Despite the uncertainty that all of this season’s awards ceremonies are contending with around the impact of the COVID Omicron variant, the 28th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards are forging ahead with a Feb. 27 ceremony with safety at the top of the list.
“Right now, we’re just continually monitoring the situation and we’ll follow every local government, guild, state and city guideline we can to make sure that it’s as safe and healthy as possible,” says Jon Brockett, one of two executive producers of the SAG Awards. “Whatever shape and form that comes in, we’re still moving forward for an in-person show at this point and our goal is to create a really meaningful experience.”
This year’s ceremony, which honors actors in film and TV, will be held in the Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica Airport. It was selected due to the site’s size and versatility, which will help manage COVID protocols.
Kathy Connell, Brockett’s fellow executive producer, is excited as everything picks up speed with this year’s awards season. “We’re in the nomination phase right now, we have [nominating] members who are spending the holidays catching up on everything that they can,” she says. “We’ll have nominations early in January and I, for one, can’t wait because there are so many interesting projects.”
While Brockett has been with the SAG Awards since its fifth show in 1998, Connell has been with the show since its inception in 1995 and notes that there’s nothing quite like the energy in the room at the SAG Awards.
“It’s just such a warm room, we always say that the actors are coming home,” she says. “Everybody in that room has had an opportunity to vote for each other. There is a real feeling of camaraderie; it’s where the actors party in the actors’ house.”
“It also can be a surreal experience for some nominees who are there,” adds Brockett. “You might have this huge A-list actor that runs into somebody from their favorite TV show that they’ve just binge-watched, and you’ve got this actor in the ensemble of this TV show and their eyes are bugging out because, say, Tom Hanks is saying how much he loves their show. That’s so incredible.”
The SAG Awards stand apart from other kudosfests for several reasons, including that they only honor actors and performances. There is also has a stunt ensemble category and ensemble awards for film and television. It boasts the largest voting body of awards season, with around124,000 SAG members casting ballots.
“We have members from all over the country, union members who love the union, who love their fellow actors and they get to vote for them,” Connell says. “From Miami to Chicago, to Boston, to San Francisco, it’s always interesting to see what they will do. I always say our members may surprise me, but they never disappoint me.”
Another anecdote that illustrates the uniqueness of the SAG Awards was the reception the cast of “Parasite” received at the 26th annual SAG Awards in January 2020. The film made history for being the first film not in the English language to win the ensemble award.
“They came out to introduce their cast and just in the introduction, the room stood up,” Connell recalls. “You had these actors from South Korea getting this standing ovation from an international audience of stars and it blew them away.”
Streaming and the explosion of platforms for content has translated into the SAG Awards becoming more of an international event.
“We’re so happy to see this evolution in more international programming and I think that a lot of that is due obviously to the great performances, but those performances have to be made available,” Brockett says. “We’re getting so many different, diverse perspectives and it’s really great to see, especially from an awards show perspective.”
One honor SAG-AFTRA bestows that predates the SAG Awards by more than three decades is the Life Achievement Award, which this year will be given to Helen Mirren, the most decorated SAG Life Achievement recipient with 13 SAG Award nominations and five wins, in addition to a packed shelf of other honors from her stellar career.
“I am honored to have been chosen to receive the SAG Life Achievement Award,” said Mirren when the award was announced. “Since I was a young actor starting out, I have always been inspired by and learned from American screen acting, so this award is particularly meaningful for me.”
With a show date, venue and Life Achievement recipient locked in, Connell, Brockett and their team are now zeroing in on the awards themselves.
“Nominations are announced Jan. 12,” says Brockett, with voting on nominations closing on Jan. 9. After the nominations are announced, final voting opens Jan. 19 and then closes Feb. 25, three days before the ceremony.
While the process is becoming more streamlined so that ballots and screeners can be handled online, options are available for voting members with any level of technical ability.
“We keep up with or meet the membership where they are, which is why everything is primarily on online right now,” Brockett says. “We do have a request line for members if they would like to be provided a printed ballot, and we do have an opt-out program this year, so members can opt out of physical DVDs, if they like to receive everything just online. Because it’s a lot, so hopefully that will cut down on some of the actual physical DVDs that go out to members.”
As Connell and Brockett enter the home stretch of the annual awards cycle and acknowledge that pulling off a massive event such as this would be impossible without the tireless efforts of their colleagues both in putting the ceremony together and in coordinating the awards themselves. Brockett gives kudos to the SAG Awards Committee, which is chaired by JoBeth Williams, noting that they ensure the union’s perspective and membership interests are looked after.
“We may be in the day-to-day of it, but they really kind of drive the show the overall show,” he says. He also recognized the efforts of the awards team he works with, led by coordinating producer Jen Coyne-Hoerle and awards coordinator John Bogulski, who coordinate screenings, DVDs and streaming for members and oversee voting. “They really deserve a lot of attention for all the things that they do and after we air a show, it starts all over again.”
Connell also singled out the efforts of producers Gloria Fujita O’Brien and Benn Fleishman, who, like her, have been with the show for at least a quarter century. “They are extraordinary, we always have people working on our show for years and years that come back to us, because the show is a family, and the union is our family.”
The SAG Awards is set to air at 8 p.m. E.T. Feb. 27 on both TNT and TBS.