2016 Film Independent Spirit Awards official rules & regulations (PDF)

Are there any changes for the 2016 Spirit Awards?

Yes, we will now accept writers with “Story By” credit for Best First Screenplay and Best Screenplay consideration.

How do I submit my film?

Submissions for the 2016 Spirit Awards will begin August 11, 2015 and run through October 13, 2015. The Spirit Awards submission form and official rules & regulations can be found at www.spiritawards.com/SAsubmissionform.

What if I want to attend the awards ceremony?

We’d love to have you — contact Jen Murby regarding ticket and table sales at 310.432.1253 or jmurby@filmindependent.org.

Whom can I contact regarding press credentials for the ceremony?

Applications for media and publicist credentials are available on the Press page of this site.

What’s the deadline for 2016 Spirit Awards submissions?

Regular Deadline: Tuesday, September 22, 2015. Final Deadline: Tuesday, October 13, 2015.

Are there extensions on entries?

Late entries will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Inquiries can be made by emailing spiritawards@filmindependent.org or calling 310.432.1249.

When are nominations announced for the 2016 Spirit Awards?

The 2016 Spirit Awards nominations will be announced on Tuesday, November 24, 2015.

What makes a film eligible for a Spirit Award?

A PDF of the 2016 Spirit Awards official rules and regulations is available via the link at the top of this page.

Who decides which films are nominated?

Experts in the field.

Three nominating committees are made up of members of the film community — one each for American Narrative films, Documentary films and International Narrative films. Committees may include film critics, film programmers, actors, producers, directors, writers, cinematographers, editors, past nominees and winners, and members of Film Independent’s Board of Directors.

There are three additional committees for our Producers, Someone to Watch and Truer Than Fiction grant awards. For these Awards, three nominees, including the winner, will be selected by committees of experts in the field.

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

These are the Film Independent Spirit Awards grant awards for emerging 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.

I’m a filmmaker. Can I apply for the grant awards?

The Producers, Someone to Watch and Truer Than Fiction grant 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 nomination process?

It’s a rigorous process. 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 does “economy of means” mean?

Films that are made with lower budgets (often microbudgets), up to $20 million. For example, this range includes Tarnation ($220,000) and House of Sand and Fog ($18 million).

Didn’t the budget ceiling for nominated films used to be lower?

The Film Independent Board of Directors never actually set a budget ceiling for Spirit Award films prior to 2006.

The task of setting a budget ceiling — of deciding which films should be considered for nomination and which should not — was given each year to the Spirit Awards Nominating Committees. Some years, as in 1995, the committees nominated films with budgets as high as $22 million (Bullets Over Broadway).

Typically, the ceiling has hovered between $16-$18 million. The Board of Directors was reluctant to set a hard-and-fast limit in the past, but at the request of the Spirit Awards Nominating Committees to give the committees more specific direction, the Board fixed the budget ceiling at $20 million in 2006.

Do you accept short films?

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

Do you accept animated films?

Of course! (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

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 six qualifying film festivals, it must have screened on its own for at least one week in a commercial theater in the US, during the 2015 calendar year.

What are the six qualifying film festivals for the 2016 Film Independent Spirit Awards?

The Los Angeles Film Festival, New Directors/New Films, New York Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, and Toronto International 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 categories of responsibilities: director, writer or producer. This can be fulfilled by one person with multiple duties or by separate individuals


The film is set primarily in the United States and at least 70% financed by companies whose principal offices are in the U.S.

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 isn’t a U.S. narrative feature as defined above will be considered an international film, eligible only for the Best International Film and Best Documentary categories.

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

Yes. International documentaries are also eligible for Best Documentary.

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.

Who votes on the winners of the Spirit Awards after the Nominating Committees select the nominees?

Eligible, registered voting members of Film Independent and IFP 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.

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

Film Independent is a non-profit arts organization. Its voting Members include filmmakers, film industry leaders and film lovers.

Anyone passionate about the art of film can join as a Member and vote for the winners of the Spirit Awards. We invite you to visit filmindependent.org/membership and become a Member today.

PLEASE NOTE: You must be a registered Film Independent Member no later than December 4, 2015 to be eligible for full voting benefits.

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 do voting members see the nominated films?

Film Independent and IFP work together to host free members-only screenings in Los Angeles and New York prior to the Spirit Awards ceremony. Film Independent also invites nominees to participate in a DVD screener mailing initiative that allows voters to receive nominated films by mail.

If you are a 2016 Spirit Awards nominee and would like to participate in this program, please email Evan Ward-Henninger at eward@filmindependent.org.