Hey there Brainstuff! I’m Ben, it’s Oscar season as we record this, and today’s question
is “How do the Academy Awards work?”
Bear with me, it’s complicated.
The “Academy” that people thank when they’re accepting their tiny golden idols is the Academy
of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I'm gonna throw away my invisible idol.
Founded in 1927, the Academy is a professional organization for the recognition of excellence
in filmmaking, and they’ve been the ones running the show since films with synchronized
sound were the hot new craze. So yeah, we’re dealing with what you might call “Establishment”
In order to even be considered for Oscar nominations, a movie has to meet some basic criteria:
One. It has to be more than 40 minutes long.
Two. It has to have been shown for paying customers in a movie theater in Los Angeles
County and run in that theater for at least the time it takes for that girl in “The
Ring” to kill you (for the squares out there, that’s 7 days. Check it out. The Ring is
a good movie.)
Three. It has to meet a whole bunch of technical criteria.
Like these. I'm just going to - freeze frame.
Oh, and of course it has to have premiered within the previous calendar year. This is
what prevents a rogue faction of the Academy from nominating Tim Allen’s “Jungle 2
Jungle” every single year until it wins. Which is kind of a noble mission.
So, if your movie meets these criteria, you can move on to the next stage: Paperwork!
Specifically, you have to submit an “Official Screen Credits” form to the Academy. If
your movie is accepted for consideration, the Academy will then include it on the "Reminder
List of Eligible Releases," which it sends out to all voting members of the Academy to
kick off the nomination process.
I know what you're asking. Who are these voting members, Ben? We’ll get to that in a minute.
There are two stages in the voting process. On the first ballot, Academy members go through
that huge list of all eligible movies and get to vote for their favorites within their
own “branch.” Cinematographers vote for best cinematography, editors for best editing,
and so forth and so on, and you can list your top 5 for the year on your ballot. Oh, and
everybody gets to vote for Best Picture – because otherwise, who would?
The official vote tally is compiled by the accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which
does the math to translate the Academy members’ first ballot votes into five official nominees
in each category and up to 10 for Best Picture.
After the official nominees are publicly announced, Academy voters get their second ballot, where
they can choose from the official nominees in all categories. Whoever gets the most votes
in each category gets sealed in an envelope and -boom! - opened on Oscar night!
There are some other processes for special cases like Best Animated Short and Best Foreign
Language Film, but that’s the gist of it for the general categories. But we should
get back to the big question: Who gets to vote?
Unfortunately, much like SPECTRE, the League of Assassins and the Brotherhood of the Cruciform
Sword, the Academy keeps its membership list a secret, so nobody knows exactly who gets
to vote. BUT, we do know some things:
One. The Academy is made of people who work in the film industry. Obvious, right? Actors,
writers, directors, editors, costume designers, etc. In 2014, there were 6,124 eligible voters
in the Academy.
Two. Membership is not available for open application, but chosen by “sponsorship,”
which essentially means by invitation. Potential new members can be considered once a year,
and to be considered, you have to be sponsored by two members of your “branch” of filmmaking.
So if you’re an actor, just get Gary Busey and Dakota Fanning to sponsor you, and you’ve
got a foot in the door! Or, you can just get nominated for an Oscar yourself, which earns
you automatic consideration.
Three. Once you’re under consideration you must receive “a favorable endorsement”
from your branch’s “Branch Executive Committee,” and then you get referred up to the Academy’s
Board of Sorcerers – I mean, sorry, Board of Governors, which makes the final decision
on who gets an invitation. This has been the process for years, but is not without its
For example: In February 2012, the LA Times published an in-depth investigation of the
Oscars and found that, at the time, 94% of voters were white and 77% were male – plus
the median age of voters was 62, and only 14% of voters were even under 50.
This problem received a lot of attention after the announcement of nominees in January 2016,
when many people noticed that for the second year in a row, every single acting nominee
was - wait for it - white.
To fix this problem, the Academy announced later that month that it would be changing
the rules for membership selection to, in their words, double the number of “diverse
members” of the Academy by 2020. At the time of this recording, we have yet to see
if it works out.
What do you think is the most egregious Oscar snub in history? Or, on the other hand, what’s
the most perplexing Oscar win? Let us know in the comments. If you like this video, hit
subscribe, and to learn more about the film industry and associated secret societies,
head on over to HowStuffWorks.com.