaters.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter at Monday's Gotham Awards — where well-received movies from earlier in the year like The Farewell and Hustlers competed against current releases like Waves and Marriage Story and movies yet to hit theaters like Uncut Gems and Clemency — indie filmmakers shared their hopes and strategies for keeping their movies in the conversation.

Hustlers director Lorene Scafaria pointed out that the stripper-heist film, starring Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez, recently became available digitally and on Blu-ray and DVD and said she hopes that viewers might tune in from home over the holidays.

"I like to think Hustlers is a Christmas movie, so maybe it will become that kind of movie that people turn on for the season," she said, adding that having success after struggling to get the movie made has been "validating and very meaningful."

"We had a lot of ups and downs. It was a long process to get the directing job, to be honest," Scafaria told THR. "And then it was a long process to try to get it greenlit. We lost a home [at Annapurna]. We brought the project around to everywhere in town. STX, Adam Fogelson there was kind of the only one who got it. That was a wild experience. To be on the other side of it and have people embrace it is incredibly validating and very meaningful."

The Lighthouse star Willem Dafoe, a best supporting actor hopeful for his role in the Robert Eggers-directed film, admitted to being somewhat intimidated by deep-pocketed competitors but said he was ready to help shine a light on the A24 release that first premiered at Cannes before hitting theaters Oct. 18.

"You're always concerned when you see these huge full-page ads everywhere and you don't have the budget to compete on that level for attention, to simply have awareness of the movie," Dafoe said. "That's kind of heartbreaking, and that's why I love going to work and trying to get attention for the film because I think it's a beautiful film. And Robert Eggers is a great talent. So you kind of take the fight and when critically there's a response and popularly there's a response then you get very excited because you feel the film has a life. It starts to live and I think it deserves that life."

Fellow A24 release The Farewell, which hit theaters over the summer after premiering at Sundance, was one of the few non-Marriage Story movies to win a Gotham Award on Monday night, with star Awkwafina taking home the best actress award. And writer-director Lulu Wang said she was just grateful for the success her small film had already achieved.

"I think that A24 has done an incredible job in the release strategy. The reality is most films don't go from Sundance all the way until where we've come," Wang told THR. "And regardless of when it's released, I think that's just the fact of the matter because it's a smaller film. There's not a million celebrities in it. Our film was made for $3 million, so I don't think we expected to have the success that we had in the release in itself. To still be in the conversation at this point, that's good enough. We've already won."

Her Smell star Elisabeth Moss echoed these thoughts, saying the Alex Ross Perry movie that first premiered at Toronto in 2018 before hitting theaters in April of this year, had already exceeded her expectations.

"I want to give an award to anyone who's ever seen it because I feel like it's a tough movie to watch and it's intense and I feel like as many people who have seen it as they have and that critics responded like they did — we've gotten some awards recognition — is already far and above what I could have dreamed for it, honestly," Moss told THR. "For me this is all the cherry on top: the fact that this has had a life beyond its April release, the fact that people are still talking about it."

But American Factory director Julia Reichert said it's ultimately quality that determines the staying power of certain films, even those released earlier in the year as her and co-director Steven Bognar's Obama-backed documentary was.

"There are films you probably saw 10 to 15 years ago that you still revisit and you still talk to people about and you refer to, so I don't think people forget a really good movie," she said. "And I think we made a really good movie."