In Which I Explain To You Exactly How The Oscars Work

Adrien Brody kissing Halle Bery at the Oscars There’s a lot to think about during award season, so sometimes some of the more basic questions never get answered. You know, things like, “How did that movie win?” or “Why wasn’t I consulted?” or “Who paid you to screw you over in my Oscar pool like that?” or “Where is my Academy Award?”

And while I can’t help you with the last three (sorry), I can help you with the first question — how did that movie win? Not with the specifics of how a movie like Crash possibly walked away with Best Picture, but with general answers about the process. How things are supposed to go. So come along with me and you may learn a thing or two. And who knows, if my question-answering process seems impressive enough to you, maybe you put in a good word with the Academy.

Who votes?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) is in charge of voting for each year’s ceremony. It’s made up of separate branches, each representing a different discipline within film. Actors make up the largest portion, but still only account for 22% of the whole, so it’s pretty well split up.

Can I do that?

In order to become a voting member — a group that stood at 5,783 as of 2012 — you must be invited to join by the Board of Governors. You become eligible for that if you get a competitive nomination yourself or if your name is submitted by another member based on ‘significant contribution to the field of motion pictures’.

(Which as it turns out means more than just watching them on my couch, otherwise I’d be a shoo-in.)

You should also be an old white dude wherever possible. A study conducted by the Los Angeles Times in 2012 revealed that of the 5,100 voters they were able to confirm:

94% were Caucasian
77% were male
54% were over the age of sixty.

How do you get a movie in?

The only movies that are eligible for the Oscars are films that opened in Los Angeles the previous calendar year, between midnight on the start of January 1st to midnight at the end of December 31st. That doesn’t mean they need to have premiered in LA, just that they must open there within the calendar year in order to be eligible.

The film must also be ‘of feature length’, which is defined as a minimum of forty minutes, and there are rules about the type of film print, frame speed, and resolution.

What’s the voting process?

Ballots and copies of the reminder list of eligible releases are mailed to all active members in late December. For the majority of the categories, members from the related branch are the only ones eligible to cast votes. (Meaning directors vote for directors, actors for actors, etcetera.)

An Instant Runoff Voting ballot is used, which means that in the first round, everyone picks their favorites, and potential nominees that don’t receive enough votes are removed from the ballot for round two. Then in the second round, having been trimmed down by experts to worthy options, the categories are opened up to voters from most branches.

But what about Best Picture?

In this special case, voters from all branches are allowed to vote in both rounds — for the nominee, and for the winner.

Nifty, huh?

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