The Oscars: Behind the Scenes

An inside look at the nomination process for the Academy Awards

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Yoonjung Cho

As sparkling Jimmy Choo stilettos step onto the red carpet, a sea of photographers erupt in constant clicks and blinding flashes. At the entrance of Dolby Theater, popular celebrities strut into the most celebrated awards ceremony of the year. Behind the glamour and prestige of the Oscars lies a selective group of people who are given the power to turn actors, directors and films into legacies. So who are these people deciding which movies attract the most attention, earn the most in box offices and live on forever?

The movie industry is more than complicated. There are a series of awards that come before the Oscars, such as Directors Guild Awards, Producers Guild of America (PGA) Awards, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards, Golden Globes and many more, leading up to the grand finale, the Academy Awards, to finish the award season. Jonathan Leess, an Emmy Award winning media business professional, is a member of the PGA and participates in nominating and voting for producer awards in television and motion pictures. Although Leess is not a member of the Academy (AMPAS), he is eligible to vote for best picture producer’s awards that are presented in late January. These are one of several considered prognosticators for the Oscars’ Best Picture Award.

“To become a member of the Academy, there’s a long list of requirements and prerequisites,” Leess said. One must actually be invited by the Academy’s Board of Governors to become a part of this selective group. To become a member of the PGA, one must have been a credited producer on at least two shows or movies, been recommended by two PGA members and pay an initiation fee and annual dues to the guild once accepted. Members of each of the professional guilds receive personal (digitally identified for security) DVDs of many of the movies that are heavily marketed by the studios and offered “For Your Consideration” during the award season. As a member of the PGA, Leess also receives many invitations to private movie screenings, sometimes with the director, producer and/or actors present for Q&A.

The award winners of the PGA, DGA, SAG, Golden Globes and other professional guilds, could impact or help sway some of the members of the Academy while they consider their votes for Oscar-nominated films.

Within the Academy, there are 17 branches that focus on different categories of the industry. These categories include writers, directors and actors.

“Each category nomination can only be made by the members of that category,” Leess said. “For example, nominations for Best Actor are made by actors, Best Writer by writers, but all members of the Academy can vote for the winner of all categories once the nominations are made.”

People often look past the honor of a nomination and only focus on who ends up on the stage, Oscar in hand, thanking the Academy. They fail to realize that only a handful of films get nominated for this award each year and that the honor goes far beyond winning.

“Being nominated by your peers is what the awards are all about. If you’re nominated, that’s a huge win of industry recognition. But of course, winning is the pinnacle of total accomplishment for any award,” Leess said. Even though studios work hard and spend a lot of money to help influence the Academy and different guild members, the nomination still depends heavily on the performance, writing, directing, cinematography, set design and the film itself.

After the nominations have been carefully chosen, the task of deciding on a winner becomes notably more strategic. “Once the nominations are announced, the studios go into full hyperdrive. The actors, directors, producers all hit the road for weeks going to private screenings, dinners, luncheons, TV talk shows, late night TV, etc., all paid for by the studios,” Leess said. Winning an Academy Award generally brings in much more revenue for a movie and everyone involved in its production, which, in addition to the honor and promise of a legacy, serves as more than enough incentive for movie-makers to chase after the win.

The Oscars are reserved for the most thought-provoking movies that were created with diligence, and transport the viewer into the depths of the film. Beginning in 1929, the Academy Awards have escalated from a televised dinner party to an internationally viewed event featuring over 3,000 of the most beloved celebrities. The fate of this year’s films will be revealed on cards placed in envelopes on Feb. 26. Although it may seem like movies are created to receive the final prize, the entire process of producing a film is about much more. Whether it be a chance to express a voice for the voiceless, tell an untold story or transcend us into another world, movies have the power to inspire.

“Movies are incredibly difficult and expensive to make. Hundreds and hundreds of people are involved in so many areas of the making of the final product, so when all of the efforts from behind and in front of the camera come together perfectly, I have a real respect and admiration for the magic,” Leess said.

As you sit flipping through the channels on the night of February 26, make sure to stop and watch the magic of this year’s movies become legacies.