The logistics of producing an awards show is often invisible to viewers at home.
But for alumna Gloria Fujita O’Brien, the details of the 26th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, airing Jan. 19, are all too familiar. O’Brien has been producing the SAG Awards for 22 years, but she said no matter the yearly changes, the show still allows for the spotlight to fall on members of the union. In the span of more than two decades, O’Brien said she has firsthand experience in the extensive preparation behind the show, from strategically creating an overall look to following production schedules.
“It takes a village to put on this show, and we are as good as all of the different areas and workers and specialists doing their jobs well,” O’Brien said.
Planning for the event begins a couple of months after the previous year’s show has aired, O’Brien said. During the beginning stages, the team collaborates to create a logo and other visuals for the TV special, and she said set and graphic designers determine the overall look as early as the summer. The chosen images are then utilized by people like Christina Canseco, director of PMK-BNC and Rogers & Cowan PR agency, who proceeds to advertise the show to gain viewership.
“Leading up to the show we work with both the network and the SAG Awards team in strategizing a plan to help promote from determining which press to invite to working with top-tier entertainment press by pitching fun angles to create new stories,” Canseco said.
Through promotion strategies, the SAG Awards team and the PR agency collaborate to attract viewers, Canseco said. In order to keep audiences engaged throughout the show, O’Brien said, managing the time of the various segments is key. O’Brien manages the timing of the awards show alongside her co-producer, alumna Kristen Brakeman. A large chunk of her job, Brakeman said, is to ensure that all visual and music clips are prepared to be aired live the day of the show.
In the weeks before the actual event, Brakeman and O’Brien spend hours rehearsing the show in an attempt to have everything fit within the allotted time provided by the network. However, this job requires more hands on deck, and Janis Uhley, the stand-in coordinator, assists the producers in regulating stand-in actors who fill the roles of presenters and nominees during rehearsals.
“The range of responsibilities is mainly to be as efficient as possible so that the director and producers and the writers can see everything as it’s really going to be,” Uhley said.
Uhley said while the stand-ins are not the actual nominees and presenters, they still come up with speeches for the role they are standing in for, so the producers can have a preview of what the show may look like. Brakeman and O’Brien – along with other producers and directors – view the show from a control truck. With a wall of monitors, the director selects the cameras that determine what audiences view on their television screens, Brakeman said.
Occasionally, the producers are surprised by what happens during the live show, such as an actor sharing their personal opinions on politics, despite the time constraint. Nevertheless, O’Brien said the SAG Awards differs from other awards shows as winners are not cut off when speaking on stage even if they say something controversial. O’Brien does her best to provide a 45-second countdown through visual signals in order to move the show along smoothly, because many actors end up rambling.
“It’s always unique, and there are things I can’t control,” O’Brien said. “A lot of the times it’s current events that dictate what’s going to be new and different on the show.”
O’Brien said she remembers the 2019 SAG Awards in particular, which were dedicated to women in entertainment, and therefore featured only female presenters. A presenter or an awardee may also feel strongly about a particular subject or political moment and may go off script to express their opinions, O’Brien said.
But despite the unexpected, O’Brien said she tries her best to allot time for the unexpected so that each actor has the flexibility to make speeches that are personalized and speak to what they feel is important.
“We try and make everyone feel important and what they do in their specific area as being important to the show, and so I feel that makes our show more like a family,” O’Brien said.