Oscar Theatrics! 

Since its inception in 1929, the Academy Awards ceremony has always been about putting on a memorable show. The evening’s performances, presentation, and production are all geared towards honouring the year’s best in the film industry. The Oscars, as it’s famously known, is one awards ceremony that does not shy away from going big. Continuing the tradition, this year’s ceremony was certainly a memorable one, even if it ended with a major faux pas! This week we take a look at what exactly goes into the process of being nominated, how those prestigious statuettes are produced, and how the 89th instalment of the Academy Awards differed from its predecessors.      - Anisha

Accountants' Choice

While only a handful of movies contend each year in their respective categories, it takes the combined efforts of up to 6,000 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to comb through all the entries and arrive at a select list of nominees. The entries include hundreds of both national and international eligible films, actors, actresses, directors, editors, music composers, cinematographers, technicians, and many more.

To qualify as a voting member, one has to be a contributing element in the film industry. Actors must have credited roles in at least three movies; writers, producers, and directors must have two screen credits; art directors and visual effects supervisors, and other members of technical teams must be active in their respective fields; the number of years of experience can vary depending on the department. Once a member of the film fraternity gets inducted into the Academy, they can only contribute to one branch.

Finally, the demanding task of taking in and calculating all the votes is performed by an accounting team at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). The firm mailed ballots to Academy members and tabulated the results for more than 80 years. The ballots of eligible nominees from the current year are mailed to the Academy in December, with a due date of sometime in January the following year. The process of tabulating all the votes takes up to 1,700 hours or approximately 70 days.

The Nomination Game

For a regular moviegoer, a day at the cinema constitutes a couple of hours of just watching a film. However, it’s all serious business and long hours for the awarding committee, which follows a strict set of rules when it comes to determining the people and films that can be nominated. Submitting a film entry for nomination requires its producer or distributor to sign and submit an Official Screen Credits (OSC) in the first few weeks of December. The other criteria the film must meet to be eligible are:

  • It should be more than 40 minutes in length (for feature-length categories)
  • It should be publicly screened in Los Angeles County, with paid submission and the name of the theatre should be included as well
  • The film should run for a minimum of seven days
  • Premiering the film for the first time outside of a theatre (for example, releasing it on television or the Internet) disqualifies it from being nominated The voters then list out their choices of five different nominees in each category, and members can only vote in their field (i.e., members who are directors can only cast their vote for the Best Director category, editors for Best Editing, and so on). The moment the ballots return from the Academy, the number crunching (done by hand) commences and the accountants keep an eye out for a specific number which converts a possible nominee into an official one. The total number of ballots received by one of the 25 categories is divided by the number of potential nominees plus one. The result then determines the total ballots a nominee is required to receive in order to become official.

Determining the winners, on the other hand, follows a much less intricate process. After the nominees are chosen, the entire Academy votes for each category and every member gets only one vote per field. This process takes the accounting firm three days to complete.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Since it’s certainly impossible to nominate every worthy movie in a year filled with great releases, there are times when disappointment seeps in. There are many occasions when a particular film, actor or even an original score does well and wins in a different awards show, but fails to garner an Oscar nomination.

Despite the Oscar snubs, this year’s ceremony marked a change in a more positive direction. For two consecutive years, there had been a notable lack of diversity in the nominations (#Oscarssowhite). This year’s event had a large number of people of colour who were nominated, and the most black winners in the history of the awards. Up to 10 black actors
and filmmakers were nominated, along with the Indian drama, Lion. There were six African-American themed movies, including Moonlight, Fences, and Hidden Figures, all of which were up for the highest honour of Best Picture. In terms of the acting categories, Hollywood bigs like Denzel Washington, Octavia Spencer, and Mahershala Ali, bagged nominations along with English actresses Naomie Harris and Ruth Negga. While Moonlight became the first LGBT-related film with an all black cast to bag the Best Picture award, Mahershala Ali was the first Muslim actor in history to be honoured with the Best Supporting Actor title.

Certainly, other ethnic groups could have been better represented. Daniel Mayeda, the chair of the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition, shared in an interview with
USA Today that Dev Patel’s nomination as the only British-Asian reflected the continued lack of opportunities for Asians in Hollywood. Alex Nogales, President and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, stated that Hispanic actors barely get the chance to work in front of a camera and, with a few exceptions, rarely work behind the camera either.

One also can’t help but notice that there weren’t any women directors nominated in that category. Melissa Silverstein, the founder of WomenandHollywood.com, said that while it is wonderful to see more diversity, she is still disappointed that movies made by women can’t get into the Oscar conversations. “We’re still in a place where the default is always male and they don’t see the potential opportunity to hire women,” she said. Though the 89th Academy Awards could be seen as an agent of change, there is still quite a long way to go in order to reach an equal footing with their dominant peers, both white and male.


All About Oscar

In addition to celebrating the deserving recipients of the well-known award, let’s take a peek at what goes into the actual making of the golden man. The very first set of the awards was sculpted by Los Angeles artist George Stanley, and was based on sketches by the MGM art director, Cedric Gibbons. Officially dubbed as the Academy Award of Merit, the make and style of the
Oscars has gone through quite a few changes over the years. Up until 2016, the awards were manufactured by Chicago-based R.S. Owens and Company. This prestigious responsibility was then passed on to Polich Tallix, a fine art foundry located 80 kilometres north of New York City.

While the earlier awards were made of an alloy of tin, antimony, and copper, the spruced up version of the Oscar is now much closer to the original design. They are hand-cast in bronze and then receive a 24-karat gold finish. This year’s awards were made using a digital scan of the 1929 model.

A single piece, which costs $400 to produce, is 3D-printed, moulded, and then cast in wax. This version goes into a batch of a ceramic shell mix for ten coats. After the shell is cured, it is fired in an oven at 1600°F. Liquid bronze blazing at a fiery 1860°F is then poured into the ceramic shell. After it is left to cool overnight, the piece is broken out of the shell the next day. Epner Technology then takes over the process, whereby the statue is sanded and buffed to a mirror finish and electroplated with a permanent layer of 24-karat gold. The bronze is also hand-buffed until it acquires a smooth black patina. The 50 awards that were made this year using the new method took around three months to manufacture.

The Sweet,the Funny, and the Cringeworthy

Finally, after all the meticulous planning and preparations, the 89th Academy Awards definitely had its fair share of drama. Here’s a look at some of the more memorable moments.
Be it his impressive performance or his charming personality, eight-year-old Sunny Pawar, who played the younger version of Dev Patel’s character in Lion, won hearts at every press conference and awards show this season, and continued to do so at the Oscars as well. Taking it a step further, when host Jimmy Kimmel lifted the young actor to re-enact a famous scene from The Lion King, it only added to his growing list of adorable antics.

Viewers got yet another chance to chuckle at the comedic and confusing rivalry between actor Matt Damon and Jimmy Kimmel at the awards ceremony. The illustrious actor did not miss an opportunity to trip Jimmy up as he went about hosting the show. Meanwhile, Kimmel didn’t back down either as he urged the orchestra to continue performing and drown out Matt’s speech when he took the stage to present an award.

But the incident that will go down in Oscars history was undoubtedly the Best Picture mix-up. Presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were given the wrong category envelope, which resulted in La La Land being wrongly announced as the Best Picture instead of the actual winner, Moonlight. Yet another shocking mistake was when the ceremony’s ‘In Memoriam’ segment flashed the image of Australian producer Jan Chapman (who is alive and well) in place of Janet Patterson, an Oscar-nominated costume designer who passed away in October 2016. While the Best Picture fiasco was addressed and handled immediately, an explanation for the error with the images was inexplicably delayed more than 48 hours. These incidents are definitely testament to the fact that nobody’s perfect – not even long-established organisations and the time-honoured traditions on display at the Oscars!