Secrets of the Oscar Ballot Box

I found this Brisbane Times newspaper article while searching for printable Oscar ballots. Thought I’d pass it along for those who don’t know about the voting process – I sure didn’t!

NOT long after Adam Elliot won an Oscar in 2004, he became a member of the organization that bestowed the award, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. One of the first things he received from the organization was a book of etiquette for members: one of its strictest rules, he says, is that ”you can’t be photographed with false icons”, that is, in the company of giant Oscar statuettes. Copyright rules mean, he says, that you can’t even be photographed with an exact replica.

Membership also means that he can vote for the awards and, once again, there are rules laid down about procedures.

”You’re not meant to accept studio gift baskets and you can’t be taken out to dinner by studios during the Oscar season,” Elliot says.

Living in Melbourne, he says, he is less affected by things like Oscar buzz and hype, which he imagines can be a factor in Hollywood. ”I’ve been there during Oscar season and there’s billboards everywhere with ‘for your consideration’ in giant letters. Even though they can’t send gifts, money talks, and the media saturation for certain films and buzz has to be persuasive, particularly if the audience is in Los Angeles.”

The voting process begins for him in October, when he starts to receive between 60 and 100 DVD copies of films – sent in low-key packaging, without lavish brochures, as decreed by the academy. The organization does not give out names and addresses, so it is up to members to contact studios to be put on mailing lists.

Elliot knows, from his own experience, that this is an expense for low-budget productions to meet – last year when he had a feature film contender, Mary And Max, it cost about $50,000 to send out DVDs.

One year, because of concerns about piracy, he recalls, ”they sent every member a special DVD player that would only play academy-approved encrypted DVDs”, but the experiment was never repeated.

He takes the issue of security seriously in any case, adding: ”I’m paranoid; I destroy them after I have seen them, and I’ll buy a copy of the films I like – I think that’s only fair.”

Sitting down to vote for the first time, he felt a sense of responsibility. ”I realized,” he says, ”that we may have only won by one vote. You feel like you have a lot of people’s careers in your hands. An Oscar does change people’s lives.”

There are more than 6000 members of the academy, which is an invitation-only organisation of film practitioners. The membership is divided into 15 branches, ranging from producers to editors to public relations people. The largest is the actors branch (1183 members), the smallest is make-up artists and hairstylists (118).

The awards were first presented in 1929. While there has been airtight secrecy about the tally since 1940 – a change that took place when the embargoed results were published by the Los Angeles Times ahead of the ceremony – there is less control involved in monitoring the voting.

Five years ago, a reporter quoted Samuel L. Jackson claiming he let his maid and his nanny fill in the ballot papers – something the actor furiously denied ever saying.

There is also an industry joke that ”producers’ wives” are the most consistent voters. Some categories are decided by a designated group of academy members who attend screenings, but otherwise there is no way of knowing who has filled in the ballot, or whether the voter has seen the films.

The Academy Awards are very different, however, from the Golden Globes, Elliot says. Last year, when he submitted Mary and Max for consideration by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which runs the Golden Globes, he was told he would have to put on a special catered screening for its 80 members. ”I would have to provide a star: could I bring Philip Seymour Hoffman [the voice of Max]?”

He then discovered that Pixar, which was submitting Up, was taking all the members on hot air balloon rides.

Another Australian Oscar voter is director Fred Schepisi, who has been an academy member since the early 1980s. He participates every year, although he regards it as more of ”a bit of fun” than anything else. ”I’m not a lover of awards; I see them as a marketing exercise.”

Schepisi finds it relatively straightforward to make his voting decisions, he says, ”although if it’s a really good year you might have two or three films where you think the direction is pretty well equal”.

And when he watches the Oscars, he generally has two opinions: ”What I think will win and what I think I’d like to win.” There’s generally not much of an overlap.

This story was found at: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/entertainment/movies/secrets-of-the-oscar-ballot-box-20110204-1agub.html

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