The Academy and its Oscar Awards
Submitted by TM on March 2, 2010 - 19:21.
Every year between February and March the biggest celebration of the movie industry takes place in Los Angeles, California; the Academy Awards also known as the Oscars. They are organized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) and are recognized as the annual event with most extensive press coverage capturing every moment and detail of the celebration from the very first moment, hours before the ceremony; covering the opinion of experts on fashion, movies and celebrities; the arrival of the stars while they make their way down the red carpet, surrounded by cheeering fans, to the theater, where the ceremony takes place; as well as post-ceremony interviews and press conferences of the winners.
But what and who is behind all this celebration that makes millions of viewers worldwide turn they TVs to watch their favorite films, actors and directors competing for the prize; what is the structure of the AMPAS and how are winners selected? All these questions are answered here.
So on January 11, 1927; 36 people met at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California; for the propossed dinner, among them were George Cohen, Cecil B. DeMille, Douglas Fairbanks, Cedric Gibbons, Sid Grauman, Jesse Lasky, Mary Pickford and Irving Thalberg. They discussed the idea of creating an international organization with the aforementioned concepts and some more. He proposed the creation of the International Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but the "International" would be finally dropped.
By March of 1927 the structure of the Academy was formed, and the first representatives were elected, including a president for the entity who was Douglas Fairbanks.
By early May of that same year, the state granted the Academy a charter as a non-profit organization. At the beginning it was divided into five branches; namely actors, directors, producers, technicians and writers. Membership was limited only to people involved in one of those branches. Finally on May 11, 1927; the Academy started with a 300 guests banquet at the Biltmore Hotel, in Los Angeles, California. Of those 300, 230 joined the organization, paying $100 each. Also, that night, the first honorary membership was bestowed to Thomas A. Edison.
The Academy's first headquarters for a few months were at 6912 Hollywood Boulevard, later in November 1927 they were moved to the mezzanine level of the Roosevelt Hotel, at 7010 Hollywood Boulevard.
In April 1929, screening facilities with different state-of-the-art sound systems for the time, including Movietone and Vitatone, were installed in the hotel's Club Lounge. It served to host preview screenings of not-yet-released films.
As time went by the staff was growing bigger, so in June 1930, they rented a suite of offices at 7046 Hollywood Boulevard. In 1935 the administrative office were relocated to the Taft Building on the corner of Hollywood and Vine; while the library was relocated to 1455 North Gordon Street.
When Douglas Fairbanks was president, a seven-person special awards committee was formed; the Awards of Merit. The committee suggested in 1928 that the awards be presented in 12 categories; also the selection, nomination and voting system was created. They were presented for the first time on May 16, 1929 during a 270 people banquet at the Blossom Room of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. The cost of guest tickets was $5 and it bestowed awards for the achievements of the period between August 1, 1927 and July 31, 1928. The Awards of Merit would later be known as the Academy Awards.
The Academy Awards, despite being the most visible and known activity of the AMPAS; it is not the only one. Lots of valuable works for the film industry are performed by this organization; including film preservation, restoration, research, film festivals, a scholarship program, the maintenance of one of the richest in information film libraries in the world, a museum, technical and trade publications, seminars, film festivals and annual student film awards among other activities. For example, with the film preservation, thousands of films that are in danger or are lost forever, because they are made of deteriorating negatives of old silver nitrate, are saved by the Academy being transferred to a more stable format. Thanks to that, today we can still enjoy early cinematographic works which have been preserved or restored by the Academy.
In 1928 the AMPAS published its first book based on a series of cinematography seminars, titled Report on Incandescent Illumination.
By 1930 it was training Signal Corps. officers in film making production for the generation of their own training films. A decade later, by the time of World War II, the Research Council provided major studios to produce over 400 military training shorts for the army.
In 1931 it published a second book, based on a series of conferences about sound techniques, titled Recording Sound for Motion Pictures.
Three years later the Academy began the publication of the Screen Achievement Records Bulletin, a list of film titles with complete production credits.
During Frank Capra's period as president, in 1937 the Academy got involved in labor-management issues, arbitrations and negotiations. That same year, it began the publication of the Academy Players Directory, which included photos and professional data of actors; it was published by the Academy until 2006 when it was sold.
By the same period, the Academy’s Research Council (a predecessor of the current Science and Technology Council) worked on sound recording and reproduction, projection, lighting and film preservation issues; among other technical aspects.
By 1941 its films library was already one of the biggest, most complete and most recognized in the world.
In 1946 the Academy purchased and relocated it headquarters to the Marquis Theater building at 9038 Melrose Avenue. It included a 950-seat theater.
The AMPAS continued to grow during the next decades and by 1968 a new scholarship program for film students was developed. In 1970 the Visiting Artists Program was established, members began traveling all around the nation to give lectures on filmmaking.
Later, in 1972 it began offering access to library materials through the National Film Information Service. A year later it created the Student Academy Awards to honor promising college and university students.
That same year construction of its current headquarters at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills began. It is a seven-story building designed by Los Angeles architect Maxwell Starkman, dedicated on December 8, 1975. It includes a 67-seat screening room, a lobby used for exhibitions and events and the 1012-seat Samuel Goldwyn Theater, used mainly for public programming, members-only screenings, premieres and the live broadcast of the Academy Awards nominations announcement every January; among other activities.
During the 1980s a series of tribute programs to past films were created; including the Film Classics Revisited with post-screening discussions with each film’s cast and crew, becoming a success; tributes to old figures of the movie industry from actors to directors.
In 1986 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting was launched, becoming the most important screenwriting competition worldwide. First a nationwide competition which by the 90s grew into an international one.
By 1990 the library and film archive had become so large that they needed their own building. So they were relocated to a 1927 Romanesque style, 40,000 square-foot building, located at the corner of La Cienega and Olympic boulevards in Beverly Hills, which used to be an old water treatment plant abandoned in 1976 when Beverly Hills began to get the water from the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District. It was inaugurated in January 1991. In May 2002, the Center would be renamed the Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study.
But since the library and films archive do not stop growing, the films archive moved to a 1947 building formerly used as a radio and television studio, located at 1313 Vine Street in Hollywood; thus creating the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study and providing more space to the library in the Beverly Hills building.
The Pickford Center building includes the 286-seat Dunn Theater and besides the films archive it houses other departments like the Science and Technology Council and the the Grants and Nicholl Fellowship programs.
In 2000 the Academy Film Scholars Program was created. But the 21st century would come with innovations like the Science and Technology Council created in 2003.
In 2006 the Academy announced its plans for a museum located next to the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study; currently under development.
THE ACADEMY'S STRUCTURE
Currently the Academy is divided into 15 branches each representing one particular area of cinematography. The areas represented by these branches are actors, animators and short film makers, art directors and costume designers, cinematographers, composers and songwriters, documentary filmmakers, directors, executives, film editors, makeup artists and hairstylists, producers, public relations specialists, sound artists and engineers, visual effects experts and writers.
The Board of Governors is made up of representatives from each of the 15 branches. All branches are represented by three governors except the Makeup Artists & Hairstylists Branch, which was created in 2006 and has just one representative.
The Board of Governors has management, control and general policies establishment functions; including the appointment of an Executive Director to supervise the administrative activities of the Academy.
Besides the Board of Governors there are the The Officers; who perform directive, administrative, executive and supervision activities. The officers include; the President of the Academy, the First Vice President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary, Immediate Vice President and the Executive Director.
There are also more than 6,000 Academy members who make up the real human structure of each of the 15 branches of the organization. They are actors, directors and other professionals of the filmmaking industry.
Membership is exclusively by invitation of the Board of Governors. Of its more than 6,000 members about 10-20% are currently working on a film project. There are not precise numbers of the declined membership applications, but there are many working in filmmaking who have been refused. There is also a low membership fee of about $100.
To be accepted the candidate must be sponsored by at least two members of the branch for which the person may qualify. Each candidate must first receive the endorsement of the branch’s executive committee before his/her name is submitted to the Board. Those who are not members and have been nominated for the Academy Awards are considered for invitation.
Those working in activities of the film industry for which there are not separate branches, there is the possibility to become members-at-large.They have the same privileges of branch members, except that they do not have representation in the Board of Governors. For those related to the films industry but not actively engaged in movies production, there is the Associate membership. However the latter are not represented on the Board of Governors and do not vote on the Oscars.
It must be pointed out that it is not required to be a member to be nominated for the Oscar awards.
Each branch has its own admission rules, but they generally follow the common pattern mentioned before of sponsorship by two members, the participation of the candidate in at least two critically acclaimed or commercial hit films or being nominated for an Oscar.
The Acting Branch is by far the largest one (about 20% of the Academy's members). So, actors have a disproportionate power when nominating and choosing winning films. This may be an explanation of why many nominated films are stories about show business subjects or about the lives of people involved with the film industry.
One criticized issue about the members of the Academy is their ages and the big generation gap between them and active filmmakers. Some members, due to their age, have been out of activity for years. One example of this, is the case of Henry Fonda and James Garner who have publicly admitted that they let their wives take the decision and vote for them; something that also proves the Academy's voting procedures are somewhat loose.
As of March 2010 the number of members per branch is the following:
DETAILED ANALYSIS OF THE ACADEMY AWARDS
The first Academy Awards ceremony took place during a banquet in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, on May 16, 1929 and the cost of guest tickets was $5. Fifteen statuettes were awarded, honoring artists, directors and other personalities of the filmmaking industry of the time for their works during the 1927-1928 period.
But things were somewhat different and less strict in that first edition of the awards. This first ceremony had little suspense at the moment of the awards presentation that night, since winners had already been announced three months earlier. That was changed since the next edition of 1930, the Academy kept the results secret until the night of the ceremony at 11 pm when it gave a list of the winners to newspapers for publication. During the next decade this was the system implemented, until 1940 when the Los Angeles Times published the names of the winners in its evening edition before the ceremony, thus letting the nominees know beforehand who the winners are. After that incident, since 1941, the Academy implemented the current sealed-envelope system.
Also, the first Best Actor awarded was Emil Jannings, for his performance in The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh, who had to return to Europe before the ceremony, so the Academy agreed to give him the prize earlier; thus making him the first Academy Award winner in history.
The number of categories in the first ceremony was twelve but in the second edition of the Academy Awards it was reduced to seven. Also in the first three editions the honored professionals were awarded for all the work done in a certain category for the qualifying period; for example the first winner, Emil Jannings, received the award for two movies he starred during that period. This system was changed in the fourth edition, in which professionals were honored for a specific performance in a single film.
The first ceremony was the only one not covered by media live transmissions. However this would change since the second edition, when a Los Angeles radio station covered the ceremony in a live one-hour broadcast.
Until 1943 the ceremonies continued being celebrated at banquet dinners in the Ambassador and Biltmore hotels. Since the 16th edition, on March 2, 1944; due to the increased attendance, the banquet system was dropped. That year the ceremony was held at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood; since then it has been always celebrated in theaters.
The 25th ceremony held on March 19, 1953; was the first one to be televised, in the United States and Canada. It was also the first edition held in Hollywood and New York City simulataneously, at the RKO Pantages Theatre and the NBC International Theatre respectively.
In the 29th ceremony, held on March 27th, 1957 the Best Foreign Language Film category was introduced; until then, foreign language films were honored with the Special Achievement Award.
The 38th ceremony, held on April 18th, 1966; at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica, California, and broadcasted by ABC was the first ceremony in color. Since 1969, when the 41st ceremony was held at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles; the event is broadcasted internationally, reaching millions of fans worldwide.
The statuette and the origin of the name Oscar:
Until the 1930s the prize was known as the Academy Award of Merit, so the name Oscar was adopted later.
When MGM art director Cedric Gibbons and sculptor George Stanley created the statuette in 1928, the Academy referred to it as the Academy Award of Merit. It didn't take on the name Oscar until the 1930s.
The statuette was created by MGM art director Cedric Gibbons and sculptor George Stanley. Gibbons supervised the design and his wife Dolores del Río introduced him the model that would immortalize his figure on the trophy we all know as the Oscars. The model was a Mexican film director named Emilio "El Indio" Fernandez. First he was not sure about posing nude for Gibbons, but finally he was convinced. Gibbons printed his design on a scroll, which was sent to George Stanley, who sculpted the design in clay. After that, Sachin Smith cast the statuette in 92.5% tin and 7.5% copper then it was gold-plated. The first Oscar mold was cast in 1928 at the C.W. Shumway & Sons Foundry in Batavia, Illinois.
The mystery of the name's origin is supported by different stories, however the Academy supports one: In 1931, an Academy librarian named Margaret Herrick (who later in 1946 became Executive Director), when she first saw the statuette, remarked that the statue looked like her Uncle Oscar. Since then the name was adopted by the Academy staff to refer to the statuette. In 1934 columnist Sidney Skolsky, who heard about the trophy's nickname, took the name for an article about Katharine Hepburn's first Best Actress win, "Employees have affectionately dubbed their famous statuette Oscar." Finally the name was adopted officially by the AMPAS in 1939.
While the statuette keeps its original design, the size varied until the year 1945. It depicts a knight, grasping a sword. The knight stands on a film reel, with five spokes, each representing one of the five original branches of the Academy: Directors, Actors, Writers, Producers and Technicians.
The Oscar is a 13.5 inches (34.3 cm) tall statuette. It weighs 8.5 pounds (3.85 kg) and is plated with copper, nickel silver and 24-karat gold. In the beginning they were cast in bronze. After a few years, they switched to britannium to make it easier to apply a smooth finish. About the gold there was an exception during World War II, when they were made of plaster due to the metals shortage. However, winners were allowed to turn in the plaster statues for golden ones when the war was over.
Since the list of winners is kept secret until the telecast, the awards handed out on television are blanks. The Academy takes back the statuettes the morning after the telecast and has them engraved with the corresponding names and the returned to its recipients. The engraving is on a small plaque attached to the round, black marble pedestal on which the Oscar stands. The engraving includes the year, the award category and the name of the recipient. Each statuette is also engraved with a serial number on the back of its base. However, in the 2010 edition winners got their engravings affixed to their Oscars straight after the ceremony, since R.S. Owens, produced and engraved the 197 nameplates of each nominee in every category. The remaining nameplates of runner-up nominees are recycled.
In case there are surplus awards, they are housed in the Academy’s vault until next year’s ceremony.
Since 1950 a norm has been legally established, which requires that winners or their heirs must refrain from selling the statuettes without first offering them to the Academy for $1. In case a winner does not abide the Academy keeps the statuette. However there are cases in which they have been sold or even made it to auctions, actually over half a dozen have been sold. For instance, in 1988 Marlon Brando's 1954 Best Actor Oscar for On the Waterfront was sold for $13,500. Another known case is that of Vivien Leigh's Gone With the Wind Oscar sold for $563,000. There are also cases of failed sales; an example is that of producer Michael Todd, whose grandson tried to sell the statuette his granfather won for the production of 1956 Around the World in Eighty Days to a collector. The attempt of sale however was stopped by the Academy with a permanent injuction.
First there are some requirements that must be met by a movie to qualify for nomination.
If the requirements are met by a film, the producers or distributors that want their movie to enter the nomination contest, must submit an Official Screen Credits online form (check the links below) before the deadline; in case it is not submitted by the defined deadline, the film will be ineligible for Academy Awards in any year. The form includes the production credits for all related categories. Then, each form is checked and put in a Reminder List of Eligible Releases.
In late December ballots and copies of the Reminder List of Eligible Releases are mailed to about 6000 active members. For most categories, members from each of the branches vote to determine the nominees only in their respective categories (i.e. only directors vote for directors, writers for writers, actors for actors, etc.); there are some exceptions though in the case of certain categories, like Foreign Film, Documentary and Animated Feature Film which are selected by special screening committees made up of member from all branches. In the special case of Best Picture, all voting members are eligible to select the nominees for that category.
Foreign films must include English subtitles, and each country can only submit one film per year.
During this period some kind of "race" takes place, in which studios and producers make sure that each of the about 6000 members sees their films; mailing them DVDs, with special screenings for members as well as free admissions to theaters running their movies; there are even producers who publish ads in film industry related media to promote their movies. These campaigns are highly monitored by the Academy to avoid any "vote-buying" attempt and limit them to just focus on the assessment of the artistic and technical aspects of each movie restricting production companies from mailing out inappropriate incentives.
Each member must choose five nominees per category in order of preference. It is up to each member to decide if a performer should be nominated for leading or supporting role categories, but they cannot be nominated for both for a single performance. The top five voted eligible recipients in each category become the official nominees.
Members have just a few weeks to vote and send the ballots back by January to PricewaterhouseCoopers, an international accounting firm, which tabulates members' choices in secrecy and verifies the secret coding on the ballots designed to prevent forgeries.
Soon after, the AMPAS announces the nominees of each of the 24 categories (the number of categories may vary up to 25) in a press conference to a group of international journalists at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills.
Once the nominees are selected, the Academy mails a few days later the final ballots to all members. They have two weeks to fill out the ballots and send them back to PricewaterhouseCoopers. They have to be returned by the Tuesday prior to Oscar Sunday, when the polls are closed, for final assessment.
All of the Academy’s active members are eligible to select winners in all categories, however in five -Animated Short Film, Live Action Short Film, Documentary Feature, Documentary Short Subject and Foreign Language Film- they only can vote once they proved they have seen all of the nominated films for those categories.
PricewaterhouseCoopers tabulates the votes in absolute secrecy. The results are kept secret from all but two partner tabulators who are locked in a guarded counting room and prepare the sealed envelopes with the final winning results.
The night of the ceremony a PricewaterhouseCoopers official takes charge of the sealed envelopes and hands them to the presenters just before the winners are announced. Meanwhile an anonymous back-up official who is seated in the audience keeps duplicates of the envelopes just in case. Moreover, the officials do not travel to the ceremony together in case of setbacks.
The expectations for the winners are so big that even when betting non-sporting events such as the Oscars, reality shows and political contests is against the law in Nevada, except for entertainment purposes, Las Vegas bookies use to set odds on the major winners who are announced on camera during the ceremony. Of couse there is no money involved and it is for pure entertainment purposes, as required by law.
The Academy Awards ceremony:
Usually the ceremony is televised in February or March and six weeks after the announcement of the nominees. In the United States it is televised by ABC, and according to the agreement it will continue broadcasting the live telecasts through 2014. Since 1953, when the 25th ceremony was celebrated; the Academy Awards have been televised. Until the 32nd edition held in 1960, it was televised by NBC. From 1961 to 1970 it was broadcasted by ABC; then in 1971 NBC took over again until 1975. Since 1976 ABC is the official broadcaster of the ceremony. ABC paid $65 million for the rights to air the Academy Awards.
Since 2004, the ceremony is held in late February or early March. Before that, over sixty preceding ceremonies have been celebrated between late March and early April.
The Oscars telecast is the most widely viewed annual media event in the world originating from the United States. In the United States it is also one of the most viewed annual events, however it stands behind the Super Bowl.
Usually the the audience ratings are higher when a box-office big production hit is nominated for the Best Picture category, as well as for multiple categories, including the aforementioned. For instance the highest rating of the 2005-2010 period was measured during the 82nd edition of the Oscars, held on February 7, 2010; Nielsen gave the ceremony's telecast a 26.5 rating and 41.3 million viewers; when the box-office hit Avatar was nominated in 9 categories, including Best Picture. The 2004 rating for the 76th ceremony, was 26.68 when Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was nominated for Best Picture. The highest rating since 2000 was measured during the 72nd edition of the Oscars on March 26, 2000; when three strong contenders were nominated for the Best Picture category, American Beauty, The Green Mile, The Sixth Sense with a rating measurement of 29.64 and 46.53 million viewers. The highest rating of the last 25 years was measured during 70th ceremony on March 23, 1998, giving a 35.32 rating, when Titanic was nominated in 14 categories and won 11; with 57.25 million viewers tuning into the Oscars.
During the last years the Oscars ceremony experienced an audience rating decrease. The average rating of the 1990s was 30.59 compared to the lower rating of the last decade which closed on March 7, 2010 with an average of 23.72 for the whole decade.
The most watched Academy Awards Ceremony in history was the 42nd, on April 7, 1970; with a rating of 43.4 household rating and a 78% share.
The nominees and presenters are seated close to the stage so that their faces are easily seen by the cameras and the winners won't have to walk far when they receive their awards.
Some numbers about the Oscars: