Film Independent’s tented, beachfront Spirit Awards may have matured to a polished kudocast — one that recently won a WGA Award — but exec producer Diana Zahn-Storey realizes the event’s success still lies in its spontaneity.
“I’ve always thought of us as being the cheap stepchild to the big awards shows,” Zahn-Storey says. “I want people on television to feel what everyone feels in the room.”
The Spirits will again air live and uncut on IFC, which the organizers seem to regard as a dare when picking a host. Few taped shows can offer up the kinds of risque moments as former host Sarah Silverman’s cheese sex grind or Rainn Wilson’s tranny-prostitute conversion by Dennis Hopper.
And, with Brit comedian Steve Coogan emceeing this year’s honors, auds can bet the edited version of the show — airing in a later timeslot on AMC — may be a bit shorter.
“I don’t particularly like awards shows,” Coogan admits. “They can be so boring, can’t they? There’s so many of them. When I’ve done them, it’s usually because I’ve been coerced. But the Spirit Awards’ irreverent nature is a bit more palatable. If I go down, I’ll go down in flames.”
Coogan, whose recent pic credits include “Tropic Thunder” and “Hamlet 2,” just finished a live tour in the fall. “I’m pretty used to standing in front of an audience and taking my life in my hands.”
To prepare for the Spirits gig, he’s watched tapes of prior kudocasts to see what’s been covered and how far he can go. “I won’t try to tread on Sarah Silverman’s vagina, if I can use that metaphor,” he says, referring to another infamous Silverman moment from the 2007 show.
“The host sets the tone for the day, so you want someone in that room who has credibility and can really be funny and charming — Steve is all of those things,” says Zahn-Storey.
“Besides, everyone else was hiring someone from outside the country,” she adds, referring to this year’s Oscarcast host Hugh Jackman.
Now in her 15th year with the Spirits, Zahn-Storey has worked on many of the show’s milestones. Along with IFC signing on in 1994, she’s overseen the greening of the kudocast. This year’s gathering again will be a zero-waste event: Biodiesel powers the generators, and the 1,500 guests will feast on food that comes from a 150-mile radius.
Meanwhile, liquor sponsors will be literally lubricating awards revelers as soon as they arrive. “The task is to keep people loose,” Zahn-Storey explains.
IFC and Elle magazine will host tent-adjacent lounges along with Australia.com, which is bringing in a live kangaroo for photo ops. A backstage gifting lounge, hosted by On 3 Prods., will be showering VIPs with goodies, including the brand-new Palm Pre, Koolaburra boots and Sakroots eco-totes. For each celeb who gets swagged up, Palm will make a contribution to Film Independent’s mentoring program Project:Involve.
In these rocky economic times, there have been discussions about slimming the show down, but Zahn-Storey says the Spirits are already a lean ship. The kudos are also Film Independent’s biggest fund-raiser of the year. “I’m very aware that every penny I spend is one less they have for programs,” she says.
This year the show’s famous song parodies will feature the voice talents of Christina Applegate, Teri Hatcher and Taraji P. Henson. Robyn Hitchcock will sing a track from “Rachel Getting Married,” and 2008 host Wilson will return to perform a song for “The Wrestler.”
The producers have just one requirement for the show: All the trophies must be given away within two hours — otherwise, everything is game. Well, almost everything.
“We had this idea for this joke from Steve’s act,” says Zahn-Storey. “We went to the networks with it and realized it just wouldn’t work because it would be bleeped too much. It was a song called ‘Everyone’s a Bit of a Cunt Sometimes.’ “