The 2017 Film Independent Spirit Awards celebrated last year’s most noteworthy independent films, with the stars and filmmakers behind Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Loving, American Honey and more gathering in Santa Monica on Saturday morning.
Nick Kroll and John Mulaney hosted the event, which took place under a tent next to the Santa Monica beach. The show was broadcast on IFC, but there were plenty of moments that didn’t make it onto the cameras. The Hollywood Reporter team was on the ground, backstage and inside the tent to catch all the action.
Here are some of the most memorable moments that weren’t on TV:
1. Cocktail Hour: Two hours before the show began, a cocktail party saw many of the nominees mingling with members of the indie film community. Pizza was served from Jon & Vinny’s and cocktails provided by Bulleit Bourbon. Indie producer Cassian Elwes spoke to THR about his latest film Mudbound, directed by Dee Rees and which debuted at Sundance and landed at Netflix. “[CEO] Reed Hastings was crying at the premiere, so I had a feeling they’d want it,” related Elwes, who said the streaming giant will give the film an awards push. Even competitors were seen mingling: Taylor Sheridan, who wrote Hell or High Water, went over to Manchester by the Sea writer-director Kenneth Lonergan during the pre-party.
2. Playing Dead: It looked like presenter Fred Armisen was having nap time before the show started, but he was, in fact, practicing how to look dead for the show’s non-memoriam skit where he had to play dead. Before the show, he practiced his best dead look for his girlfriend Natasha Lyonne.
3. Moonlight Reunion: Moonlight star Trevante Rhodes was greeted not just by hugs but lots of touching by his Moonlight crew when he showed up at the Indie Spirit Awards. The actor recently shot the war movie Horse Soldiers and is now shooting Predator, having bulked up considerably to play military types. So when he met up with Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, Naomi Harris and others prior to hitting the red carpet, he got a lot of wows and razzing from his friends. “He’s so big now,” said producer Adele Romanski. Inside, the Moonlight group was energetically enjoying the event. Jharrel Jerome (who plays the teen Kevin in the film) was spotted making videos of his seating name card on the well-decorated tables and asked for a photo with Kerry Washington.
4. Political Thanks: Film Independent president Josh Welsh spoke onstage before the cameras rolled. He thanked the press (especially at a time when the media is being called the “enemy of the American people”), the labor unions and all the filmmakers who had traveled from abroad. “Thank you for reminding us that the filmmaking community is one that transcends borders and walls. Independent film is globalism as its best,” said Welsh. Ironically, he was reminding the winners to keep their speeches short when he himself was interrupted because the live broadcast was about to start.
5. Commercial Break Madness: During commercial breaks, a live band provided music for the room, but most people spent the time running around to see old friends. Ava DuVernay reunited with her Selma stars David Oyelowo and Andre Holland. She also said hello to Mahershala Ali and the cast of Moonlight. Ali was also seen chatting with Hank Azaria, and Orange Is the New Black stars Lyonne and Danielle Brooks made their way over to Netflix chief Ted Sarandos and DuVernay, who were at the same table. The crowd was warned that they needed to be in their seats before they went live again, but many could be seen rushing back after the cameras were rolling.
6. Standing Ovations Galore: The A24 section of the gathering — which included tables for American Honey, Moonlight, 20th Century Women, The Witch and Swiss Army Man — spent a lot of time standing up, as the casts of the other pics would stand every time one of their sister films won. Plus, the cast of Moonlight (including Ali, Rhodes and Janelle Monae) gave standing ovations for every winner. But the biggest ovations came when Jenkins won for best director and when Moonlight won for best film.
7. Smoke Breaks: Tim Roth was spotted sitting in the American Airlines lounge with his vape pen in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. Later, Viggo Mortensen was spotted taking drags during a super-quick smoke break. Also backstage, presenter Aubrey Plaza was overheard complaining about how she just wanted to sit down because her feet hurt.
8. Piggy Back Exits: When the show ended, Kirsten Dunst jumped on her fiance Jesse Plemmon’s back and he carried her out of a side exit where they stopped to talk to Andy Samberg and co-hosts Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, who were laughing and joking around.
9. Carousel Celebration: Spa Night director Andrew Ahn (who won the John Cassavetes Award, and said onstage that he was so nervous he thought he was “going to barf”) told THR that they didn’t have plans to celebrate so they may go to the carousel on the Santa Monica Pier for a celebratory ride.
10. Parking Lot Queue: After the show wrapped, the car service pickup line became a hub of winners and presenters waiting for their rides. Lucas Hedges was spotted reading THR’s Oscars issue while he waited. Meanwhile, Freida Pinto wrapped herself in a grey coat and Samuel L. Jackson beelined for his car, the first in line. DuVernay congratulated Toni Erdmann director Maren Ade for her win, and took a quick selfie with her. “I have to practice my selfies,” Ade said after.
Brian Porreca and Borys Kit contributed to this report.