SAG Awards Director, Team Prepare to Make Shrine Shine for Live Telecast

Live TV can be an unpredictable business, as director Alan Carter found out Jan. 6 during the CBS telecast of “The 42nd Annual People’s Choice Awards.” In the middle of the show, an attendee stormed the stage and grabbed the mic just as “The Talk” co-hosts were accepting their trophy.

Sharon Osbourne kicked the interloper in the butt, says Carter — an act that was snipped from the show’s delayed West Coast feed.

Carter notes that such an incident is unlikely to happen at the Jan. 30 TNT/TBS simulcast of “The 22nd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards,” which he’s also directing, because the audience — including nominees Leonardo DiCaprio, Brie Larson, Johnny Depp, Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale and Kate Winslet — consists of pros, not fans. And, despite the show’s many moments of spontaneity, the telecast is fully blocked and stage-managed, with the organizers taking all possible contingencies into account as they prep the event.

Carter’s work for this year’s SAG Awards — his fourth — began in earnest several weeks ago when nominees were announced. “That’s when my head gets into the show,” he says. “I start watching some of the movies to get acquainted with the work.”

Carter and his team don’t rehearse at the event location, the Los Angeles Shrine Exposition Center, until five days before the show, “but we’ve already laid out where people are going to enter, where they’re going to stand and where they’re sitting,” Carter says. “We work with seat coordinators to make sure every potential winner has a good walk to the stage.”

As Carter maps out the logistics, production designer Joe Stewart — on his 13th SAG Awards — is busy creating the show’s look and physical environment. His first meetings with the guild took place six months before the event. He pitched ideas for how the set might change from the prior year, then created cardboard models of the venue.

“All major decisions have been made in rehearsal, so it should be really quiet when you’re doing the show.”
Alan Carter

“I like to hold them up and look at them,” he says, “then take them through Photoshop for some lighting effects.” The design team uses the models to determine camera and lighting positions and angles.

“At the SAG Awards, we like to mask our lighting instruments,” Stewart says. “We usually don’t put them on display on the stage, but in some scenic element that is friendly to the set. It’s not like a music show where you often see the hardware.”

His closest collaboration, says Stewart, is with lighting designer Jeff Engel. “I live and die by how great the lighting is. Our set doesn’t change physically during the ceremony, but it has to change visually throughout the evening. We rely on lighting effects to make the place look different.”

Once the show starts, it runs like a well-oiled machine. Carter will sit in a production trailer parked just outside the Shrine, facing a battery of monitors and communicating with as many as 60 technicians, including the video, lighting and audio teams, and a half-dozen stage managers.

“They’re all listening to me, but not everyone is talking back,” he says. “The only people I really converse with are my lead stage manager and my technical director. All major decisions have been made in rehearsal, so it should be really quiet when you’re doing the show.”

Meanwhile, Stewart will park himself between the green room and the stage. “I have horses in the race,” he says, “and I like to see them win. I congratulate them when they come offstage. They don’t know me from Adam, but they go, ‘Oh, thank you!’ ”

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