Your Film Independent Spirit Awards questions—answered.

How do I submit my film to be considered for the 2020 Film Independent Spirit Awards?

We accept submissions for the 2019 Spirit Awards beginning on August 6, 2019 and ending on October 8, 2019. A link to the 2020 submission form will be available here. The 2020 Spirit Awards rules & regulations are available via the link at the top of this page.

What’s the deadline for 2020 Spirit Awards submissions?

Early Deadline: Tuesday, August 27, 2019. Regular Deadline: Tuesday, September 17, 2019. Final Deadline: Tuesday, October 8, 2019.

Do you ever grant extensions on entries?

We offer an extended deadline for Film Independent Members: Friday, October 11, 2019. If you have questions about deadlines, please email spiritawards@filmindependent.org or call 323 556 9378.

When are nominations announced for the 2020 Spirit Awards?

The 2020 Spirit Awards nominations will be announced on Thursday, November 21, 2019.

What makes a film eligible for a Spirit Award?

A PDF of the Spirit Awards official rules and regulations is available via the link at the top of this page.

Who decides which films are nominated?

Film Independent assembles nominating committees which are made up of working members of the film community. Committees typically include a mix of film critics, film programmers, producers, directors, writers, cinematographers, editors, actors, past 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.

Additionally, there are three nominating committees for our Producers, Someone to Watch, Truer Than Fiction and Bonnie Awards. These committees select three nominees, including the winner, for each of the specific grant awards.

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

These are Film Independent Spirit Awards grants for emerging to mid-career filmmakers. 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; the Truer than Fiction Award is designed to support an emerging director of American documentary films; the Bonnie Award is designed to support a mid-career female director of American narrative films.

Can I apply for the grant awards?

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

What is the Spirit Awards nomination process?

It’s a rigorous process that begins in late summer and runs until our nominations are announced in late November. All eligible submitted films are distributed to the appropriate committees and are discussed at regular meetings throughout the fall. 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 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 2006, the Film Independent Board of Directors set a budget ceiling for Spirit Award films of $20 million. In 2019, the Board increased the budget ceiling to $22.5 million.

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:

  • 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)

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 2019 calendar year.

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


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.

Note: 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 Members of Film Independent 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, Truer Than Fiction and Bonnie 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?

Anyone can join Film Independent. We are a non-profit arts organization whose Members include filmmakers, film industry leaders and film lovers. Anyone passionate about the art of film can become a Member and vote for the winners of the Spirit Awards. We invite you to visit our Membership page and become a Member today.

PLEASE NOTE: You must be a registered Film Independent Member no later than December 2019 to be eligible for full voting benefits.

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 corprelations@filmindependent.org for more information.

How do voting Members see the nominated films?

Film Independent hosts free Members-only screenings in Los Angeles, prior to the Spirit Awards ceremony. Film Independent also invites all nominated films 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 are 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 on 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, the Spirit Awards website will provide details about the various ways voting Members can view the films.

How can I attend the awards ceremony?

We would love to have you! Contact Jennifer Murby regarding ticket and table sales at 323 556 9353 or jmurby@filmindependent.org.

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

Yes. Please email spiritawards@filmindependent.org.