When Austin filmmaker Bryan Poyser was last in Los Angeles, he visited friend and fellow filmmaker Alex Holdridge's small downtown office.
As Poyser admired Holdridge's John Cassavetes Award, which he won for his 2009 film "In Search of a Midnight Kiss," the former Austinite told his visitor, "Oh, you'll get one of those this year."
Holdridge's compliment might end up being prophetic.
Returning to work Tuesday afternoon from a doctor's appointment, Poyser received a vague congratulatory text message. Moments later, his phone rang. It was the publicist he had used at this year's Sundance Film Festival to promote his dark comedy "Lovers of Hate."
Poyser's film had been named one of five nominees for the Independent Spirit's John Cassavetes Award, an honor for excellence in low-budget filmmaking.
"It was a very nice way to start the morning, for sure," Poyser said.
By rule, the films competing for the award named after the legendary independent filmmaker must have budgets of less than $500,000 and have screened theatrically for a week or appeared at one of a select few film festivals in North America.
"Lovers of Hate," which Poyser said he and producer Megan Gilbride ("Cassidy Kids") made for a small fraction of the half-million dollars, played to solid reviews at Sundance in January and was subsequently purchased by IFC for an on-demand televised run.
Although he admitted that his unsettling but comic tale of a sibling rivalry centered on a love triangle might be a hard sell to jury members, Poyser, who was named as "Someone to Watch" by the Spirit Awards in 2005, believes that simply being nominated should advance his career.
"It would be really nice to win, but just the recognition for the film is more than enough for me," Poyser said. "The great thing about getting the first Spirit Award nomination is that it opened some doors. Getting this movie into Sundance opened a lot more doors. And this is, I think, going to open even more. I'm trying to keep a number of irons in the fire, and I think the Spirit Award nomination is going to help turn up the heat a little bit."
The University of Texas alumnus is heading to Los Angeles this week for a two-month sabbatical from his work as director of artist services at the Austin Film Society. There, he will work on a script for some producers and continue to develop his most recent screenplay, which is based on a trip he and his sister took to Mexico last year after the death of their father. In addition to his work in Los Angeles, Poyser is attached as director to a romantic comedy by a couple of local writers that is scheduled to shoot in Austin next year.
As he garners more national attention, Poyser, who has yet to hire an agent or manager, recognizes the possibility of opportunities that might tempt him to leave the town he has called home for the past 17 years, but he has no intention of leaving.
"Ever since I moved here, Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez and Mike Judge have kind of been the model. They're filmmakers who can live here, have roots down here, sometimes shoot their movies here ... but still have a career," Poyser said. "So that's what I would love to work out. If something like this, like going out to LA a couple of months at a time, if that's what it takes to make it happen, I'm willing to do that. I'd really prefer to have my base be here."
After his stint in Calfornia, Poyser will return to Los Angeles in February for the Spirit Awards, into which he will carry the small burden of continuing the tradition of Texans having success. The Cassavetes award has had a strong Texas flavor over the past several years, as the 2010 award was given to screenwriter/director Lynn Shelton for her film "Humpday," which starred former Austinite Mark Duplass; the 2009 award went to Holdridge; and the 2008 award went to Texan Chris Eska and his film "August Evening."
"Hopefully I won't be the one to blow that streak."
Where to see "Lovers of Hate": It's on Free Video on Demand right now from the Sundance Channel via Time Warner until the middle of December. Poyser said he hopes a DVD will be available in 2011.
Another Austinite gets a nod: In addition to the Independent Spirit recognition of Bryan Poyser and Megan Gilbride for ‘Lovers of Hate,' Austinite Anish Savjani was named one of three finalists for the Piaget Producers Award for his work on director Kelly Reichardt's beautiful and spare period drama ‘Meek's Cutoff,' which screened at the Austin Film Festival in October.