FAQ

Your Film Independent Spirit Awards questions—answered.

Official rules, regulations and eligibility requirements for the 2021 Film Independent Spirit Awards:

Film Submissions (PDF)
Television Submissions (PDF)

How do I submit my project to be considered for the 2021 Film Independent Spirit Awards?

We will accept submissions for the 2021 Spirit Awards from September 29, 2020 through November 17, 2020. Links to this year’s official submission forms are available on our submissions page. Detailed information about this year’s Spirit Awards rules, regulations and eligibility requirements are available via the links at the top of this page.

What’s the deadline for 2021 Spirit Awards submissions?

Early Deadline: Tuesday, October 13, 2020 (Film submissions only)
Regular Deadline: Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Final Deadline: Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Do you grant extensions on entries?

We offer an extended deadline to Film Independent Members. The extended Member deadline is Friday, November 20, 2020. If you have questions about deadlines, please email spiritawards@filmindependent.org.

When will Spirit Awards nominations be announced?

The 2021 Spirit Awards nominations will be announced on Tuesday, January 26, 2021.

What makes a film/series eligible for a Spirit Award?

PDFs outlining Spirit Awards rules, regulations and eligibility requirements are available via the links at the top of this page.

Who decides which films/series are nominated?

Film Independent assembles nominating committees comprised of passionate, working members of the film community. Committees typically include a mix of film critics, programmers, producers, directors, writers, cinematographers, editors and actors, as well as past Spirit Award nominees and winners, and members of Film Independent’s Board of Directors. Film Independent staff are not voting members of any of our nominating committees. We have separate committees for American Narrative, International and Documentary films.

What are the Producers, Someone to Watch and Truer Than Fiction Awards?

These are the Film Independent Spirit Awards Emerging Filmmaker Awards. The Producers Award is designed to support an emerging producer of American narrative films; the Someone to Watch Award is designed to support an emerging director of American narrative films; and the Truer than Fiction Award is designed to support an emerging director of American documentary films.

Can I apply for the Spirit Awards Emerging Filmmaker Awards?

The Producers, Someone to Watch and Truer Than Fiction Awards are closed submissions only, meaning filmmakers and/or their representatives cannot submit for these awards. For more information about the grant awards, please email: spiritawards@filmindependent.org.

Are there any new categories for this year’s Spirit Awards?

Yes, there are five new Television categories for 2021. The new categories are: Best New Scripted Series, Best New Non-Scripted or Documentary Series, Best Male Performance in a Scripted Series, Best Female Performance in a Scripted Series, and Best Ensemble Cast in a Scripted Series. A document (PDF) covering the rules, regulations and eligibility requirements specific to the Television categories is available via the link at the top of this page.

What is the window that a series must have played in, in order to qualify for the Spirit Awards TV categories?

The 2021 Film Independent Spirit awards will recognize new series airing during the eligibility period of January 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020.

Can I submit a TV series that is in its second or third season?

No, the Spirit Awards TV categories are for new series that have aired only one season.

Can I submit to all five TV categories?

Only series eligible to submit in the category of Best New Scripted Series are eligible to submit for Best Male Performance and Best Female Performance. All series submitted for Best New Scripted are automatically considered for Best Ensemble Cast. One series will be awarded Best Ensemble Cast at the discretion of the Nominating Committee.

What is the Spirit Awards nomination process?

It’s a rigorous process that begins in late summer and runs until the nominations are announced. All eligible submitted films are distributed to the appropriate committees and discussed at regular meetings throughout the fall and winter. The nominees in each category are determined by the committees during final deliberation meetings, held just before the nominations announcement.

How do the Nominating Committees determine if a film is “independent”?

The Spirit Awards Nominating Committees consider and apply the following guidelines in making their selections:

Uniqueness of vision
Original, provocative subject matter
Economy of means
Percentage of financing from independent sources

Films that are made with an “economy of means” and are fully financed by a studio or an “indie” studio division may still be considered independent if the subject matter is original and provocative. In other words, Film Independent does not, as of 1994, define “independent” strictly on the basis of financing. (The first studio film we honored was Darnell Martin’s I Like It Like That from Columbia Pictures in 1994.)

What do you mean by “economy of means”?

First, we are only considering films that are made with lower budgets, ranging from microbudgets up to $22.5 million. Second, ‘economy of means’ means that, whatever their budget, the filmmakers stretched every dollar and used every resource at their disposal to make the best and most ambitious film they possibly could.

Is there a budget ceiling for nominated films?

In 2019, the Film Independent Board of Directors increased the budget ceiling to $22,500,000.

Do you accept short films?

No. All submitted films must be at least 70 minutes long.

Do you accept animated films?

Yes, as long as they meet all other eligibility requirements.

What are the categories for nomination?

The Spirit Awards nomination categories are as follows:

Feature Film Categories

Best Feature
Best Director
Best Screenplay
Best First Feature
Best First Screenplay
Best Cinematography
Best Editing
John Cassavetes Award*
Best Female Lead
Best Male Lead
Best Supporting Female
Best Supporting Male
Best Documentary
Best International Film

*John Cassavetes Award winner selected by the Spirit Awards Nominating Committee(s)

Television Series Categories

Best New Scripted Series
Best New Non-Scripted or Documentary Series
Best Male Performance in a Scripted Series
Best Female Performance in a Scripted Series
Best Ensemble Cast in a Scripted Series

I screened my film in a commercial theater as part of a film festival, does that qualify as a commercial theatrical run?

No. Unless the film qualifies through one of our qualifying film festivals, it must have screened on its own for at least one week in a commercial theater in the US, during the 2020 calendar year. Please note: due to COVID-19, the 2021 Spirit Awards will also accept films that intended to release theatrically in 2020 but could not due to theaters being closed, and instead the film was made available via virtual cinema, commercial streaming or a VOD service.

What are the qualifying film festivals for the Film Independent Spirit Awards?

Sundance Film Festival, SXSW Film Festival, New Directors/New Films, Tribeca Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival and New York Film Festival.

How does the Spirit Awards define an “American” narrative feature?

The Spirit Awards defines an “American production” as:

A film in which U.S. citizens or permanent residents are credited in at least two of the following positions: director, writer or producer. This can be fulfilled by one person with multiple duties or by separate individuals

OR

The film is set, in significant part, in the United States and/or has significant American content.

The Spirit Awards nominating committees and Film Independent reserve the right to determine if a film qualifies as an International or American Narrative. The language and/or citizenship/nationality of a film’s cast are not taken into consideration.

How does the Spirit Awards define an “international” film?

Every narrative film that is not a U.S. narrative feature as defined above will be considered an international film, eligible only for Best International Film.

Does an international film entry qualify for any categories other than Best International Film?

International documentaries are eligible for Best Documentary. If your film is an international narrative feature (as defined above), it is only eligible for Best International Film.

Why are features made by first-time directors and features made for under $500,000 sometimes nominated in the Best Feature category? Don’t they have their own categories to compete in?

The Spirit Awards American Narrative Nominating Committee first selects the Best Feature nominees from the entire pool of qualifying independent films, no matter what the budget level or the experience of the filmmakers. After those features are chosen, the committee considers only films directed by first-time directors for the Best First Feature category, and only films made for budgets under $500,000 for the John Cassavetes Award category.

The same process applies to Best Director and Best Screenplay. No film may be nominated for both Best Feature and Best First Feature (i.e. no “double-dipping”). The underlying philosophy is to spread the wealth among nominees while still guaranteeing that the Best Feature category represents the best overall in independent film, regardless of budget or the filmmakers’ level of experience.

I submitted my film last year, and it meets the requirements for this year. May I resubmit?

Yes, as long as your film was not nominated in any category in previous years.

Can I invite members of the nominating committees to a screening of my film or send them any materials?

No. The identities of the nominating committee members remain anonymous and confidential. Please follow the directions on the Spirit Awards submission form and submit all screening schedules, screeners and materials to the Spirit Awards nominations staff.

Once the nominating committees select the nominees, who votes to determine the winners of the Spirit Awards?

Only Film Independent Members vote on the Spirit Awards nominees to determine winners*. Voting takes place online through a secure third-party website. Only one ballot is counted per individual voter and all ballots are confidential. Ballots are tabulated by Integrity Voting Systems.

*The winners of the Producers, Someone to Watch and Truer Than Fiction Awards, and the winner of the John Cassavetes Award are chosen by the Spirit Awards Nominating Committee(s).

Who can become a Member and vote on the Spirit Awards?

Our Members include filmmakers, film lovers an leaders from throughout the industry. Anyone passionate about film and entertainment can become a Member and vote for the winners of the Spirit Awards.

PLEASE NOTE: You must be a registered Film Independent Member no later than December 2020 to be eligible for full voting benefits.

How do voting Members view the nominated films?

Film Independent hosts free, Members-only screenings of every Spirit Award-nominated film in Los Angeles, in the weeks prior to the Spirit Awards ceremony. However, due to COVID-19 and subsequent venue closures, the 2021 Spirit Awards Screening Series will not take place in theaters. All nominated films will still be invited to participate in a DVD screener/online viewing program that allows voters to receive nominated films by mail and/or view them online. Additionally, as the voting body, Film Independent Members may be invited by studios to attend select hosted screenings during awards season.

If you are a Spirit Awards nominee and would like to participate in this program, please email Evan Ward-Henninger at eward-henninger@filmindependent.org.

What happens if I don’t see one of the nominated films? Can I still vote in all the categories?

You may only vote in categories in which you have seen all of the nominated films. Your ballot will still be valid even if you do not vote in every available category.

Film Independent strongly encourages voting Members to see as many of the nominated films as possible. After the nominations are announced, we will provide details about the various ways voting Members can view the films.

Can I advertise my film to Film Independent Members?

Yes. We have a number of ways to get your film in front of our Members. Contact us at corprelations@filmindependent.org for more information.

How can I attend the awards ceremony?

Please contact Jennifer Murby at jmurby@filmindependent.org for more information regarding tickets and attendance.

I’ve read this full FAQ and I still have questions about submitting my film. Is there someone I can talk to?

Of course! Send us an email at spiritawards@filmindependent.org.