Everything You Need to Know About the SAG Awards

Photo Source: Caitlin Watkins

Actors are the face of the celebrations in Hollywood around awards season; they are the most visible representations of the movies being honored. But the Screen Actors Guild Awards—more than any other event—are their night and their night only.

Though the guild only began handing out the trophies known as “Actors” to, well, actors a couple decades ago, the January ceremony has become a crucial stop for any movie stars gunning for Oscar. And while it’s plenty glitzy, there’s also often a charming camaraderie on display; the show opens with testimonials from the attendees about their early acting experiences. (The official website credits Angela Lansbury, who opened the inaugural evening, with this invention.)

Given that both film and television work is considered, certain stars on the broadcast side have historically cleaned up. Some trivia: last year at the 24th ceremony, Julia Louis-Dreyfus of “Veep” earned her eighth and ninth statues, beating Alec Baldwin and Julianna Margulies’ record of eight. And Edie Falco holds the distinction of most nominations ever, with 22.

To celebrate and prepare for this awards season, Backstage is rounding up all the basics you need to know about the big awards ceremonies. Here’s everything you’ve ever wondered about the wonderful SAG Awards.

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When did the SAG Awards first take place?

You might be surprised to learn that the SAGs are actually relatively new. The first celebration only took place in 1995, with trophies going to Tom Hanks for “Forrest Gump” and Jodie Foster for “Nell,” among others.

Who votes on them?

Why, the actors, of course! These festivities are all about the performers, hence winners usually thanking their peers in speeches. It’s self-explanatory, yes, but all SAG-AFTRA members who have paid all their dues are allowed to cast their ballots. Nominations are decided upon by special SAG Awards committees.

How do they vote?

While everyone (who has paid up) can vote for the winners, the nominating process is a little more exclusive. To choose who will be up for the prizes, nominating committees in film and television are randomly selected from SAG-AFTRA members. The same people can’t choose the nominees every year; those who sit on a committee must wait eight years before being on the same one again.

When and where are they held this year?

The 25th annual SAG Awards will be held Jan. 27, 2019 at the Los Angeles Shrine Exposition Center. The event will be simulcast live on TNT and TBS

Who do they honor?

Performers across film and television. That means for film SAG presents the standard honors for women and men in leading and supporting roles, but also for casts as a whole. That’s where eligibility can get a little tricky. To get on stage as part of the prestigious Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture award, rules state that a performer must have been credited on a separate title card. So some in memorable but smaller roles that share billing are left out. (Those who are in the cast crawl get certificates.)

To be considered part of the ensemble of a TV series, a contender must appear in more than half of the episodes within the nominating time frame and be a either series regular or guest star. Certificates are doled out to those who have appeared in at least three episodes in the calendar year.

This is also one of the few awards bodies that pays attention to stunt performers. Also each year, SAG names a recipient of the Life Achievement Award; past winners include Morgan Freeman, Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett, Debbie Reynolds, and Rita Moreno (this year’s honoree is Alan Alda).

What is the complete list of SAG Award categories?

Film:

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture

Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture

TV:

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Limited Series

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Limited Series

Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Comedy or Drama Series

How can I join the fun?

Getting your SAG card is a right of passage for any actor, so knowing how to join the union is crucial. The first step: Getting hired. Then you can supply your paycheck stubs or the “original activity print-out or report from the payroll company that states your name, social security number, the name of the production company, the title of the production, the salary paid in dollar amount, and the specific date(s) worked” to SAG-AFTRA. You can also apply for membership in SAG-AFTRA if you’ve been a member for a year in another affiliated organization. Those include Actor’s Equity and the Canadian ACTRA, among others. For more practical tips, click here!

What is their relation to other major awards shows?

People looking to dominate their Oscar pools tend to watch the SAGs pretty closely because their nominees and winners often align. That’s because—as scholars of this type of thing like to repeat—actors make up the largest branch of the Academy. Thus, people voting for SAG also have a say in who becomes the season’s ultimate victors. Eleven out of 23 of the last winning films for the outstanding ensemble performance Actor statue ended up with the Oscar for Best Picture.

How can I become a SAG Award winner?

  • Sharpen your skills by studying the ins and outs of acting
  • Or start by learning the basics online
  • Get an agent
  • Sign that contract
  • Master the audition process, and get cast. Then keep applying to every role that fits your type!
  • Network with your fellow actors and artists
  • Once your buzzy project is out, you may want to hire a publicist
  • For more info on submitting to the SAG Awards, visit their site


Follow those steps and do your best, and you may just find yourself thanking your peers with an Actor statue in hand. You may even go so far as to join the exclusive club of performers we’ve dubbed “ESOT.” Break a leg!

This article was originally published on Jan. 4, 2018. It has since been updated.

Looking to get cast? Apply to casting calls on Backstage.

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