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Who Gets an Oscar Ballot?

Our very good friend @NeverTooEarlyMP who runs the site NeverTooEarlyMoviePredictions has for many years undertaken the monumental task of researching, verifying and listing the names of as many Academy members as have ever been collected under one roof, anywhere at anytime.  A few weeks ago we asked if he could put together a guest post to help us visualize the relative sizes of the branches of the AMPAS, so we could get a better sense of who’s in charge of deciding the outcome of our annual obsession.  The explanation and illustrations were delivered to us straight away, but we held off posting during the nominations process because we don’t like to rock the boat when so many coin-flips could tip the boat one way or the other. Well, after yesterday’s somewhat stunning announcement by the Academy’s Board of Governors, that boat has officially been rocked way beyond any turbulence we could ever cause.

This detailed information now takes on greater importance, because it can serve as a baseline when we compare the new numbers a year from now — and that way we’ll be able to measure exactly how much effect the promised changes have had on Oscar’s balance of power.  We hope this is more information than you probably ever thought possible there was to know about the makeup and breakdown of the Academy’s membership.  – Ryan

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Who Gets an Oscar Ballot? by @NeverTooEarlyMP

It’s not unusual for actors and directors to become household names. But how long would it take you to compile a list of your 437 favorite sound editors? Or 359 of your favorite visual effects artists? How many stunt coordinators could you actually name if your life depended on it?

In a year when many fans were hoping that Star Wars and Mad Max would both break into the best picture race, it may be time to raise our consciousness about who actually makes our movie magic happen. For every actor you recognize on the screen, there are many more people working behind the scenes, behind the camera, at a studio workshop across town, or in an office building across the country. If we want the Academy to take blockbusters, animation or big budget films more seriously, then we might start by learning more about the artists, animators and financiers who make these films possible.

Over at The Wrap, Steve Pond posted the annual branch count prepared by the Academy for Oscar voting, and the grassroots researchers at The Academy Members Project have gone a step further and identified over 77% of them by name. As of December 14, 2015 there were 7,152 Academy members (a number that has already dropped by about ten due to deaths in the past month):

academy 1

Some news organizations assume that the general public is only interested in members who can vote for the Oscars, and so they leave out any mention of the Retired and Associate members (who don’t get to vote). This is why you will likely ordinarily see it reported that there are 6,261 voting members this year from the 17 branches and the At-Large members:

academy 2

Actors make up the largest single branch, but they are nowhere near being the majority. At 18% of voters (a percentage that’s actually been shrinking relative to the other branches in recent years), their numbers look far greater on the red carpet than at the actual ballot box. For those moviegoers who are already accustomed to associating films primarily with their actors, it is perhaps too easy to lose sight of the potential impact of all those smaller branches that make up the rest of the pie. Under the current rules, it only takes 5% of the ballots to earn a best picture nomination. That means that theoretically the visual effects, sound and animation branches could have secured nominations for Mad Max, Star Wars and Inside Out without garnering a single vote from an actor!

To help remind myself of the untapped power of these other branches, I have begun imagining the branches in clusters. It’s not a perfect system, but the chart below reminds me to think about the Academy in different ways. For example, when I combine the producers, executives and public relations branches, they collectively make up a larger voting bloc than the actors do — lest I forget that the movie industry is as much about business as it is about the personalities you see on the screen. Similarly, while the technical and craft artists may be broken up into different branches, they constitute a greater proportion of the Academy than the famous directors that get casually labeled as auteurs. And while documentarians, animators and musicians may not have that much in common, it would be foolish to completely disregard the number of Oscar votes that come from the top left quarter of this chart:

academy 3

The numbers for each branch at the beginning of the 2015-216 awards season are as follows:

  • Actors Branch: 1138 Members.
  • Casting Directors Branch: 86 Members
  • Cinematographers Branch: 227 Members.
  • Costume Designers Branch: 115 Members.
  • Designers Branch: 278 Members. Includes art directors, production designers and set decorators.
  • Directors Branch: 394 Members.
  • Documentary Branch: 237 Members.
  • Executives Branch: 458 Members.
  • Film Editors Branch: 254 Members.
  • Makeup Artists And Hairstylists Branch: 141 Members.
  • Music Branch: 257 Members.
  • Producers Branch: 483 Members.
  • Public Relations Branch: 388 Members.
  • Short Films And Feature Animation Branch: 401 Members.
  • Sound Branch: 437 Members.
  • Visual Effects Branch: 359 Members.
  • Writers Branch: 392 Members.
  • At Large Members: 216 Members. Includes stunt coordinators and production managers and other fields that don’t have their own branch..
  • Associate Members: 175 Members. Includes talent agents and those who have contributed to the movie industry or the Academy in ways that don’t fit into the branches above. (Note that these members do not vote on the Oscars)
  • Retired Members: 716 Members. (Note that these members do not vote on the Oscars)

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The Academy Members Project

On Twitter: @NeverTooEarlyMP