Today's SAG nominations proved two points: how key it is to get your movie out early in theaters and then to campaign to voters with DVDs and Q&A screenings.
No ensemble nods (the SAG equivalent of best picture) for "Atonement," "Charlie Wilson's War," and "Sweeney Todd" could be due to the fact that these films, still not in wide release, had not been seen by some of the 2,100 members of the SAG nominating committee spread out across the country. Granted, most members are clustered in Los Angeles and New York where frequent Q&A screenings take place in theaters where stars drop by afterward to riff with the audience, but some members are scattered elsewhere on the U.S. map. Thus DVD screeners play a big role. "Atonement" did send out DVDs, but not till the tail end of the race and it opened late in the calendar year in theaters (December) and so managed to get skunked. Late-breaking "Charlie" and "Sweeney" did not send out DVDs and paid a high SAG price.
DVD campaigning was the big story behind the SAG noms today. Films like "Into the Wild" and even "3:10 to Yuma" that got screeners into the hands of voters early — after having an early theatrical release — rallied after mostly being snubbed at earlier kudos. Filmmaker Sean Penn is a four-time nominee, whose "Into the Wild" led the SAG derby today with three acting nods and an ensemble nomination. No small surprise that actors so enthusiastically backed a movie director and co-written by an actor.
Early release "Hairspray," which also blitzed Hollywood with DVDs, got an ensemble bid after faring well at the Golden Globes. (But, hey, where's John Travolta?) George Clooney didn't do a SAG Q&A screening till late, but "Michael Clayton" rolled out to theaters early and so did its campaign DVDs, resulting in recognition for the performances of Clooney, Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton.
Late-breaking films that didn't get screeners out like "There Will Be Blood" (SAG fave Daniel Day-Lewis made the cut, yes, but no nom for supporting star Paul Dano) and "The Great Debaters" didn't fare well either.
Last year, late release "Letters from Iwo Jima" did not get a SAG nod but made it into the Oscar race. In 2005, early release "Crash" pulled off its big win in the ensemble race — which foreshadowed its big upset on Oscar night — after ambushing Hollywood with non-watermarked DVDs.
DVD campaigning was also a big force behind the TV list. AMC's "Mad Men," which also conducted in-person Q&A screenings for members, performed spectacularly well, but not Showtime, which decided to cut back on campaigning to see what difference there might be this year compared to last. Its hot new series entry "Californication" and star David Duchovny got shut out after nabbing prominent Globe noms. Showtime's top nominees of last year, Michael C. Hall ("Dexter") and Mary-Louise Parker ("Weeds") returned.
While SAG kudos tend to lead and guide the Oscars, they tend to follow and rubber-stamp the previous Emmys. There was much of that pattern repeated this year with notable newcomers like "Pushing Daisies" being pushed aside.