AFI Fest: Watch 8 Oscar Contenders Discuss Challenges, Rewards of Making Indies

If you were one of the hundreds packing the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on Sunday afternoon for AFI Fest's sixth annual Indie Contenders Panel, presented by The Hollywood Reporter, you couldn't help but feel the independent 'spirit' in the room. Even if you weren't in the room, you can experience the full 90-minute conversation in the video at the top of this post.

Eight performers came together to discuss the challenges and rewards of making movies for less than $22.5 million — in some cases, way less — which is Film Independent's standard budget to qualify an independent film. The participants were: Awkwafina (lead actress, The Farewell); Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown (supporting actor, Waves); Tony and Grammy winner Cynthia Erivo (lead actress, Harriet); Jimmie Fails (lead actor, The Last Black Man in San Francisco); Emmy winner Jon Hamm (supporting actor, The Report); Florence Pugh (lead actress, Fighting With My Family and Midsommar); Emmy nominee Kerry Washington (lead actress, American Son); and Oscar nominee Alfre Woodard (lead actress, Clemency).

As The Hollywood Reporter's Tara Bitran noted in her coverage of the event, topics of discussion included indie budgets (Fails' film was made for just $250,000) and schedules (Washington's pic was shot in just 4-1/2 days); indies' greater willingness to center movies on women and people of color (Erivo noted that a narrative film had never been made about American hero Harriet Tubman) and how things have changed over the years (Woodard discussed her experience as a black woman in the biz over the last four decades); not dumbing down scripts to appeal to the lowest common denominator (Hamm's film has been called "pornography for policy wonks"), casting non-actors and employing subtitles (Awkwafina's movie is largely in Mandarin); the particular value of film festivals to indie pics and filmmakers (Pugh and Brown spoke about their experiences at festivals over the years); plus much more.

Film Independent will announce its Spirit Award nominations Thursday in Los Angeles, and the IFP's Gotham Independent Film Awards are set to take place Dec. 2 in New York.