Here’s What Needs To Happen To Win an Oscars Award

Yes, the Oscars take place in Los Angeles as usual, but in two different locations. They will broadcast it from the Dolby Theatre, which is where it has been held since 2002, and at the Union Station, a transit hub for the city. 

Winning an Oscars award is totally a numbers game. But the vote represents the endorsement of all your industry peers. 

Membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is now well over the 10,000 mark, which increases the voting members into the 9600+ range since they announced last year that agents now get voting rights, too.  

I will share with you exactly what happens in the selection of an Oscars Award winner. 

The Nominations Are In

To be a member of the Academy requires you be chosen or nominated by an existing member, or by previously winning an Oscar Award. After that, the Academy board meets to vote to accept or reject the individual’s membership.

Now you have this very large nominating group of the members of the Academy. They have all submitted a full list of nominees along with best picture nominations, and many other picture art and sciences categories. 

For example, for the Award for Actor in a Leading Role, the nominees from 2020 are:

  • RIZ AHMED – Sound of Metal
  • CHADWICK BOSEMAN – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • ANTHONY HOPKINS – The Father
  • GARY OLDMAN – Mank
  • STEVEN YEUN–Minari 

In the category of Actress in a Leading Role, the finalist nominees are: 

  • VIOLA DAVIS – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • ANDRA DAY – The United States vs. Billie Holiday
  • VANESSA KIRBY – Pieces of a Woman
  • CAREY MULLIGAN – Promising Young Woman 

And for the nomination for Best Picture Award we have, 

  • THE FATHER – David Parfitt, Jean-Louis Livi and Philippe Carcassonne, Producers
  • JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH – Shaka King, Charles D. King and Ryan Coogler, Producers
  • MANK – Ceán Chaffin, Eric Roth and Douglas Urbanski, Producers
  • MINARI – Christina Oh, Producer
  • NOMADLAND – Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, and Chloé Zhao, Producers
  • PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN – Ben Browning, Ashley Fox, Emerald Fennell and Josey McNamara, Producers
  • SOUND OF METAL – Bert Hamelinck and Sacha Ben Harroche, Producers
  • THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 – Marc Platt and Stuart Besser, Producers 

Ballot Collecting From Academy Members 

Members in the Academy are all grouped into various branches, which includes actors, casting directors, costume designers, producers, and many other movie making arts and sciences roles. 

Voting members first vote within whichever branch of the Academy they belong to. This means that actors vote for the best actor awards, while directors vote for the best directors, and so forth. 

Each member also rank orders what they think are their five favorite and best movies. This determines the Oscar nominations for the Best Picture.  

All voting members typically receive the above list of final nominees during the month of December of the year prior to the Award ceremony. Voting members cast their ballots for which movie and the artists they think merit receiving the Oscars Award for those categories.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers accounting firm counts all the first-choice ballots submitted by members for each film. When the number of nominations passes a certain threshold, this secures a nomination. 

What PricewaterhouseCoopers does to determine that cut off number is total the number of ballots received for a particular category and then dividing it by the total possible nominees, plus one. For example, with Best Actor category, let’s say they could receive 600 potential ballots. They then divide this number by six (representing five possible nominees plus one). This would make 100 ballots the magic number for becoming the official nominee. 

“And the Winner Is…”

PricewaterhouseCoopers is the accounting firm that has overseen the Academy Awards ballot counting process for over eight decades. They make sure that they follow properly all procedures for each nomination selection.  

They then submitted the same list of nominees that we see shown at the Award ceremony for all the categories on a final ballot. This time around all Academy members vote across all categories no matter which branch they belong to. They conduct this stage of the ballot process online. 

There is one caveat to how members should vote. They invite every Academy member to submit one vote for each category listed. However, members are discouraged from voting for any category they are unfamiliar with, or any movie they have not seen for themselves.  

It reportedly takes PricewaterhouseCooper three days to process the ballots submitted by the 9,600+ voting members. 

When you view the final winners at the Award ceremony for each category, whether it is actor, costume designer, or best picture award, etc., they are literally the individuals or teams who garnered the greatest number of votes for that category.

Since the kerfuffle in 2016 when the presenter announced the wrong movie as Best Picture award winner, each award envelope now states the award category in big, bold letters on the outside, in order to prevent any confusion or mistakes by the presenter. 

It’s a long and careful process that leads to winning the prestigious Oscar Awards. 

Recognition Reflection: Would having a ballot approach work for your best-of-the-best formal award program?

Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.

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