Home Entertainment Extravaganza Was This Strike-Struck Awards Season Hollywood’s Weirdest Ever? – Monomaxos

Was This Strike-Struck Awards Season Hollywood’s Weirdest Ever? – Monomaxos

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When Poor Things received an eight-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival in September, only Yorgos Lanthimos was there to bask in it. The director’s cast, of course, had joined the 160,000 SAG-AFTRA members on strike. Lanthimos later lamented that it was “a real shame” that his star Emma Stone couldn’t be by his side, and much of Hollywood likely felt his pain. But at least Lanthimos got to hear the applause. Bradley Cooper, whose Maestro premiered the next day, was unable to promote the film he cowrote, directed, and stars in. Instead, the film’s makeup artist, casting director, editor, and sound mixer, among others, stepped up to handle the press conference.

That’s how it was for much of this awards season, after SAG-AFTRA imposed stringent rules on its members when the strike began in mid-July. No red carpets. No interviews. No promo, period. Even more than the writers strike, the 118-day actors walkout sent Hollywood’s awards machine into a tailspin, particularly as the Oscars gauntlet loomed. “It definitely threw a wrench in this season in terms of planning,” says a talent publicist. And awards movies, to put it mildly, are rarely big studio blockbusters: They’re often the kind of passion projects that need publicity most.

Everyone in the industry is well aware of the chaos: The Governors Awards, usually held in November, were pushed into January and will take place six days before the strike-delayed Emmy Awards. The Academy Museum Gala, postponed following the beginning of the conflict in Gaza, was rescheduled for December. Until the strike was resolved on November 9, the phalanx of awards season marketing and publicity specialists were forced to embrace uncertainty. “We’re lighting the white sage,” one veteran awards strategist deadpanned about how he was handling the unusual start of the season.

Cannes, contending with just the writers strike back in May, managed to be star-studded, with the casts of Killers of the Flower Moon and May December helping to launch both films. But the wattage was turned down considerably in Venice, Telluride, and Toronto, where festival organizers had to scramble after the actors went on strike and several movies pushed their premiere dates into next year. Another awards publicist calls the early days of the strike “uncertain and confusing,” adding, “We didn’t know if the fall festivals would march forward or fall apart.”

The film festivals did soldier on—and a handful of stars were able to show up thanks to guild-issued interim agreements, but the celebrations were muted. In Venice, Jessica Chastain admitted to being “incredibly nervous” to be there. Adam Driver called his appearance for Ferrari’s premiere “a visual representation of a movie” made for a studio—Neon—willing to meet the union’s demands. Jury president Damien Chazelle showed up to his press conference in a “Writers Guild on Strike!” T-shirt. “To have three films in Venice and not be able to go broke my heart,” Poor Things star Willem Dafoe told Vanity Fair after he’d canceled nearly all plans to promote his upcoming work. The guild allowed him to attend Toronto in support of Patricia Arquette’s directorial feature debut, Gonzo Girl, but he was frank about the fact that he was pining for Venice: “I live in Italy and it’s exciting to see friends, it’s exciting to dress up.”

Spotting a famous face at premieres became like a game of Where’s Waldo. Stone purchased her own pass to Telluride and rode the charter flight from Los Angeles to get to the festival, where Poor Things had its North American premiere. She later participated in a New York Film Festival panel for the Lanthimos short Bleat, which was granted an interim agreement. Cooper also popped up at the festival’s screening of Maestro, having been granted permission from his guild to simply sit in the audience.

SAG-AFTRA’s interim agreements created vastly different experiences for movies in the race. A24 was able to move forward with promotion for contenders like Past Lives and Priscilla, and on the day the strike-ending deal was announced, stars Zac Efron and Jeremy Allen White were attending the Dallas premiere of A24’s Texas-set wrestling drama The Iron Claw. Meanwhile 20th Century Studios, owned by Disney, decided to postpone Jeff Nichols’s The Bikeriders once it became clear that Austin Butler, Jodie Comer, Tom Hardy, and other stars wouldn’t be able to properly promote the film ahead of its scheduled December 1 release. It joined Dune: Part Two and Challengers as awards hopefuls now waiting for next year.

But amid all that confusion, some new awards season celebrities emerged. Sandra Hüller—the German star of two international contenders, The Zone of Interest and Anatomy of a Fall, which are exempt from SAG rules—rocketed into the best actress conversation after the latter film premiered at Telluride. “I’m very aware of the fact that it’s a special situation, and I’m not sure if I would’ve had that attention, if everybody would’ve been able to come,” she told VF after the fest. “And I hope very much that people really love the film for what it is, and not only because of our presence. That would be something that I wouldn’t enjoy so much.”

Craftspeople invariably get less attention during Oscars season, but they also stepped into the spotlight, doing interviews and Q&As and walking red carpets. “The strike really challenged everyone to be more creative utilizing these artisans, as well as filmmakers, in new ways,” says Tom Piechura, who oversees entertainment marketing at 42West.

Actors may have rushed back onto red carpets the minute the strike ended in November, but even a flurry of interviews won’t make up for the time lost over the summer. As the veteran awards publicist notes, the uncertainty about when the work stoppage would end caused many studios to pull back on their campaigns, and now there’s no going back: “It’s a mess.” But the second awards publicist isn’t convinced that six chaotic months of strikes will really impact the final vote: “Despite all the work and campaigning and the razzle-dazzle that comes with that, it really comes down to seeing the movie.”

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