It’s Oscars time! Miss Marcia gives us the Academy Awards backstory

It’s Oscars time! The voting, the politics, the statue, the nominees… Miss Marcia gives us the lowdown on all of it!

On Sunday 22nd February, the results of the 87th Academy Awards will be announced at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, in a production hosted by Neil Patrick Harris and which the producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, will desperately try to bring in, in under three and a half hours.

Oscars voting

The complex voting system in 17 categories began with actors nominating actors, directors nominating directors, costume designers nominating costume designers, etc etc. Once these were tallied and announced publicly, the almost 6000 eligible voting members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, after attending screenings, cast their votes in all categories. Note – there are some variations to these rules, eg those governing Best Foreign Film, and Best Picture, which any member can nominate. The member’s names are never published, and membership is by invitation only.

Oscars politics

From the outset it is a very political game. Big studios carefully time the release of individual movies to maximize publicity, and spend millions on what amounts to advertising campaigns directly to the Academy members. The content of big studio movies is masterminded by the producers, hence someone like Reese Witherspoon producing Wild through her own production company because, as she stated, the studio producers wouldn’t have wanted her ‘smoking weed’ among other things. The timing also means that the most recent releases often feature prominently, hence the surprising nomination for The Grand Budapest Hotel released so early last year.

The Oscar statue

The statue itself, known as the Oscar, was designed to represent a knight holding a sword, whilst standing on a reel of film. The spokes represented the five original branches of the Academy. Its nickname, Oscar, started very early in the piece and many have claimed to have originated it. One claimant was Bette Davis. However, Walt Disney was heard to refer to the statue as Oscar as early as 1934.

The awards originally were announced three months before the presentation, but these days, the highlight of the movie world’s year is the secrecy culminating in the big announcements which are kept under lock and key by accounting firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers until the presentation. Speeches these days must be kept to a minimum, and recipients are played off after 30 – 45 seconds. No more Greer Garson length acceptances (seven minutes – a record). She never won another Academy Award.

Oscars night

The nominees have their famous Nominee Luncheon, and rehearsals have been conducted for performers and presenters. Each seat in the auditorium will have a huge photo of the person booked for that seat – nominees for the big acting roles near the front or on an aisle – so that the announcers are aware of where everyone is seated. On the night, unemployed actors will act as seat fillers who will jump into any vacant seats, so that it appears there are no empty seats if someone leaves their position to go the bathroom or to accept an award. As the big night draws closer, speculation builds with regards to the results, the outfits and the parties.

* References: Informed by various newspaper and online articles, IMDB awards listings, History of The Oscars – Daniel and Susan Cohen – Bison Books (1986), The Big Show – Steve Pond – Faber and Faber Inc (2005), The Lonely Life – Bette Davis – Mass Market (1990).

the author

Marcia Carroll

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