The Easiest Oscar Nomination, and Other Oscar-by-the-Numbers Secrets

The Wrap
The Easiest Oscar Nomination, and Other Oscar-by-the-Numbers Secrets
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The Easiest Oscar Nomination, and Other Oscar-by-the-Numbers Secrets

You've got the best odds of being nominated for an Academy Award if you make an animated feature.

You only need 36 votes to land a nom if you're a cinematographer.

And while the Academy has moved to online voting for the first time ever, it has also grown, with 73 more people eligible to vote this year than last and only one of the 16 AMPAS branches not increasing in size over the last 12 months.

Those are a few of the findings in our annual Oscar-by-the-numbers survey, which is based on the new membership count from the Academy, the number of eligible films and achievements in various categories, and the intricate math of the preferential system used to count Oscar ballots.

Some of the numbers are in flux: Voter turnout could well be smaller than usual this year, with Academy members adjusting to the new online system while faced with a much earlier voting deadline than in the past. 

With complaints growing among members about the secure but complicated online voting process, it's possible that a number of potential voters could opt out of the nominations round. And it's reasonable to expect that others simply won't have the time to watch enough potential nominees before ballots are due on Jan. 3.

Also read: 8 Best Picture Nominees? That's What Our Simulation Shows (Exclusive)

Still, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, that AMPAS members traditionally show a very high level of participation. And this year there are more of them to participate: The Academy's voting membership has increased from the 5,783 who received ballots last December to the 5,856 who either registered to vote online or received paper ballots this year.

The increase is due to new members who have joined from among those who were invited last June, minus however many members who passed away or shifted to non-voting, retired status. (If you add the 176 people who were invited to join and subtract the 88 members on the 2012 "Members Memoriam" page of the AMPAS website, you'll wind up with 15 too many – so perhaps some folks like Terrence Malick opted not to accept the Academy's invitation, while other existing members moved to non-voting status.)

According to a branch-by-branch breakdown provided to TheWrap by the Academy, every branch except the Music Branch had its membership increase in the past 12 months -- and the one branch that dropped, also Music, only did so by a single member.

The Executives Branch had the only double-digit increase, expanding by 12 members; the Visual Effects Branch and the Documentary Branch were next with eight and seven additional members, respectively. (See chart.)

The new figures mean that if every eligible member voted -- which obviously they don't -- it would take 533 votes to secure a Best Picture nomination, 197 to land an acting nom, 62 for a Best Director spot and only 36 for Best Cinematography.

Those "magic numbers" depend on the size of the branch or voting body and the number of nominations up for grabs. Under the preferential system, which TheWrap has explained more fully on a number of occasions, members are asked to select and rank five movies on their ballots, but each ballot counts as a single vote.

That vote goes only to the movie in the ballot's No. 1 slot, unless the ballot is redistributed because its top-ranked film has been eliminated from contention or has already secured a nomination. In those cases, the vote goes to the ballot's highest-ranked film that is still in the running.

So 36 first-place votes (or second-or-third-place votes on redistributed ballots) will get you a cinematography nod; 39 will do so in the Best Original Score category; 63 will do so in the two writing categories; and only in the four acting categories and Best Picture will a film need to hit triple digits to secure a nomination.

And if you're looking for the odds, Best Animated Feature gives you the best ones: With five slots available and only 21 movies in contention this year, each contender theoretically has a 1-in-4.2 chance of being one of the five. That's better than Best Foreign Language Film (1-in-14.2), Best Documentary Feature (1-in-25.2) or Best Picture (1-in-56.4).

Here are the 24 Oscar categories, and the numbers required to be one of the chosen few:

Best Picture: The entire Academy can vote in this category – including the Executive, Producers and Public Relations Branches and Members-at-Large, none of whom nominate in any other categories. That means 5,856 potential voters, and a magic number (given the expanded field of up to 10 nominees) of 533.

With 282 films eligible, the odds of a nomination are 1-in-56.4

Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress: The Actors Branch, by far the Academy's largest, has 1,178 members.  A maximum of 197 votes will guarantee a nomination in the four acting categories, depending on how many eligible members vote.

With around 7,000 individual acting achievements listed in the Academy's reminder list of eligible films, the odds of a nomination are about 1-in-225 or more.

Best Animated Feature: The Short Films and Feature Animation Branch consists of 354 members. If they all voted for the nominations, the magic number would be 60 – but in the category, voting is open to volunteers from both inside and outside the branch, as long as they see 80 percent of the eligible films. This year, that means they had to see 17 toons. 

With only 21 films contending for five slots, the odds of a nomination are an Academy-best 1-in-4.2.

Best Cinematography: The Cinematographers Branch has 212 members, making the magic number for a nomination 36.

All 282 films that are eligible for Best Picture are also eligible in this category, putting the odds of a nomination at 1-in-56.4.

Best Costume Design: The Designers Branch, formerly the Art Directors Branch, has 370 members, but only costume designers in the branch are eligible to nominate in the category. Roughly 110 of the branch members qualify, making the magic number less than 20.

Documentaries and animated films are not eligible for the award, dropping the field to 236 films and putting the odds of a nomination at 1-in-47.2.

Best Director: The Directors Branch has 371 members, meaning that a maximum of 62 votes will guarantee a nomination.

Once again, all 282 films that are eligible for Best Picture are also eligible in this category, putting the odds of a nomination at 1-in-56.4

Best Documentary Feature: The branch contains 173 members. Under new rules that went into effect this year, the committees that formerly voted for nominations were abolished, and all branch members became eligible to vote. If they all exercised their right to do so, the magic number would be 29.

126 films qualified in the category, making the odds of a nomination 1-in-25.2.

Best Documentary Short Subject: The old rules still apply in the doc-short category, with volunteers from the branch using an averaged-score system to produce the shortlist and the nominees. That means the magic-number math doesn't apply.

Only 31 films qualified in the category, making the odds of a nomination 1-in-6.2, the second-best of any Oscar race.

Best Film Editing: The branch contains 227 members, making the magic number for a nomination 38.

This is another of the categories where every film eligible for Best Picture is also eligible for the award, keeping the odds of a nomination at 1-in-56.4.

Best Foreign Language Film: The rules are more complicated in this category than in most, with volunteers from the entire Academy viewing and scoring the eligible films over a period of months. Those viewers -- known as the general committee -- pick their six favorites, and then an executive committee adds three more films to make up a shortlist. Another hand-picked committee views the nine shortlisted films and votes for the five nominees. Magic numbers never come into play.

With a record 71 films submitted this year, the odds of a nomination were 1-in-14.2.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: The Makeup Artist and Hairstylists Branch is the Academy's smallest, with 124 members. Nominations voting is restricted to members who attend special meetings, with a minimum of 15 members required at the meeting that selects the shortlist. Members who attend a screening of excerpts from the shortlisted films can vote, along with members who've seen all seven of the semi-finalists.

Best Original Score, Best Original Song: The Music Branch is made up of 231 members, all of whom are now eligible to vote in the Original Score and Original Song categories (and all of whom receive a DVD with clips of the eligible songs as they are used in their films). The magic number, if all the branch members vote, is 39.

For the score award, 104 works qualified, putting the odds at 1-in-20.8. In the song category, 75 songs were deemed eligible, creating odds of 1-in-15. In recent years, voters had used a scoring system in the song category, but that system was abolished earlier this year after a number of controversies.

Best Production Design: The Designers Branch contains 370 members. That gives contenders for the production-design Oscar, which was formerly the Best Art Direction award, a magic number of 62 for a nomination.

Eliminating ineligible documentaries from the list of 282 eligible films leaves 260 movies eligible for the production-design award, which means odds of 1-in-52.

Best Animated Short, Best Live-Action Short: The Short Films and Feature Animation Branch has 354 members, but not all of them vote in these two categories. Instead, members of the branch serve on special committees and attend special screenings, at which they score each contender on a scale of 6-to-10.

This year, 56 animated shorts and 125 live-action shorts qualified for the Oscars, putting the odds at 1-in-11.2 and 1-in-25, respectively.

Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing: With 402 members, the Sound Branch is the Academy's fourth-biggest, trailing only actors, producers and executives. If they all vote, the magic number for a nomination in the two categories is 68.

All 282 films that are eligible for Best Picture are also eligible in the sound categories, putting the odds of a nomination at 1-in-56.4.

Best Visual Effects: The Visual Effects Branch has 302 members, but contenders in its Oscar category are narrowed down to 10 by committees before a "bakeoff" at which clips from each shortlisted film are played and potential nominees are allowed to discuss their work. Ballots are cast on the spot, and tallied using "reweighted range voting" to select the five nominees.

Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Screenplay: The Writers Branch has 377 members. 63 votes are needed to secure a nomination. (However, members of other branches who have been nominated or won for writing, for example Cameron Crowe and Ben Affleck, can also vote in the category, theoretically pushing the magic number higher.)

With 108 adapted screenplays and 165 original screenplays qualifying in 2012, the odds of landing a nomination are 1-in-21.6 and 1-in-33, respectively.

Those are the theoretical numbers behind Oscar nominations. The real numbers will come into play beginning on Jan. 3, the final day for Academy members to vote online or to return their paper ballots to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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