Numlock Awards: The Producers

Numlock Awards is your one-stop awards season newsletter, and it’s back! Every week, join Walt Hickey and Michael Domanico as they break down the math behind the Oscars and the best narratives going into film’s biggest night.

A bit more of a casual update from me this weekend, I’m working on something cool about the Academy for next weekend.

This weekend, there have been or will be three big events for the Oscar race: awards from the editors, producers and actors.

First I want to rehash a chart from a few weeks ago about the change in composition of the Academy before we get too far into it. As we know, the size of the Academy has ballooned in recent years and based on my own estimation we’re nearing the point where half the people who vote have joined since 2011. This has had the side effect of throwing predictive models a bit out of whack — they’re good, but not as good, but that’s not important right now — but it’s also meaningfully affected the composition of Academy voters, and I’m not even talking about demography. I’m talking about what they actually do in the motion picture business.

These are ranked based on raw net growth, as in how many more people they had at the end of 2019 than they had at the end of 2015. The first thing I’d draw your attention to is that short films and feature animation plus documentary is more than a quarter of the overall observed growth, and I’ll also point out that they don’t have a guild.

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The second thing I’d draw your attention to is the Actors branch, which legitimately feels like one of those math problem paradoxes you’d get in high school math, like how can something gain in value but lose in percentage value? The answer is that the actors branch grew by a lot of people, but it also already had a lot of people, and the rate at which the actors branch grew was slower than the rate at which the whole Academy grew, and as a result? The actors branch was tied for third place in number of members added but still actually managed to lose vote power as a share of the overall Academy.

The last thing I want to highlight in that chart is the branches that gained voting power in the Academy that included Members-at-Large and Visual Effects.

So, what does all this mean? Why am I telling you this?

I wanted to figure out why the Producers Guild Award has been really good at predicting the Oscar winner lately and why the Screen Actors Guild has been on a fairly calamitous slip, despite staying exceptional arbiters of the acting prizes.

What is the Producers Guild?

This is an excellent question. It’s a question that’s such a good question one time the Justice Department needed to figure out exactly how they felt about that question, because there is a word for when “management forms a union to negotiate against labor” and it is “collusion and anti-competitive behavior” and it is a felony.

The Producers Guild is not that! They specifically avoided being that! They’re not actually a guild.

As far as I can tell from the founding lore of the organization, here’s basically what went down. In the late eighties, the Writers Guild scored a negotiating win where they convinced the studios to make the end credits order go directors first, writers second, and producers third. This ticked the producers off to no end — they had been second — but they lacked a collective body with which to negotiate. Hence, the PGA was born. Not a union (they get health insurance somewhere else), but a group.

If you like Hollywood producer types rambling about exploits they accomplished in the mid-nineties, which is literally one of my favorite genres, I highly recommend reading this oral history they themselves published. I find it deeply funny.

Here’s the main point. Though you might think “Oh, producers guild, that obviously coincides with the Academy’s producer’s branch,” you’d only be partially right. Here are the requirements:

In reality, in addition to the producers branch (which gained 100 members from 2015 to 2019) lots of people in the executive (+133 members), members-at-large (+132 members), short film and feature animation (+339 members), documentary (+249 members), visual effects (+186 members) branches and more are eligible for inclusion. Those gains are over half the total gain.

So casting a pretty wide net!

That’s one reason why this award, which is given tonight, is pretty consequential. If you consider the Academy (as I do) as basically in three types — technicians, actors and suits — this weekend is awesome, with one from each camp.

The first was last night, at the ACE Eddie award. This is given by the editors. Their drama award (worth 10 points in the model) went to Parasite and their comedy award (worth 2) went to Jojo Rabbit, putting the best picture race like this:

  1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (84 points) 

  2. Parasite (71 points)

  3. 1917 (64 points)

  4. The Irishman (62 points)

  5. Jojo Rabbit (54 points)

  6. Joker (38 points)

  7. Marriage Story (34 points)

  8. Ford v Ferrari (28 points)

  9. Little Women (27 points)

That’s a solid boost for Parasite.

The second will be tonight, at the PGA. Every single nominee is also nominated for that, which will allocate 82 points to the winner and instantaneously delegate a strong front-runner.

Then, tomorrow night is the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which will allocate another 36 points to the winner. More importantly is that will really hammer down the rest of the acting prizes, but expect a super quick update Monday morning recounting how that went down.

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Photo credits: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, Andrew Cooper, Sony Pictures;