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Oscar FAQs

What exactly are the Oscars?
Every year since 1929, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has presented the Academy Award of Merit to honour outstanding achievements in motion-picture production. Designed by MGM art director Cedric Gibbons, the award takes the form of a statue of a knight holding a sword, standing on a reel of film with five spokes representing the original branches of AMPAS: actors, producers, directors, writers and technicians. Originally cast in bronze, the statuette is now made from 24-carat gold-plated brittanium alloy, stands 13-and-a-half inches high and weighs a surprisingly hefty eight-and-a-half pounds.

Are all the statuettes handed out identical, then?
No. Celebrated ventriloquist Edgar Bergen was presented with an honorary wooden statuette with a movable jaw in 1938 for his creation of the popular puppet character Charlie McCarthy, while Walt Disney’s honorary award for Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs presented in 1937 (for “a significant screen innovation which has pioneered a great new entertainment field”) took the form of one full-sized statuette and seven miniatures. The honorary Juvenile Award – given to Shirley Temple in 1935 and Judy Garland in 1940 – was also scaled down.

How many members does the Academy actually have?
Formed as a non-profit organisation in 1927, AMPAS originally comprised 36 member producers and filmmakers. It now has over 6,000 members, representing all areas of the professional movie community from around the world.

Is it a matter of who you know? How do you join up?
New members must fall under one of 14 different branches – Actors, Art Directors, Cinematographers, Directors, Documentary, Executives, Film Editors, Music, Producers, Public Relations, Short Films and Feature Animation, Sound, Visual Effects and Writers – and must be proposed by two members in the same branch. The Board of Governors then bases their decision on whether the candidate has “achieved distinction in Motion pictures”. And if you win a baldie? You automatically gain entry.

As a member, can I nominate in any category I like?
The first nomination ballots are mailed out in January. Members are restricted to voting in categories within their own area of expertise but everyone may nominate for Best Picture; nominations for the Foreign Language and Documentary awards are made by committees of members from all branches.

After the nominations are cast, who draws up the shortlists?
Nomination ballots must be returned within two weeks to accountants Pricewaterhouse Coopers, who collate the results and announce them at the end of January. After the shortlists are compiled, final ballots are sent out to members in early February. These must be returned within a fortnight. The entire Academy membership is then allowed to vote in most of the categories.

Can I get hold of an Oscar – without winning one?
Oscars awarded before 1950 are allowed to be sold on the open market. Steven Spielberg has thus far bought three – Bette Davis’ 1936 Best Actress award for Dangerous for $207,500 in 2002 and her 1939 Best Actress award for Jezebel for $578,000 in 2001, as well as Clark Gable’s 1935 Best Actor award for It Happened One Night for $607,500 in 1996 – and returned them all to the Academy. In 1999 Michael Jackson paid $1.54 million for producer David O Selznick’s 1939 Gone With The Wind statuette, which he still owns. Does he know no shame?

How much is an Oscar statuette worth?
While the financial uplift of winning an Academy Award can be worth millions, the value of a statuette – should the winner or their heirs chose to sell it – has been pegged by the Academy at $1 since 1950. Winners must now sign waivers to the effect that they will not dispose of unwanted awards but rather offer them back to the Academy first, for the nominal fee. “I changed that to ‘market value’,” scoffed 1996 Best Actress winner Susan Sarandon.

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