Harnessing the hip factor

Sponsors look to increase awareness of products, pix

At first glance, many of the companies that sponsor the Independent Spirit Awards — Motorola and Audi among them — seem to represent the antithesis of the grassroots, by-the-bootstraps filmmaking that’s associated with indie cinema.

It’s certainly a testament to the general public’s increasing awareness of the independent film world — brought about as much by the success of movies like “In the Bedroom” as by the mass media coverage of the Sundance Film Festival and airings of shows like HBO’s “Project Greenlight” — that mainstream companies want the association. Of course, each company’s reason for wanting it varies.

“Before we opened our office out here 2½ years ago, we looked at the different opportunities we had to increase awareness of our product in the entertainment community,” says Motorola director of entertainment marketing David Pinsky of the company’s decision to provide a $20,000 grant for independent producers. “We looked at the obvious possibilities — product placement, gifting celebrities. But we saw independent filmmaking as a part of the business that was just as important. These people may not be household names today, but they’re the Spielbergs and Coppolas and Spike Jonzes of tomorrow.”

The show’s backstage Motorola Lounge, which contains refreshments, products and even a bathroom so that VIPs can avoid the porto-potty line, gives the company face time with the talent.

“We get an opportunity to meet the people, talk to them, show them that we’re committed to the entertainment community,” Pinsky continues. “We say to them, ‘This is who we are, call us, stay in touch with us, let us help you.’ Later on in their career, when it gets to be their time to call the shots, they’ll remember us.”

Jaimi Blakely, CEO and cofounder of Distinctive Assets, which will provide presenter and nominee gift baskets (worth an estimated $5,000), sees her company’s involvement more as a way to support a community about which she is passionate. An indie actress, producer and member of Independent Feature Project/West for the past 12 years, Blakely confesses that she loves “guerilla anything.”

“It’s these emerging voices that create art for us that’s lasting,” Blakely declares, passionately. “I know that some of the most impacting films I’ve seen over the past 10 years have been independents.”

Blakely’s other reason for involvement is even a bit more personal. “I have a lot of friends in the independent film world and I wanted to give them a nice basket,” she laughs.

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