Bigger, and uncut

Telecast keeps it loose

A-list presenters, national tabloid coverage and nominees that bear more than a casual resemblance to Oscar’s contenders have become a foregone conclusion at the Independent Spirit Awards in recent years.

The mainstream exposure serves as unmistakable evidence of the show’s success, but it’s also made organizers work harder to keep the event true to its scrappy roots. Their solution: keep the celebrities coming, but also keep it loose.

“What makes the Spirits the Spirits is that it’s always as much a social event as it is an awards show,” says Diana Zahn-Storey, who returns for her 11th year as the kudocast’s producer. “We want the people watching on TV to feel like they’re watching a private party, and that means showing everything that happens. We’ll have cameras outside the tent shooting the people hanging out.

“Onstage, we want our presenters to say whatever they want. I make a point not to encourage prepared speeches, even though some of the publicists for the presenters insist on it.”

To celebrate the Spirits’ 20th anniversary, arriving presenters will be filmed in front of a greenscreen, then superimposed into a comicbook-style opening montage of highlights from previous runs. There will be the traditional surprise opening and closing musical acts; and veteran indie exec Jack Lechner again has been tapped to write sing-along parodies of the picture nominees. Taking over as host from crowd favorite John Waters is Samuel L. Jackson, who emceed in 1996 and 1997. Quentin Tarantino and Salma Hayek are the honorary co-chairs.

“We’ve seen the Spirits go from this rubber chicken lunch to a television event that rivals the major awards shows, but it’s still warts and all,” says Evan Shapiro, G.M.-exec VP of IFC, broadcaster of the show. “The last thing you want to do is usher the winners off the stage with canned elevator music. Anything can happen.

“Twenty-year-olds aren’t legal yet, and we’re still going to act like rambunctious older teenagers. You don’t see that on national TV very often. The Super Bowl stopped serving at halftime — we will not stop serving at halftime.”

As it has since 1998, IFC will air the event live, even if that includes 25-minute acceptance speeches or onstage meltdowns by disoriented starlets. “We won’t edit or censor the show — the same way we don’t edit or censor our films,” says IFC exec producer Debbie DeMontreux. “It’s the chance for a lot of artists to be recognized, and we let that happen and we embrace it. Our logo is ‘TV uncut,’ and that’s what this is.”

IFC will continue to host its annual after-party at Shutters on the Beach, this year with live music from a surprise guest.

Bravo, which split from IFC-owned Rainbow Media two years ago when it was bought by NBC, will continue to air an expletive-free two-hour version of the show at 10 p.m. EST. For the second year, Bravo also will air an hourlong red-carpet special hosted by “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” star Carson Kressley.

“Sometimes we get slack for going too Hollywood, in terms of the celebrities and the publicity,” says Zahn-Storey. “But look at the nominees — so many of them of aren’t part of that establishment. If we get more attention to those films because of the stars that come, then so be it.”

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