OSCARS: SAG Cast Award As Predictor
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Although the Screen Actors Guild constantly denies that their annual ensemble award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture is meant to be anything but that, pundits and prognosticators stubbornly label it SAG’s equivalent of a best picture award. Since the SAG membership overlaps with Academy voters, nominees, and winners of SAG Awards, along with other key guild contests orchestrated by the PGA, DGA, and WGA, they are widely considered to be great harbingers of things to come at the Oscars. In the case of the SAG Awards, which have been presented annually for the past 18 years, it is certainly true that their individual acting winners often agree with Oscars, at least 75% of the time.
However the stats for the ensemble or cast award, as it is officially known, are much spottier. Indeed, out of the 17 times it has been awarded, only eight films have gone on to match it at the Oscars (Shakespeare in Love, American Beauty, Chicago, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Crash, No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire, and The King’s Speech). On the bright side, only one past SAG cast award winner, The Birdcage at the third annual awards, failed to go on to get at least a best picture nomination (or even a single acting nom). SAG’s cast award for TV series tends to align more closely with eventual Emmy winners in both comedy and drama categories, but often enough goes its own way there, too.
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So why is it an award every Oscar strategist wants to win? Bottom line is the simple fact that actors far outnumber everyone else in the Motion Picture Academy. They are responsible for one-sixth of the entire membership and definitely have a strong impact on the vote. And they are virtually all members of SAG, so it would seem to be a strong indicator of Academy sentiment, or so the thinking goes.
“It certainly helps with your campaign to get the ensemble award because people think it is SAG’s closest thing to a best picture, whether it actually is or not. But is it actually going to decide who is the best picture? No,” says one prominent studio awards consultant.
It can give momentum to a struggling campaign. Last year, The Help was all but written off at the Oscars after being snubbed in directing and writing categories. But, significantly, it did receive a best picture nom as well as acting nominations for lead actress Viola Davis and supporting actresses Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain, just as it did at the SAG awards. When it cleaned up at SAG in a surprise, winning three including the cast award, a record-tying accomplishment, suddenly there were big hopes at DreamWorks that perhaps it could pull off the impossible — a best picture upset. It wasn’t to be. The Artist, the film it beat for the cast award at SAG, prevailed. Only SAG supporting actress winner Octavia Spencer repeated at Oscar time. The SAG awards were prescient, though, in giving Artist star Jean Dujardin the best actor prize over favored George Clooney (The Descendants) and Brad Pitt (Moneyball), a feat he repeated at the Oscars a month later. Certainly that SAG win provided momentum for Dujardin just as it has for others.