That's the brainteaser that producers have to solve every year. EW got the exclusive scoop on the Screen Actors Guild Awards seating process

It’s 6 p.m. at the Los Angeles offices of the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the sushi menus have already been broken out. A long night lies ahead. With just 11 days remaining before the Jan. 30 awards show (simulcast live on TBS and TNT at 8 p.m. ET), four producers have gathered here tonight to hash out the seating chart for the evening’s 1,234 attendees — a glam mix of actors, producers, writers, agents, and other Very Important Hollywood Players. While EW looked on, the producers focused on seating 716 folks — mostly the large, boldfaced casts from the nominated movies and TV shows — who’ll be on the Shrine Exposition Center’s ballroom floor. How does the SAG team decide where everyone sits? ”We try to be fair,” says producer Kathy Connell. ”If people were all the way in the back last year, we’re going to try to move them up this year. And vice versa.” Here, an inside look at the seating plan for the 2011 show.

1. The Social Network Table 18 Likely attendee Scott Rudin will break bread with Jesse Eisenberg, Aaron Sorkin, David Fincher & Co., even though Jeff Bridges is nominated for the uberproducer’s other big awards-season contender, True Grit. Producers placed Justin Timberlake next to presenter Amy Poehler because he’s a frequent guest on Poehler’s alma mater SNL. JT’s castmate Max Minghella is attending with actress Kate Mara (127 Hours), sister of Network‘s Rooney Mara.

2. Black Swan Table 13 Individual nominees Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis will raise their glasses to Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, and Winona Ryder, who got nods in the ensemble category. The buzzy clan almost got kicked farther back for fear of overloading the front of the room with too many casts in the drama category.

3. Glee Tables 2, 3, and 5 Producers are expecting almost everyone from Fox’s hit TV series to attend the gala, including red-carpet darling Lea Michele and individual nominees Jane Lynch and Chris Colfer. Of course, Glee creator Ryan Murphy will also be on hand to root for his cast. The show’s planners made sure the group was placed in a well-lit part of the ballroom so cameras wouldn’t have trouble snagging shots of them all night. Cast members were moved across the room from last year so they could enjoy a different view and because there are few options to seat such a large group — a possible total of 42.

4. Boardwalk Empire Tables 6 and 7 Steve Buscemi, nominated for Male Actor in a Drama Series, will be joined by castmates Kelly Macdonald, Michael Pitt, and Paz de la Huerta. Though he’s an exec producer on the HBO series, Mark Wahlberg will be across the room with his nominated Fighter castmates.

5. Assorted Invitees Table 23 Close pals and nominees Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order: SVU) and Hilary Swank (Conviction) requested seats together. They’ll rub elbows with nominee Hugh Laurie (House), with whom Hargitay whooped it up last year.

6. The Kids Are All Right Table 19 Annette Bening and Warren Beatty up front and on camera? Yes, please! ”That’s another thing we have to consider,” explains producer Jon Brockett. ”High-profile dates!” The couple, along with nominee Mark Ruffalo and Josh Hutcherson, will have to celebrate without Julianne Moore, who has a conflicting family event.

7. Dexter Table 41 Showtime’s acclaimed serial-killer drama was front and center last year (in the Glee spot, actually), but this year the gang is at the back…even though lead actor Michael C. Hall and the ensemble are once again in contention for awards. Last year, Hall took home a statuette for Male Actor in a Drama Series. The ensemble was also nominated, but lost to the Mad Men cast, which this year is seated in the center of the ballroom.

8. The Fighter Table 43 Mark Wahlberg will be there to cheer for his individually nominated castmates Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, and Christian Bale. The seven actresses who played Wahlberg’s pugnacious sisters also will all attend. Ballroom brawl?

9. Modern Family Tables 32 and 38 One of the night’s biggest gangs (after Glee) will spread out over two tables, with Ed O’Neill, Sofia Vergara, and Eric Stonestreet at one, and Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, and Sarah Hyland at the other. The ABC comedy cast is seated toward the back, but producers will make sure individual nominees Burrell, O’Neill, and Vergara are along the aisles so they can get up quickly and move to the stage should they win in their categories.

10. The Long Haul The longest walk to the stage? Ninety-three feet. So if Team Dexter at table 41 wins, they’ll definitely get in their cardio for the day.

11. The Honoree The Life Achievement Award recipient — it’s Ernest Borgnine this year — always sits at table 26, right next to SAG national president Ken Howard.

12. The Stairs It’s a mere five steps from the floor of the Shrine Expo Center to the stage, which is 25 feet deep by 54 feet wide.

13. The Booze Champagne and wine are on the table, but guests can grab mixed drinks at one of two bars in the back corners of the room.