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The SAG Awards Voting Process Is Unlike Any Other & Here's What You Need To Know

Of all the shows held during what's known as "Awards Season," my favorites are those of the guilds. These are streamlined evenings, where everything is focused on just that particular unionized aspect of filmmaking. It's one thing to recognize, say, costume designers, crammed in the middle of the Oscars or the Tonys. It quite another to have an event dedicated to recognizing just costume designers, by those in the Costume Designer Guild, who understand exactly what goes into the craft. The same goes for SAG-AFTRA. But the SAG Awards voting process might seem a little weird to those who have never watched the event.

So, before we all tune in to watch this delightful dinner awards show, let's talk about how the voting process works and who is eligible this year.

Like the Globes, SAG-AFTRA recognizes all performances that are released during the calendar year of 2017. (That's January-December.) But the submissions period only goes until October. (This year, it closed on the Oct. 23.) That means that TV shows and movies that come out at the end of the year (like, say The Crown) have to submit their performances for consideration before they are released to the public. This helps prevent shows from "gaming the system," as it were. (Think how Game of Thrones used to time it so their finale aired the Sunday night before Emmy nominations were due, so audience response would help sway voting.)

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There are two divisions that make up the SAG Awards nominations: Film and TV. There are two completely different nominating panels for each one. Each year, new panels are selected in the spring, and those on them must opt in. After they've had their year, they may not serve again for another eight years. This way, the panels are always evolving.

From the time the nominations window closes in October until the beginning of December, the panels review all the materials and submit their votes. (This year, the closing date was Dec. 10.) The categories are then announced a few days later. (This year, that was on Dec. 13.) Once the nominations are in, everyone in SAG-AFTRA who is in good standing gets to vote on who wins. Everyone. And that means basically everyone who is a working actor on-screen.

SAG-AFTRA is a labor union. If you're working on a union set as an actor, that usually means you either have a card or are working towards having your card, regardless of age. (SAG-AFTRA is notable for being one of the very few labor unions who extend full membership to minors.) According to their documents, there were 121,544 SAG-AFTRA members who were considered to be "in good standing" as of the Dec. 1, 2017 deadline. All may vote. Votes must be in by the beginning of January. (This year, the deadline was Jan. 8.)

So unlike the Globes and the Oscars, there's no elite group within the group who got to actually vote for the winners. There's no academy to thank, no Hollywood Foreign Press, no group that people can protest are old and out of touch. Anyone who is in SAG-AFTRA, from the kids in Stranger Things to Betty White, gets to vote on the performances of their peers.

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There's one more thing that's different about the SAG Awards, and that's the number of statues given out. Though they have a much smaller number of categories that the Oscars or the Globes, they are known for giving out more statues than most. This is due to "ensemble" categories.

All other awards shows recognize individual achievement in the art of acting. But SAG-AFTRA knows, because they are actors, how important it is to have the right cast and the right chemistry. That's why, in addition to Outstanding Performance by a Male or Female Actor in Movies, TV Comedies and TV Dramas, they also have categories like Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture and Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series. Because the number of people in the cast is different per movie, that means the show could give out say, two awards for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a two person movie, to 40+ statuettes every time they recognize Game of Thrones.

But that's why the evening is so fun. You never know who might win something. The SAG Awards air live on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018 at 8 p.m. ET on TBS and TNT.