How Oscar Nominations and Voting Works?

Learn how the Academy selects and votes for Oscar nominations. Discover the process from nomination to final vote and how winners are chosen.

Jul 22, 2021 - 04:44
Mar 13, 2023 - 04:56
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How Oscar Nominations and Voting Works?

The Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, is the official name of an annual award in the United States that acknowledges the accomplishments of the film industry. It is presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Although the Oscar and the Palme d’Or are considered to be the two most influential film awards in the world, they differ fundamentally in nature. The Palme d’Or is the most prestigious prize awarded in the primary competition section of the Cannes Film Festival, which requires the competing films to have their world premiere at the festival. In contrast, the Oscars are given out at the end of the year, and the films that are eligible for consideration must have had a commercial theatrical release in Los Angeles, and sometimes throughout the United States, during that year, subject to specific release criteria. The Academy Awards are not affiliated with any film festival, thus the selection process differs significantly from that of other film festivals.

Who are the judges?

To put it simply, the Academy Awards, or Oscars, are voted on by all members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Academy was established on May 11, 1927, with 36 well-known film industry professionals becoming the initial members. As of 2019, the society has grown to include 10,068 members, all of whom are accomplished filmmakers recognized for their contributions to the industry through honors, nominations, or special achievements. These members serve as judges for the Academy Awards, with all members voting for the Best Picture category and members of each professional branch voting for the nominees in their respective fields. Each judge has two votes, one for Best Picture and one for their professional branch award.

In recent years, the Academy has made an effort to invite more diverse members, including women, non-white individuals, and international filmmakers, resulting in a decrease in the proportion of older, white, male judges. As a result, the tastes and values of the judges have become more diverse, influencing the selection of award winners.

How is selection works?

The Academy has taken steps to increase the diversity of its members in recent years, including inviting more women, people of color, and international filmmakers to join. This has led to a reduction in the number of older, white, male judges, and as a result, the judges’ tastes and values have become more varied, impacting the selection of award recipients.

For other awards, the selection process is slightly different. For example, for the Best Director Award, during the nomination stage, all members of the Directors Branch need to select 5 films in the order of their preference among the films eligible for selection. According to the number of votes of the films, 5 films will be selected as nominated films. It is relatively simple to enter the final awards stage, all members only need to select one of the nominated films. In the end, the award will be determined according to the number of votes for the film.

How vote are counted?

The method for counting votes for the Academy Awards is complex, utilizing a preferential voting system similar to that used in American political elections. This system involves several stages of weighted screening. PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the four largest international accounting firms, has been responsible for vote counting since 1934.

Let’s take the best film nomination as an example. During the initial round of voting, each ballot will be counted according to the first ranking. Only the number of votes for the film ranked first on each ballot will be counted. For instance, if there are 10,000 votes and 10 nominees for the best film, the entry threshold will be calculated as follows: total votes divided by (number of nominees plus one) equals 1000/11, which is approximately 909. A film is nominated if the number of votes it receives for the first place exceeds 909. However, not all nominated films can be selected in this round, so a second round of selection is necessary.

In the second round of voting, the second-ranked movies are considered. This round looks at the votes for films that received less than 1% of the votes in the previous round. Nominated films are no longer considered, and films with less than 1% of the votes are removed. These votes are then added to the second-ranked movie on the ballot. At the same time, the entry threshold is adjusted. The entry threshold equals the total number of votes minus the number of votes for nominated films divided by (10 minus the number of nominated films) plus one. At this point, the adjusted number of votes for each film is compared to the nomination threshold. If a film’s votes exceed the nomination threshold, it becomes a nominated film.

If the number of nominated films has not been reached, the selection process proceeds to the third round. In the third round, the number of votes for the third-ranked movie is calculated using the same method as the second round. The process continues until the desired number of finalists is achieved. It’s worth noting that each nominated film must receive at least 5% of the total number of votes. Therefore, not every year will have 10 nominated films, as the number of nominated best films may vary. For example, this year there are only 9 nominated films instead of 10.

However, this is just the standard procedure. In the event of a particularly popular film, the calculation method will differ slightly. If a film receives an exceptional number of votes in the first round, surpassing the magic number of 10% of the votes, the surplus rule will be triggered. The votes of “total votes minus magic number” will then be distributed to the film that ranked second on the ballots. We won’t delve into further details here.

The final awards stage still utilizes the preference voting system for counting votes. In the first round, only the first place on each ballot is counted. If the film ranked first has over 50% of the votes, it will be declared the best film. However, if it falls short, the last film is eliminated, and its votes are reset to zero. The votes for the eliminated film are then redistributed to the second-ranked film on each corresponding ballot. This process continues until a film surpasses 50% of the votes and is declared the winner.

Overall, the preference voting system ensures that the films that receive the most widespread support from the judges are selected to the greatest extent possible, particularly when the voting base is large.

In terms of other professional awards, the nomination phase follows the same counting method as the Best Picture award (with the exception that there is no 5% minimum threshold, and the additional rules are triggered when a film receives 20% of the votes instead of 10%). However, the final awards phase is much simpler and uses a one-person-one-vote system. The film with the highest number of votes is declared the winner.

The Oscars are comprised of three categories: achievement awards, special awards, and science and technology awards, with achievement awards alone having up to 24 categories. Different awards have varying rules for voting and ticket distribution. Interested individuals can check the official website for relevant rules.

However, the Oscar selection process does not end there. Films that make a lasting impression on judges tend to have a higher chance of winning. As a result, influencing the judges has become a crucial aspect of the entire award mechanism. Throughout the selection process, all eligible films can engage in public relations activities. The tradition of Oscar public relations dates back a long time, and it is not a newly established, unwritten industry rule. The earliest Oscar public relations appeared before the voting mechanism for all Academy members had even been established. In the second Oscar ceremony held in 1930, Mary Pickford, a renowned actress of the silent film era, won the Best Actress award for her performance in “The Lady.” However, her victory sparked significant controversy and distrust because prior to the awards ceremony, Mary Pickford had invited the five judges of the “Central Selection Committee” to her home for refreshments.

Public Relations

Basic strategies to gain the attention of Oscar judges include hosting screenings that allow for direct interaction with them, as well as sending film media, related materials, and small gifts, and communicating frequently via email. Advertising in media outlets that are popular among judges, such as “Hollywood Report”, “Variety Show”, “New York Times”, “Los Angeles Times” is also a common approach for Oscar publicity. Film creators also attend large and small award ceremonies, film festivals, and season parties to engage in public relations activities since the judges are professionals in the industry and may attend these events.

Harvey Weinstein, an Oscar PR expert, utilized various tactics while promoting “The King’s Speech” in 2011. In addition to the typical PR activities, he arranged for the film’s lead actor, Colin Firth, to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in January, before the awards ceremony. Weinstein also hosted a lavish reception at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, which featured many A-list celebrities, including Ridley Scott, Jennifer Lopez, and Mick Jagger, shortly after the nominations were announced. Thanks to his efforts, “The King’s Speech” garnered 12 nominations and won 8 Oscars in total.

To maintain equality and fairness in public relations activities, the Academy has imposed promotional regulations on participating films. After the nominations are announced, judges can only attend a maximum of 4 film screenings and exchanges, and are not allowed to host or attend receptions or parties that aim to canvass votes. The regulations also provide guidelines on emails, webpages, advertisements, review media, music, and phone calls. Third-party promotion that violates these regulations is also prohibited. During this year’s Oscar race, NEON, the American distributor of “Parasite”, spent heavily on PR activities, including hiring a translator for director Bong Joon-ho during late-night talk show appearances. With the help of NEON’s efforts and the film’s positive reviews, “Parasite” grossed $35.47 million in North America.

Although the 2020 Oscars have ended, the buzz surrounding the nominated and winning films continues. This year was particularly strong with many excellent films in the running.

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