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Awards Are Worthless - The Anxiety of Seeking Approval as an Artist #atozchallenge #indiefilm

Actress KaDee Strickland and Director Akil DuPont at the Student Emmy Awards.Few people can deny how good it feels to receive an award or two, in many cases, no matter what it is for; Honor Roll, Student of the Week, Employee of the Month, MVP of the NBA, Magna Cum Laude, Pulitzer and Nobel prizes, you name it -- we salivate over and work our butts off to gain honors. This yearning was not lost on me when I started to pursue a career in film.

I wanted awards -- particularly an Oscar for Best Director or a Palme d’Or at Cannes, and I wanted them badly. Boy was I kidding myself by placing too much value on items that rarely offer more than décor and bragging rights.

I wonder -- aside from helping you build a pedigree, what are awards really worth, and what does it take to earn these coveted honors? As artists we must aim to make movies that are great. To win awards, however, these films have to not only be better than great but also considered worthy of recognition by a select group of people with varied levels of experience, talent and/or accolades in their own right. I invited a few select award-winning filmmakers to shed some light on the matter. Here, they make it clear how important awards are in terms of being a driving force behind what they do and the influence, if any, it has on their careers.

"To be honest, I just don't see the point of awards in the arts," says Amir Motlagh, director of “35 YEAR-OLD MAN,” “WHALE” and “KHOOBI,” who adds "I just can't find a justification for them -- But, I'm sure they feel good for the family. Oh, you get a few phone calls and I'm sure grabbing an Oscar would be a little different. Let's be honest here, who wouldn't want an Oscar for pragmatic reasons alone?" 

"PIG" Movie Producer Mark Stolaroff accepts an award for Best Sci-Fi Feature from program director Michael Stackpole at the Phoenix Film Festival. '“PIG” won 10 awards and "THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT" has already won two awards; for certain kinds of films -- especially these two films, they (awards) are kinda crucial in a way but at the same time, they don’t do everything for you, says Best Sci-Fi Feature winner Mark Stolaroff, producer of “PIG,” “THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT” and “MANIC.”' 

Stolaroff continues "They’re crucial in that both of these films are in a position where they really need an award because neither of them got into Sundance, which is the gold standard for films, and a lot of films don’t get into Sundance - like “SHORT TERM 12,” which is a terrific film that won Gotham awards and other accolades but didn’t get into Sundance.

When you don’t get into Sundance, SXSW, Toronto, Cannes and related festivals, you have to prove something to the kind of crowds that go to festivals. So, you have to get into a lot other festivals to show your merit and then you have to win awards to measure up – otherwise, you don’t really have an art film. You may have a good film, but it’s not an art film. Particularly with "Pig," it’s a really unusual situation; the movie fits between an art film and a genre film, although we never thought of it as a genre film when we were making it. If you have an art film, then winning an award can make a difference with your audience. If you have a genre film like a horror film or a Sci-Fi film, an award doesn’t necessarily matter."

Student Emmy winner Akil Dupont, director of "UNDERGROUND" and "SILHOUETTES" says "I’ve won 25 awards as a filmmaker so far; they come with some things – some tangible things! The majority of them – probably more than half – did not come with anything, and some didn’t actually give me a physical award. It ranges from nothing beyond an “attaboy” and acknowledgement on a website to money and mentorship.

Director Akil DuPont on the set of his fairy-tale romance drama "SILHOUETTES."Inside the industry, my theory is that people are not as concerned with awards as they are with other things because film is still a business.

The monetization of your product is what they’re most concerned with – how can it still turn over to make money, because you still have to make money with these films.


Some people think that awards are sorta the gateway into the industry; and in some sense they may be but in another sense, people in the industry still want to see what you can do moneywise.

What filmmaker doesn’t want the Academy Award?!! We all want one – an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, an Emmy, a Tony, a Grammy. I was hoping that "UNDERGROUND" would be nominated for a Short Film Oscar. Right now, I think this movie has the DNA for the stage, so I’m looking to see what we can get, as far as going to Broadway is concerned."

Ari Gold, director of "ADVENTURES OF POWER," "HELICOPTER" and "CULTURE" says "The student Oscar has been helpful in the sense that when I’m soliciting investment or collaborators, it makes people take me a little bit more seriously than they might otherwise. That doesn’t necessarily mean direct employment but it means that my calls or emails are slightly more likely to be answered. Interestingly, I got a bunch of Audience Awards for my feature film ("ADVENTURES OF POWER") and those have had no impact whatsoever, which is a sorta interesting contrast, but that’s the reality.

Director Ari Gold awarded for his contributions to independent film.You can daydream about getting awards but I think I’m smart enough to know that’s not the point. For me, I like to connect with an audience and know people are responding to my work, so that always is the most powerful kind of motivator. Does that mean that if I make something that reaches a huge audience that I’ll be exponentially happier? No, of course not. Although it seems like it would be nice, I’m aware that it’s a fallacy; the more successful people get, the more successful they think they need to get.

So, I want my work to be satisfying to me and satisfying to people who watch it – that’s the biggest award."

My Own Thoughts on Awards

Our culture views awards as a stamp of approval for being the best, under the expectation that a movie and its maker have been vetted against other projects of equal or higher merit. So who is to say that you and/or your work are not one of the best -- all based on whether you’ve been honored for your contributions to a particular industry or for a certain creation? Martin Scorsese, one of the greatest directors in the history of American cinema, has claimed many accolades including an American Film Institute (AFI) Lifetime Achievement Award, yet, got snubbed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka the folks in charge of the Oscars) on many occasions.

The man who helmed “Goodfellas,” “Taxi Driver,” “The Departed” and “Hugo” is no less talented, enthusiastic about his work or successful just because he lacks those golden statues. In a career that spans over 30 years, Scorsese has received 8 Academy Award nominations for Best Director and one win, to date. If it’s tough for a legendary director such as Martin Scorsese to win an Oscar, I must come to terms with how little weight awards really hold, where matters of career satisfaction and success are concerned.

Film Still | Amir MotlaghSo the way I see it, going after nothing more than shiny statues, medals or plaques after all is said and done would be selling myself short; it does not justify the amount of blood, sweat, tears, time, money and resources that are put into each independent film and the disappointments, rejections, failures and learning experiences that come out of a project.

Make no mistake about it – I do still like awards and would appreciate those that come my way. I am just working on readjusting my priorities because accolades are just not enough to keep me on this filmmaking train. I don’t want to make movies merely for a chance at winning awards, given that there is no guarantee I’ll be in the running for one and they usually don’t come with anything other than a title and something pretty to look at.

I figure, the best way to benefit from awards is by using them as leverage, since a lot of them don’t automatically come with deals and offers for the next gig.

Stay tuned for more reflections and observations on the journey of independent filmmaking!

In the meantime...

Does winning an award have any bearing on whether YOU’VE done good work?

Can YOU be considered among the best in your field, without being the recipient of awards?

©2014 All Rights Reserved

*Photos courtesy of DuPont Productions, The Pig Picture and Ari Gold Films. 

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Reader Comments (22)

I think it all comes down to "What get's rewarded and recognised, gets done." The elders used to say "Babies cry for it, grown men die for it..."


April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterFelicity Burnett

It was interesting to read this perspective on the arts, given that my topic for today's AtoZ is Art for Art's Sake -- specifically as relates to writing. My feeling is that creators have both passions as well as hobbies, and while the two may overlap, they must both exist on separate grounds. Passion is that too which we apply all our tears and efforts; to which we study and learn and grow; to which we ache when we fail. The end product matters, and we struggle to make it good. Hobbies, conversely, are enjoyable and relaxing; the end result is not as important as the release attained during the exercise itself. Both passions and hobbies are necessary for artists to achieve fruition and joy in equal parts.

I didn't plan to relay this tidbit in every blog I visit today, but your post really hit it home for me. It went hand-in-hand with the point I wanted to make in my own contribution to this challenge. So, thanks for {inadvertently} validating my perspective! :)

Interesting post, Nicole. I never believed the hype of awards for the arts; especially books, music and movies. It's so subjective and every movie or song can be considered good or bad depending on who is watching and commenting on it. Even the worse movie created, someone paid money to have it made, so they must have liked it.
It's the same reason why I hate begin asked what is my favorite movie or book. I have space in my heart for all the things I love. Smile! Great start to A to Z. Have a great month.
Sydney Aaliyah Michelle
2014 A to Z Challenge
Nicole’s #atozchallenge Mighty Minion

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSydney Aaliyah

Wow, Andi-Roo really hit the nail on the head, because I was thinking something along the same lines. We need to have an intrinsic motivation for what we're doing or there is no drive. If what motivates you is external, and you don't get that carrot, then the drive is gone.
While awards may help you get your foot in the door or your emails answered, ultimately it's your work that will either resonate with an audience or not. You're right that it's about making that connection. I've found the Academy Awards in particular to be very much a predictable sort of affair. The Academy wants to come across with a certain image, so most often, what is currently culturally relevant and told in a grand sort of way, will win the Best Picture. It's unusual when a comedy such as "Shakespeare In Love" wins. It would not have won if pitted against traditional type winners like The Last Emperor, which I admit I did not see. Then they pass out the actress and actor awards to the people in that film. My opinion.
I'm looking forward to reading more about the insider look at film making, something that has always fascinated me.
Tina @ Life is Good
A to Z Team @ Blogging From A to Z April Challenge 2014

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTina

I find awards in general as a strange measure of success. The older I get the more I agree with your point Nicole. It is all so subjective Great post , I decided to go with short fun posts this year, but reading your wonderful post almost made me regret that!

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterM.C.V. EGAN

Hi Nicole, great piece. Very thought provoking! Hi, I'm Jamie, from the A-Z Challenge, and I look so forward to reading your upcoming posts. Kudos! =)

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJamie Barone

You award post hit home. Years ago I won a Summit Creative Award for my advertising agency's website. My site was awarded a Bronze recognition, coming in third and the competition was amongst agencies in the US, Canada, Europe, etc. I was thrilled...until they told me I had to pay for the trophy! I was still thrilled enough to shell out the $100 for the gorgeous glass trophy. I still have it. But my view of awards sure changed after that! Thanks for a great post!

Accolades are all well and fine for those who seek them, but what you actually do with your life means more than who notices. Great starting post for AtoZ!

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNina D'Arcangela

Awards=Recognition for most people. Thanks for giving us a more in-depth perspective, Nicole.

Damyanti Co-host, A to Z Challenge 2014

Twitter: @damyantig

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDamyanti

An interesting post and a great way to start AtoZ. Nice to connect and follow, look forward to more.

April 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte

I thought I'd pay all the A to Z Blog Challenge Hosts a visit today. Everyone has put in so much effort into this event. I think its the best blog challenge in the Blogsphere! Enjoy the rest the challenge! Awards and recognition is what keeps me going. I'd much rather prefer an award or pat on the back for a job well done.

April 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterA Daft Scots Lass

Interesting perspectives and a thought provoking starting point. Awards look good on the artist's bio, and create awareness, a buzz. An artist goes on doing what s/he has to however, because that inner drive/passion/voice in the head allows no other option. Viewers would be aware of the kind of awards that their viewing preferences are likely to draw (Oscars vs Sundance etc) and if they had the choice, then seek out those particular films, indie or mainstream. I know I would anyway. All extremely subjective, I wouldn't necessarily watch a film based on awards either, a favourite director or actor will always draw me in on their name alone, also certain subject matter that resonate with me.
Thanks for a very interesting read.

April 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNilanjana Bose

There's that famous fact which says that most award winners get depressed after winning a major award. That goes for most of the Oscar winners.

April 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDEZMOND

As a viewer of movies, the awards or even what the critics have to say weigh very little on my decision to watch a film. The first thing I do is watch a trailer, if it has all the right elements that trigger excitement then usually it will be added to my wish list. Second, I like getting a personal movie recommendations from close friends or trusted bloggers. I don't care if a producer got zero or dozen awards for a movie. It just won't sway me at all. That being said, I hope if any producers/directors or who ever makes these decisions will put more emphasis on cranking out the best movie previews possible. I have seen some trailers that are weak, but because of the actor(s) involved in the film sometime suck me in and have been happy to find a winner despite the poor trailer. Hmm, I think I am rambling here, and for that I apologize. *blush* Good to meet you through the #a2zchallenge!

April 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Kennedy

I agree with you in that awards are pretty worthless. I've seen many a movie that the critics hated but I loved. The same goes with books. I've read some books that were award winning, and I couldn't stand them. Getting an award is nice, a pat on the back, but if that is what the artist is after, it's simply a journey of vanity.

Visit us during the A to Z Challenge. We're highlighting authors who are more than writers. Click HERE.

April 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark

As long as it's not a popularity contest, and it doesn't water down the meaning behind the award, I think awards can be a good thing. However, human connection and making a difference, so you and your audience feels good about what you're sharing - that's where it really counts. Even if your audience is small, it makes all the difference if you touch their hearts.

MJ, A to Z Challenge Co-Host
Writing Tips
Effectively Human
Lots of Crochet Stitches

April 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterM. J. Joachim

Great post! I look forward to reading more from you!
Happy A to Z!
ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

April 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJenna

Awards - A vanity for self gratification. I don't seek them out, but when I win, I can't help get excited.


April 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBrenda Williamson

Very informative and thought-provoking. You have expressed yourself so well through your posts about the film industry and what it means for creative art and monetization. They certainly aren't often in synch, but confounds a struggle to make your career in that industry. I am increasingly dismayed at the machinations involved in winning the coveted so-called awards like Golden Globes and Oscars. They don't seem to be related to talent and "Best" as much as who has the most clout to get the votes .I've stopped paying attention to that sometimes farce and rely increasingly on word of mouth for films to see, including Indies.

April 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSammy D

I just want to make a living doing what I love, and that itself is the reward. If I get an award because someone thinks I did a great job in my work, then it feels good to know that others appreciate what I do, but it's really not a requirement for me.

Random Musings from the KristenHead — A is for 'Almost Human' (and Action and Androids)

April 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKristen Dyrr

Appreciation in any form is food for an Artist..I believe

April 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNikita

Awards are a cool ego boost and I think it would be nice to get an award for something. A big cash award would be excellent.

I was just reading about an actress who won best actress or something like that for The Fighter. In her interview she was asked about the major roles she'd been offered since getting Oscar and she said none. Essentially the award didn't help her career at all and may have actually hurt it to some degree.

Still the awards are the standard of dreams.

A Faraway View--Dream Movies

April 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterArlee Bird

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