Inside the SAG Awards’ Voting Process

The 16th annual SAG Awards are tomorrow, January 23, 2010 (televised on TBS and TNT), but before they’re handed out, I polled three different voters to see how they cast their ballots, not just who they voted for but the process in which they made their choices.

My interviewees come from different demographics and have been SAG members for various lengths of time. How much do they agree on 2009’s “best” performances? I sent them all identical questions but their answers are hardly the same.

The voters are:

  • Lauren, 20s, SAG member for 9 months, first-time voter
  • Actor (he wished to remain anonymous), 30s, SAG member for 12 years
  • Susan, 40s, SAG member for 14 years

PCN: How long did it take you to fill out the ballot? How much thought did you put into it?

Lauren: I knew who my favorites were as soon as the nominations came out, which made voting pretty easy. It was my first time voting so I was pretty excited! There is nothing like opening your mailbox for the first time and having a screener addressed to you “for your consideration.” I felt special!

Actor: I did it in two sittings with a lot of thought put into it. It’s a privilege to be able to vote.

Susan: I must say I filled out the SAG ballot with great alacrity as I looked at the calendar and realized it had to go out yesterday [January 19] or it wouldn’t be counted. It was raining, I could hear the mailman coming and so I kinda sped thru filling in the little bubbles. I would say it took me about two minutes and I didn’t really ponder a great deal on any of my choices except for thinking some of the categories were ridiculous.

PCN: Who do you feel deserves a win so much, you’d go on strike if it doesn’t happen?

Lauren: I thought there were some really great film performances this [past] year. I was especially happy with a lot of the female performances…As I’ve heard from most people, I think Mo’Nique really deserves to be recognized for her performance [in Precious]. I also really enjoyed Christoph Waltz’s performance in Inglourious Basterds.

Actor: Mo’Nique.

Susan: It would be a travesty if Meryl Streep doesn’t win for Julie & Julia. She WAS Julia Child and she is soooo NOT Julia Child [in real life]! In TV ensemble cast, I want Glee or Modern Family to win. If anything else wins, I will not be happy.

PCN: Who do you think shouldn’t bother preparing a speech?

Lauren: As an actor, I have a hard time saying I don’t think anyone should “bother” preparing a speech, because I honestly believe anyone nominated should relish it and hope to win. That’s how I would feel if it were me.

I thought Diane Kruger was an odd nomination for Inglourious Basterds but that was just because her performance didn’t stand out for me. I also am one of the five people that didn’t like The Hurt Locker so I wasn’t on board with Jeremy Renner’s nomination, but I stress that I was one of the very few people I know who didn’t care for the film.

Actor: Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds), Helen Mirren (The Last Station), and the cast of An Education.They just have really stiff competition.

Susan: Much as I love Sandra Bullock, and I really did think she did a lovely job in The Blind Side, she shouldn’t really think that she can beat “La Streep.”

PCN: Which categories do you think will contain the exact same names when the Oscar noms are announced? Which categories do you think will change the most?

Lauren: I hope An Education gets recognition at the Oscars! The ensemble and storytelling in that film made it one of my favorites of the season. For me, it came in as the second best film this season behind Up In The Air. I think the lead actor and actress Oscar nominations will be similar to ours. I do think Avatar will definitely cancel some nominations out. That said, there are 10 nominations for best picture this year so most movies worth seeing should be nominated.

Actor: I don’t think any of the categories will have the exact same names. SAG nominees, from my recollection, traditionally have different nominees than a lot of the other mainstream organizations. They (we) also vote for really weird things. Take, for example, some previous winners for best ensemble cast: The Birdcage over The English Patient, Little Miss Sunshine over The Departed.

Susan: Well, of course it won’t be the best picture ensemble because for some reason there are going to be TEN best picture nominees. Whatever! And there will be no TV categories or stunt categories (another whatever!). But I do believe they are pretty dead on with most of the nominees in the film categories except maybe best supporting actress.

PCN: How do you vote when you haven’t seen most of the nominees in a category? Do you randomly pick one or leave it blank?

Lauren: I voted for Drew Barrymore for Grey Gardens even though I hadn’t seen all the nominees in [female actor in TV movie/miniseries]. I would have left it blank, but it’s rare that I appreciate Drew Barrymore’s acting and I thought she did a really wonderful job in that film.

I also had a tough time [with the lead movie actor category] because the one film I wanted to see and haven’t yet is Crazy Heart and I’ve heard wonderful things about Jeff Bridges. I voted for someone else in that category but hopefully if Mr. Bridges really deserves the award, my vote will be canceled out somewhere.

Actor: I go with the actor’s body of work. Are they credible? Have they proven themselves? I also sometimes consult a trusted friend.

Susan: If I haven’t seen a performance, I usually try and think about the actor and what I have seen them do. For instance, in the male TV actor category, I have seen all of these actors’ work before, just not necessarily their work this season of the show, so I try to go on that.

PCN: Do you really vote for the best actors, or do you go with your favorite actors?

Lauren: I vote for the best actors in the roles they have been nominated for. In the TV comedy ensemble, I was tempted to vote for Glee because it’s my favorite new show, but I took a second to think about it and ended up voting for Modern Family instead. I felt the acting and comedic timing is genius within the Modern Family ensemble, even though I do enjoy the cheesy dancing and singing that comes with Glee.

Actor: The best.

Susan: I would like to say I always vote for the best performance but sometimes, if I haven’t seen all the performances, I do vote for my favorite. Or, if there is a performance that I haven’t seen but it has gotten such great buzz, like Mo’Nique in Precious, I vote with the masses (yes, I am a lemming).

PCN: Which performances do you think deserved nominations but were snubbed?

Lauren: Marion Cotillard was FANTASTIC in Nine. I think her performance made the movie enjoyable when it had so little plot to go on.

I also really enjoyed Peter Sarsgaard [in An Education] and I thought Tobey Maguire was really good in Brothers even though I didn’t love the movie itself.

Actor: Samantha Morton (The Messenger), Marion Cotillard (Nine), Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds), the Up in the Air ensemble, and Shohreh Aghdashloo (The Stoning of Soraya M.).

Susan: Julianne Moore (A Single Man), Samantha Morton…There were a lot of good supporting performances this year for actresses.

PCN: When they win SAG Awards, actors often say, “This means more to me than anything because it’s from my peers.” If you win one, would you feel that way or is that B.S.?

Lauren: I would definitely feel that way! Actors are very judgmental…and they understand how hard it is to be a working actor in Hollywood. To have people I respect and admire voting for me to win an award specifically for acting would be really special. It’s always the best to have validation from your peers; it’s one of the best kinds of respect and support in an otherwise very competitive field.

Actor: I do think the award would mean more because it comes from peers. Everyone knows the joke: “How many actors does it take to screw in a light bulb?” Answer: “One, and twenty others who say ‘I can do it better.'” Actors can be a catty bunch.

Susan: When an actor says the award means more because it comes from their peers, I guess I believe that because I feel a fellow actor probably knows a bit more about the craft and the business of acting than the press or the general public. But would I look down on a People’s Choice Award or a Golden Globe or any other random award someone wants to give me? Hell, NO! I am open to all awards!

And there you have it, readers—an inside look at how SAG Awards recipients are chosen. Which ones were your favorites? How would YOU vote?

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  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    January 22, 2010 at 5:29 am

    This was very interesting, PCN. I imagined such things would be carefully considered and weighed and measured by all those voting ~ so it was an eye-opener to find that it isn’t always the case. Thanks for taking the time to present three different ‘cases’ from different age groups ~ great reading!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      January 22, 2010 at 4:53 pm

      It’s not just the SAG Awards, Shell. I know Oscar voters who don’t take their voting privilege seriously at all. They’ll let their spouses/children/gardeners/agents fill out the ballots for them.

  • Reply
    Jen Forbus
    January 22, 2010 at 7:01 am

    Interesting to hear them say they vote on a person based on their body of work if they didn’t see the actual film they were nominated for. I guess I find that unfortunate. What if it’s their first major role? Or what if it’s a role that’s completely different from anything they’ve done before?

    • Reply
      January 22, 2010 at 5:54 pm

      I’m actually the sole male that PCN interviewed for this piece. To an extent, it can be unfortunate to vote for one’s body of work vs. the individual (honored/nominated) performance…..but, I will have to tell you that voting this way is pretty much the norm in Hollywood. While in a perfect world, each voting member would spend countess hours watching movies and pondering over a ballot, it is a very unlikely scenario.

      Regarding your point of having an actor nominated in “their first major role,” the nomination is such a catalyst to trigger many voting members to actually see his or her movie, this syndrome can be known as “It Girl” or “It Boy” status, a status that garners much attention to familiarize oneself with this “previously undiscovered talent.” So, it IS likely that many voting members have seen the work of this newly honored individual.

      In referencing an individual’s “completely different performance,” again, one’s body of work speaks volumes to COMPLIMENT one’s completely different performance.
      Don’t get me wrong by thinking voting members play “eenie, meenie, miney, moe…” But chances are slim that every voting member would have seen all nominees in all categories. With the busy schedule of many voting members, this is highly unlikely.

  • Reply
    January 22, 2010 at 11:46 am

    Thanks for a peek into the lives of actors. It gave me some insight as to why some of these people win these awards. I’m a big fan of the Oscars and think of the Globes as a joke. I trust the Oscars more because I rarely disagree with the choices and if I do, then I can see it’s because the voting was split between two strong factions and canceled out who should have won. But the Globes baffle me. They seemed to be voted on by crazy people.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      January 22, 2010 at 4:55 pm

      Haha! I like the Globes! Can you name examples of why you think they’re voted on by crazy people? Was it the Madonna win for Evita?

  • Reply
    January 22, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    I love reading about the thought process of these voters…. And, I have to disagree with Eirego…the Golden Globes bring out really deserving people (as winners) when they may not necessarily be “the trend” Take 1997 when Brenda Blethyn received a Golden Globe for SECRETS & LIES…no one has really heard of her at that point…. I also find the Globes refreshing for thier split categories. Colin Farrell (for IN BRUGES) did an AWESOME job in that film (and received a Golden Globe (in 2009)…he would have NEVER been nominated for an Oscar that year…. I think the REAL Joke is the MTV Movie Awards… Where else can you find Neve Campbell (for SCREAM) up for an award against Hilary Swank (BOYS DON’T CRY?)

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      January 22, 2010 at 5:05 pm

      I loved it when Colin Farrell won for In Bruges because it was the only major award that awesome film received. But the MTV Movie Awards are meant to be a joke, aren’t they?

      • Reply
        January 23, 2010 at 2:27 pm

        I LOVE that movie, and it’s so sad how widely ignored it was. Martin McDonagh is my favorite writer, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. If he showed up on any ballot that crossed my doorstep, I would vote for him every single time.

        • Reply
          Pop Culture Nerd
          January 23, 2010 at 2:52 pm

          Sarah, your coolness factor just went through the roof. That was my favorite movie of 2008 (see my post here) and I think McDonagh is brilliant.

  • Reply
    January 22, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Great interview, PCN. It offered up a good perspective across those in the field. It’s also interesting to see the difference in opinions from actors. Although, I couldn’t disagree more with regard to Diane Kruger. IMO, she and Melanie Laurent were the secret ingredient for Inglourious Basterds (especially since some of the men, Waltz included, had the more showy parts). That one sequence between Kruger and Waltz (when her complicity is revealed) didn’t have much dialogue, but both were peerless throughout that segment. I’d say both women in the film deserve more recognition. But, we’ll see…

    Thanks, PCN.

    • Reply
      January 22, 2010 at 2:57 pm

      Oh, and I disagree with Lauren about Jeremy Renner’s nomination. He deserves to be, IMO. Thanks.

      • Reply
        Jen Forbus
        January 22, 2010 at 4:19 pm

        Are you trying to pad your comments again? LOL

      • Reply
        Pop Culture Nerd
        January 22, 2010 at 5:03 pm

        I’ve got the Hurt Locker DVD sitting right here and will watch it tonight so I can settle this!

      • Reply
        Pop Culture Nerd
        January 24, 2010 at 12:40 am

        OK, finally saw it. Liked it (so tense, it made my stomach hurt) and think Jeremy Renner’s nomination is warranted but he’s not as good as George Clooney.

        • Reply
          January 24, 2010 at 12:21 pm

          … so tense, it made my stomach hurt

          Are you sure it wasn’t THL’s shaky cam? 😉 So, this means you and I have to check out Crazy Heart because of Jeff Bridges’ performance. Plus, as much as I enjoyed Clooney in UitA, the fact that he has a statue (and Bridges’ doesn’t), along with the buzz JB’s getting, may mean it’ll be too much to overcome for George. I think many in the Academy may feel he’s been bypassed too many times in the past, and therefore this is his year. It’s a guess on my part, but that’s what I think will happen. Thanks, PCN.

          • Reply
            Pop Culture Nerd
            January 24, 2010 at 4:13 pm

            The shaky cam didn’t bother me that much. I think it helps that I saw it at home on a smaller screen so the effect was minimized. When I saw The Bourne Supremacy in the theater, I got there late and had to sit in the fourth row back. The shaky-cam thing almost made me throw up my dinner.

            I think it’s a done deal that Bridges will take the Oscar because of the career achievement factor. It happens all the time.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      January 22, 2010 at 5:01 pm

      I have to agree with Lauren, lp13. I don’t think Kruger did anything remarkable. The scene you mentioned was gripping for me because of Waltz’s performance, not Kruger’s. However, I concur Melanie Laurent was amazing. SHE should’ve been nominated.

  • Reply
    January 29, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    About the voters, I once saw Paul Newman on an interview saying that whenever he had to vote for the Oscars he would always leave it for his wife to do it. But I know about an actress who watches every DVD before voting, like a real fan.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      January 29, 2010 at 10:12 pm

      I vote for the SAG Awards and, like a good little nerd, always try to watch everything before I do.

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