The SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes are about to upend the Emmy and Oscar seasons this year, dealing another blow to an awards landscape that has been rocked for the past three years by falling viewership ratings, cancellations and delays caused by the pandemic, and the near-collapse of one of the best-known awards shows, the Golden Globes.
The walkouts have already changed the face of Phase 2 Emmy voting, with the show’s date in limbo and actors and writers unable to campaign in any way for their nominated shows. This week, a high-profile film, Luca Guadagnino’s “Challengers,” withdrew from its opening slot at the Venice Film Festival instead of having a high-profile premiere that its actors would not be able to attend.
And the longer the strikes go on without a deal, the more they will transform the crucial fall period for the Oscars and other film awards.
“It’s crazy,” an Emmy-nominated actress told TheWrap before the strike last week. “I’ve been attached to this show since 2011. And now it’s finally done and I’ve gotten my first Emmy nomination, but I can’t say, ‘Please watch the show,’ or even tweet about it.”
The actress was quick to point out that she supports the strike and that the restrictions were worth it: “My goal is to support my union, to support my sister unions, and to support those who don’t earn a fair wage. There has been a lot of innovation in TV and broadcast, but the contracts haven’t caught up yet and it’s time.”
Since the Writers Guild went on strike in May, its members have not been allowed to hold awards-related events or interviews for their movies or TV shows. SAG-AFTRA joined the strike on July 13, sending guidelines to its members that prohibited them from “personal appearances, interviews, conventions, fan shows, festivals, consideration events, panels, premieres/screenings, award shows, events, podcast appearances, social media, and studio performances,” among others.
“It’s a sad scenario,” an awards strategist told TheWrap of an awards landscape fraught with uncertainty. “And no one has any idea how long it will last. Everything at this point is just guesswork.”
But while everyone is guessing, here are three areas where the attack could have a seismic impact.
Emmy Awards Season
The SAG-AFTRA walkout began at midnight the day after the Emmy nominations were announced, immediately halting all actors nominated in Phase 2 of the television awards season from participating and throwing the show’s September 18 date into question.
The Emmys organized a virtual show during the pandemic, but they did it with the participation of actors; they held a ceremony during a 1980 SAG boycott, and only one nominee appeared (it was Powers Boothe, and he won). But the idea of doing a Primetime Emmys telecast without actors acting as hosts or present as nominees is clearly out of the question for the Television Academy and Fox, the network airing the show this year.
So while the voting schedule hasn’t changed, with the final vote still scheduled to take place between August 18 and 28, the big question is whether and, if so, when the Emmys ceremony will move. Sources close to Fox have told TheWrap that if the show has to be moved, the next feasible date on the network’s calendar won’t be until January, which would be spectacularly inconvenient since it leaves the Emmys smack dab in the middle of the busiest part of the movie awards calendar.
What if they gave a film festival and no stars appeared? That is the question that now hangs over the Venice Film Festival, which begins on August 30; the Telluride Film Festival, which begins a day later; and the Toronto International Film Festival, which begins on September 7.
Venice is scheduled to announce its main lineup on Aug. 25, but has already lost its opening film, Luca Guadagnino’s “Challengers.” This week, the film withdrew from Venice and moved its release date to April 2024 rather than make a splashy debut without stars Zendaya and Josh O’Connor. Toronto has already announced a few movies, including Taika Waititi’s “Next Goal Wins” and Atom Egoyan’s “Seven Veils,” and will continue to roll out its lineup in the coming weeks. And while Telluride doesn’t reveal its lineup until the day before the festival begins, it is preparing movies for its 50th anniversary festival.
Of the three festivals, Venice is perhaps the most reliant on its handful of star-studded premieres, which make talent available to the international press. In recent years, films like “The Whale” (Brendan Fraser), “Tar” (Cate Blanchett), “The Power of the Dog” (Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst), “Dune” (Timothee Chalamet), “Pieces of a Woman” (Vanessa Kirby) and “Nomadland” (Frances McDormand) have premiered there and have led their actors to Oscar nominations or awards. But Venice’s schedule is also often full of independent and international films that don’t rely on actors for promotion.
Telluride typically draws a healthy contingent of actors and does at least one tribute to an artist who’s attached to a new movie, while Toronto’s big slate includes plenty of documentaries and experimental films, but also star-studded late-night premieres that would no doubt lose their luster without any SAG members in attendance. It also hosts an annual ceremony that awards career achievement awards to actors and filmmakers with films at the festival. The SAG rules allow some leeway for actors to participate in lifetime achievement events, but only if they are not tied to the current job.
In addition, there is the question of whether the SAG, which has granted dispensations for the production of independent films not linked to the AMPTP companies against which the union is on strike, will do the same for the promotion of foreign and independent films that are not linked to a company that has been hit. The union has yet to say whether it will grant exemptions for the promotion (something Tom Cruise asked for but didn’t get in the name of “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One”), but some strategists are hopeful it could happen, along with the involvement of, say, British actors in the UK guild, which isn’t surprising.
If the strike continues and actors are banned, expect many films to head to festivals represented by their directors and producers, with a few others pulling out and seeking a post-strike release. “At the moment,” one executive told TheWrap, “most people are playing wait and see instead of canceling anything.”
At various times throughout its history, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has acted as if it preferred an Oscar without any campaign. But now that he’s more or less given in (or embraced) to the idea of being the basis for Hollywood’s biggest campaign battleground, he might be facing a case of “be careful what you ever wish for”.
As the strike continues, Oscar season will see actors barred from interviews, award shows, post-screening Q&As, receptions and everything else that usually fills contenders’ calendars from early fall until the Academy Awards. The first big success would be on November 14 at the Academy Governors Awards, an event created to deliver honorary Oscars and special awards such as the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
A couple of years after its inception in 2009, the Governors Awards became a full campaign event; studios (and later streamers) would buy tables and fill them with the stars of their Oscar-nominated films, who could then mingle with Oscar voters and the press at the start of awards season. Even if the strike goes ahead in November, Angela Bassett would be barred from accepting her Honorary Oscar, because it’s a lifetime achievement award for her, but other actors couldn’t attend on behalf of her current projects. And if the actors can’t perform, the studios won’t buy tables.
The campaign events that drive Oscar season might still be run with directors and underlying talent, but star power was often the driving force behind campaigns of all kinds. (Had the actors been on strike, Andrea Riseborough’s famous friends wouldn’t have been able to take to social media on her behalf as they did last year.)
And the Screen Actors Guild Awards? Presumably, SAG could give itself a waiver and be the only awards show with actors if it wanted to, but it would still be handing out awards that would call attention to movies and TV shows released by companies that are targeted by the strike.
As far as other awards shows go, it’s hard to imagine the Golden Globes or Critics Choice Awards going on without actors, though they could post a list of winners without holding a televised event.
A SAG Awards spokesperson told TheWrap that guild members who were randomly selected to be on the film and television nomination committees were informed of their selection in June and have until July 20 to confirm their participation. Currently, the campaign for the SAG Awards is suspended, but the schedule is not affected, at least for now.
It seems more likely that “unaffected for now” is the default for awards season, and that the longer the strike lasts, the more the season will resemble the pandemic awards season of 2021 and 2022, with plans changing, release dates shifting, and award schedules struggling to adjust from week to week.
Maybe that won’t be necessary, maybe the strikes will be resolved and we can go back to whatever passes for normal in Hollywood these days.
But if the last few years have taught the kudo-industrial complex anything, it’s how to adapt to calamity, right?
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