SAG gives an ensemble cast award.
I think it’s a good idea, but problematic. Where do you draw the line about who gets an actual statue? Every single actor in the movie can’t be recognized, because you give a little gold dude to “Tall Man at Car Wash.” So you have to establish a cutoff somewhere.
But there’s no objective criterion that won’t make somebody unhappy. Everybody with at least thirty spoken lines of dialogue? That might exclude Beatrice Straight as William Holden’s wife in Network, who doesn’t have a lot of separate lines but who won an Academy Award basically for one long and heart-wrenching monologue. (“I hurt! Don’t you understand that? I hurt badly!”)
Okay, what about everybody who appears on at least ten pages of the script? Wouldn’t that include manservants who don’t actually say anything?
Okay, what about everybody who’s classified into specific contractual categories according to union rules? These categories exist already, and might be used. The problem is, it would introduce a new complication in casting, as people would be more or less willing to take certain roles, and parts might have to be rewritten to enlarge or shrink them, according to how producers are trying to structure the cast, rather than what makes the movie work best. And further, many independent films are shot non-union, and don’t use these rules.
Now, like I said, SAG already has this award, and you can read their rulebook in PDF format here. Their solution is in Section Five, paragraph 13: “Motion Picture casts shall be represented by those actors billed on separate cards in the main titles, wherever those titles appear.” In other words, if your name appears up front, before the “Cast” list in the credits crawl, you get an award; the wording is ambiguous about whether “separate card” means your name has to appear by itself, so somebody on a list of three names in the titles would be ineligible, or if any name on any card in the titles counts. It starts to get tricky, I’m sure, for something like Altman’s Short Cuts, where the cast names don’t appear on cards at all but fly in and out in a unique graphical form. In any case, it’s a rule, and can be followed.
However, since the SAG awards are not as prestigious as the Oscar, I guarantee you that nobody would be willing to simply adopt the SAG standard. There’s too much money at stake; award campaigns are built around certain formulas that predict how much certain nominations and wins will be worth at the box office. I think it’s an intriguing idea, but probably would not work in reality.
Now, as far as my own suggestion for an award, I’d like to see the Academy acknowledge the way Hollywood actually works and bestow an Oscar for Best Marketing. Every year there are turds whose marketing people are able to polish to a genuine sparkle in the advertising; the best recent example is Underworld, which looked great (or at least fun) in the commercials but which was just awful as an actual movie. Hollywood movies live and die by the box office, and a shitty movie with a great campaign is usually more profitable than a great movie with a shitty campaign.
I know this probably sounds contradictory coming from me, the cineaste who tends to disparage big brainless movies and champions the smaller quality works as an alternative, but I don’t see it that way. My perspective is that the Academy Awards keep pretending they’re about acknowledging quality, which I think is a crock of shit. Phil Collins wouldn’t have an Oscar if that were actually true. It’s a much more complicated game than that, and I think an award for marketing would be a step toward acknowledging where the true mercenary heart of the ceremony lies. And besides, there’s still room for a campaign for Lost in Translation, which managed to get a lot more people than usual into the art houses, or, as an even better example, The Blair Witch Project, whose marketing turned a nascent cult experience into a true phenomenon.