Every December, the academy updates its branch totals in anticipation of voting for the nominations, which kicks off on Jan. 5 and runs until January 13. Nominations will be announced on Jan. 24 and the Oscars are on Feb. 26.
This year, 6,687 members can take part in the voting process; that is up from 6,261 last year, 6,124 in 2014 and 5,856 in 2013. This uptick in membership is the result of the decision by the academy to do away with the cap that allowed only for replacement of those members who had died or declined to renew.
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We know the introduction of online voting has increased participation to record levels. Assuming all members take part in the process, we can calculate the “Initial Magic Number” of votes needed for a nomination in the various categories.
Seven categories — Animated Feature, Foreign-Language Feature, Makeup & Hairstyling, Visual Effects, and the three Shorts (Animated, Documentary, Live-Action) — require attendance at special screenings and those various methods of nomination are detailed at the bottom of this post.
For all other categories except Best Picture (which can have up to 10 nominees and uses a different method of counting), this “Initial Magic Number” is calculated by dividing the number of ballots cast by six and adding one (i.e., if five contenders each get this number of first-place votes, it is mathematically impossible for a sixth to do so — click here for a detailed description of this method of counting).
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All 6,687 members can cast ballots for Best Picture
“Initial Magic Number”: 608
(Click here for a detailed description of the method of counting.)
Five branches vote only in this race (and can take part in the selection process for Animated Feature and Foreign-Language Feature if they so choose):
Casting Directors Branch: 99 members (up from 86)
Executive Branch: 468 members (up from 458)
Members-At-Large: 233 members (up from 216)
Producers Branch: 504 members (up from 483)
Public Relations Branch: 389 members (up from 388)
These branches total 1,693 members and mean that 25% of the academy roster have no Oscar category to call their own.
Best Picture nominations ballots counted differently than rest
BEST ACTOR, BEST ACTRESS, BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR, BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Actors Branch: 1,158 members (up from 1,138)
“Initial Magic Number”: 194
Directors Branch: 473 members (up from 394)
“Initial Magic Number”: 79
BEST SOUND EDITING, BEST SOUND MIXING
Sound Branch: 456 members (up from 437)
“Initial Magic Number”: 77
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY, BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Writers Branch: 406 members (up from 392)
“Initial Magic Number”: 68
UPDATED: Experts’ Oscars predictions in all 24 categories
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Designers Branch: 295 members (up from 278)
“Initial Magic Number”: 50
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Documentary Branch: 277 members (up from 237)
“Initial Magic Number”: 47
Each branch member receives DVD screeners of the 145 entries and is assigned to watch one-fifth of these but encouraged to view as many as they can. Members list their top 15 picks on a preferential ballot and those results are compiled and produce a shortlist of 15 contenders. All members are encouraged to watch the films on this list that they have not yet seen and cast preferential ballots with their top five choices.
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BEST SCORE, BEST SONG
Music Branch: 279 members (up from 257)
“Initial Magic Number”: 47
A reminder list of the 145 eligible scores and a DVD with excerpts of the 91 eligible songs is sent to the branch members.
BEST FILM EDITING
Film Editors Branch: 274 members (up from 254)
“Initial Magic Number”: 46
Cinematographers Branch: 240 members (up from 227)
“Initial Magic Number”: 41
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Costume Designers Branch: 117 members (up from 115)
“Initial Magic Number”: 20
Oscars mystery solved:
How nomination ballots (except for Best Picture) are counted
Seven categories have special rules as detailed below:
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Voting on this award is restricted to academy members from any branch who volunteer to be on the screening committee and see at least two-thirds of the 27 eligible films (i.e, at least 18). Members score each film from 6 (poor) to 10 (excellent) and only those films with an average rating of at least 7.5 remain as contenders. If only one film merits such a score, it will receive a special award; otherwise, the five highest ranked above 7.5 will be the nominees.
BEST ANIMATED SHORT, BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT
Short Films and Feature Animation Branch: 479 members (up from 401)
Voting on these two awards is done in two stages. First, branch members who volunteer to be on the screening committees watch the 69 animated and 137 live-action shorts submitted. Members score each film from 6 (poor) to 10 (excellent) and the 10 highest ranked above 7.5 go on to the second stage. All members of the branch are invited to screenings of these 10 semi-finalists and those five with the highest scores above 7.5 are the nominees.
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
Documentary Branch: 277 members (up from 237)
Voting on this award is done in two stages. First, branch members who volunteer to be on the screening committee watch the 61 documentary shorts submitted. Members score each film from 6 (poor) to 10 (excellent) and the 10 highest ranked above 7.5 go on to the second stage. All members of the branch are invited to screenings of these 10 semi-finalists and those five with the highest scores above 7.5 are the nominees.
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BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FEATURE
Voting on this award is restricted to academy members from any branch who volunteer to be on the screening committee. They were divided into groups and required to watch at least 17 of the 85 submissions for Foreign Language Film over a two-month period. They scored them from 6 to 10 and their top six vote getters made it to the next round, as did three films added by the 20 members of the executive committee.
The nine semi-finalists will be screened three per day beginning in early January by 40 academy members — 20 in Hollywood and 10 apiece in Gotham and London — who will then vote for the final five nominees. The entire academy membership will get screeners of the five nominated films and can vote for the winner.
BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
Makeup & Hairstyling Branch: 157 members (up from 141)
Nominations are determined in two stages. First, upwards of 15 members of the branch who attend special screenings cast preferential ballots with the top seven vote-getters moving on to the second stage. Those members from the first stage and any other members who attend screenings of excerpts from these seven semi-finalists cast preferential ballots and the top three films are nominated.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Visual Effects Branch: 383 members (up from 359)
The executive committee of the branch determines the 10 semi-finalists. All members of the branch are invited to a screening of excerpts from these 10 films at which potential nominees may discuss their work. Ballots are counted using a system of re-weighted range voting to determine the five nominees.
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