EW's Indie Filmmakers Awardist panel gathers some of the year's most acclaimed writer-directors.

By David Canfield
March 09, 2021 at 04:05 PM EST

Lee Isaac Chung, Emerald Fennell, Eliza Hittman, and Darius Marder have a few things in common: Securing financing for their films was challenging and last-minute; all their movies premiered at festivals well over a year ago; and all, for the first time, find themselves at the center of this season's awards race.

The directors of Minari, Promising Young Woman, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, and Sound of Metal gathered for EW's latest Awardist panel, this one dedicated to the indie filmmakers turning awards season on its head. Indeed, while often it's difficult for low-budget films to break through the noise of loud marketing campaigns and studio contenders, in this most unusual COVID-era cycle, these and other films have been able to carve out a real place, with films not only generating Oscar heat but sparking conversations months (and in some cases, a full year) after their release.

Awardist Directors
Credit: Merie Weismiller Wallace/Focus Features; Angal Field/Focus Features; Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images; Joe Rushmore/A24

"I got to see the film in Salt Lake City, in front of a real audience, and that was really moving; I wish there had been more of that experience," Hittman says of Never Rarely Sometimes Always's 2020 Sundance premiere. "But the film is out there on digital [now] and people can watch it at home alone, and maybe people who wouldn't have been comfortable seeing it in a movie theater were able to sit at home in the dark and see our story told."

The writer-directors also touched on their intense production experiences, particularly with little room for error. In Chung's case, he and the Minari team were editing the movie during filming in late 2019, to make the next year's deadline for Sundance (where it swept the U.S. Dramatic competition prizes). "The whole process [felt under-the-wire]," he says. "It was a sprint to get this done."

Adds Fennell: "At the end of every day, and I'm sure this is the same for everyone, we couldn't believe we made the day. We were as close to impossible as could be, and we were looking at our schedule thinking… this is never going to happen."

And Marder, for his part, knew that after a decade of trying to get Sound of Metal made, there were things he wouldn't compromise on, no matter the financial constraints. "We had worked for months and months and months to earn that," he says of one live concert scene filmed with no cutaways. "We were shooting chronologically. There was no safety net on any day at any time. And that was just as I wanted it."

Watch the full conversation above, where the filmmakers also touch on directing in the COVID era, the unique magic of their films, and more.

Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best films.

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