Oscar Nominees: How The Selection Process Really Works

The 2015 Oscar nominees were officially announced on Thursday morning at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

In addition to the seemingly obvious nominations, the long-running tradition of snubs and surprises also continued for yet another year.

However, many people still do not fully understand how Oscar nominees are selected in the first place. Contrary to popular opinion, there is an intense and tedious selection process involved with identifying Oscar nominees that takes place mostly behind the scenes.

It Starts with an Accounting Firm

For eight decades, international accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has been responsible for mailing ballots and tabulating results for the Oscars.

Ballots of eligible nominees from the previous eligible year are sent to over 6,000 Academy members in December and given an early January deadline. The accounting firm reportedly spends 1,700 man-hours tabulating the results from the submitted votes.

What Makes a Film Eligible?

To have a chance at ending up on the ballot, a film must meet certain criteria.

It must:

1) Be over 40 minutes long.

2) Have been publicly screened in Los Angeles County for paid admission.

3) Screen for at least seven consecutive days.

4) Premiere in a theatrical run (not debuting online or on TV)

Academy Members, “Follow Your Heart”

When the ballots are sent out, the Academy members are given specific instructions. While advising them not to make duplicate selections, Mental Floss reports that the members are instructed to follow their hearts when making their decisions.

“Voters are asked to list up to five names, ranked in order of preference. The Academy instructs voters to ‘follow their hearts’ because the voting process doesn’t penalize for picking eccentric choices… Also, listing the same person or film twice doesn’t help their cause—in fact, it actually diminishes the chance that the voter’s ballot will be counted at all.”

After the ballots have been submitted, that is when the fun begins searching for the “magic number.”

Finding and Following the “Magic Number”

What is the “magic number?” It is the amount of votes from each category that transforms potential candidates into actual nominees. The accounting firm takes the number of ballots from a category and divides it by the total possible nominees – plus one.

For example, take the Best Actress category (five nominees). Let’s say that you have 1,200 ballots. Divide that number by six (five possible plus one). Based on the formula, an actress would need to be listed on 200 ballots to become an official nominee.

Keep in mind that all of the counting is done by hand, which is why such a high number of man-hours is required to get the job done right. The counting begins with the first choice selection of each voter until a candidate reaches the magic number.

For example, when Actress A reaches that designated number, all of the ballots that listed her as the first choice are put aside — leaving four remaining spots in that category — and the counting continues from there.

The actress with the lowest number of first-place votes is eliminated. The ballots are then examined and counted again based on the second-place choices listed on the ballots. The candidates retain their calculated votes from each round, however, until all of the five spots have been filled.

“If a ballot runs out of selections, that ballot is voided and is no longer in play, which is why it’s important for voters to list five different nominees.”

The only exception for the magic number calculation is in the Best Picture category, since it can have a minimum of five but a maximum of 10 nominees.

And The Nominees Are…

That’s it! Once the ballots have been counted and examined based on the magic number and the Oscar nominees have been identified, the selection process is complete. According to tradition, Oscar nominees are announced from the Samuel Goldwyn Theater during the third week of January at 5:30 a.m. Pacific Time.

Now that the full list of Oscar nominees for the 2015 Oscar awards ceremony has been released, the world will just have to wait until February 22 when the winners are revealed.

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