Presaging what was to come the following night at the Academy Awards, "The Artist" earned four awards at the 2012 Film Independent Spirit Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. Honoring the best in independently made cinema, the casual kudofest, held in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica, California, also rewarded Christopher Plummer (the Oscar winner for "Beginners"), Michelle Williams ("My Week With Marilyn"), Shailene Woodley ("The Descendants," whose director Alexander Payne won for its screenplay with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, as they would at the Oscars), and "Margin Call" for Best First Feature and The Robert Altman Award for its casting.

In the press tent, where stars and filmmakers answered questions about the Spirit wins and what they mean for careers, the award season whirlwind and what's next on the agenda, thoughts occasionally turned to some bigger picture issues. "Here we are at the ocean and I'm afraid to swim in it," said "The Artist" actress Penelope Ann Miller. "I have two small children and I believe in environmental care and protecting the earth," she added, hoping that speaking about it "will bring awareness" to it.

"It seems to me that the commercial media and this industry neglect to inform their audience about the seriousness of what we face environmentally, the degradation of our environment, and the cost it's going to have, not only on us and future generations but on the survival of the species," added her co-star James Cromwell, who believes that it's up to independent filmmakers to parlay the attention they receive to bring important issues to bigger films that reach a wider audience. "We'd better start doing something about our environment or we won't have a planet," he said.

Woodley, who had tried to get the "Descendants" crew to switch from plastic to reusable water bottles on set, spoke about environmental toxins and how they impact human health. "My biggest passions are the environment, health and the genocide that's going on in the world," she said, pointing out problems in the food system and chemicals that are produced by factories that wind up in our clothing, in the air and in our homes. "A lot of people don't know that in the pillows we sleep on there are VOCs, volatile organic compounds, and we spend half our lives sleeping and breathing those in every single day. There are a lot of toxins that are in the air and around us and I think it's important to notice what's going on, not only for the earth but for our bodies," she said.

Woodley was "surprised and honored and grateful" for the award that honored her work as George Clooney's daughter in "The Descendants," an experience that she called a transformative "catalyst for me coming into my own." Now back on the set of her ABC Family series "Secret Life of the American Teenager," which returns with new episodes March 26, she hasn't chosen her next film role but if she had her choice she'd "like to do something dark and small. I love independent films. I love emotional scenes. I love people who are struggling with something," she said. "I think it's the perfect juxtaposition to my incredibly happy, positive demeanor."

Reflecting on all the accolades "The Artist" has received, French director Michel Hazanavicius joked in heavily accented English, "It's not the worst thing in the world. You receive awards, people are smiling at you and everybody's nice. And we had a police escort from the airport. That was great," he smiled, adding, "We really enjoy every moment." The film's producer Thomas Langmann talked about the difficulty of getting it made. "Nobody wanted to hear about this one. So to be here and to be rewarded by the Hollywood community, it's just a dream come true," he said.

Christopher Plummer, admittedly "not crazy about the red carpet," nevertheless was enjoying the late-career attention he's received for the little-seen "Beginners" as a dying man who comes out of the closet, and hoped it helped the film. Set to join Frank Langella in Stephen Frears' biomovie "Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight" for HBO, Plummer said he'd "like to write another book but not about me this time," and had advice for actors just starting out. "If they're going into this horrific profession they better love it, or else quit while you can," he said.

Michelle Williams talked about her preparation to play Marilyn Monroe, which involved watching her movies, reading books and going on YouTube. She "had to remove the fact that she was an icon, and put that out of [my] mind because it would be too daunting, and then just try and think of her as an ordinary girl, which she really wanted to be thought of ultimately." Her next role is almost as iconic: she'll play Glinda the good witch in "Oz: The Great and Powerful," due out next year.

In an adjacent tent, ON3's Official Presenter Gift Lounge showered celebrity guests with a wide variety of fab freebies ranging from beauty items like sulfate-free Wella Professionals hair products; Tree Hut's limited edition, ruby-infused shea sugar scrub; and Votre Vu's botanical skin care to wearables like New Balance 1400 shoes, Cult of Individuality jeans and tees, designer sunglasses from Marchon and an assortment of innovative underwire, plunging, strapless and adhesive bras from Fashion Forms. Attendees also nabbed Bowers & Wilkins premium headphones, Carlos Falchi totes, a year supply of Emergen-C drink mix, a one-year membership and a private training session at Crunch gym, a weekend for two at the Ritz-Carlton New York and an unlimited one-year pass to AMC Theatres and membership in its Stubs rewards program.

Actor Derek Luke (pictured below, left), back at the event for the first time since he won an Independent Spirit Award for his first big role in "Antwone Fisher" nine years ago, was most excited about the free movie pass. "I go almost every day so that's the big league for me," he said. He'll next be seen with Jordin Sparks and Whitney Houston in the remake of "Sparkle," due out in August. He believes Houston's final filmed performance will be a fitting tribute to her talent. "She's excellent in this movie," he said.

Fashion maven Carson Kressley (pictured above, right) told us about the 25-piece clothing collection he's designing for ShopNBC.com, due to launch in April. "It's ready-to-wear sportswear. It's extremely colorful and celebratory. It's all that fun, flirty, beautiful clothing that all the young girls get to wear but done in more of a women's fit. Everything is less than $79 so it's accessible and everyone can get a piece of the action." While he epitomizes cosmopolitan city chic, Kressley also likes to get out in nature, and confided that he's "possibly buying a farm in Pennsylvania. I have horses and I've been riding for a long time," he said. "I'm a country kid at heart."

Photos: WireImage.com

Check out our celeb section and watch Ecollywood videos.