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Oscars 2000 Friday, 17 March, 2000, 10:12 GMT
Ask the Oscars expert
BBC News Online's Entertainment Correspondent Tom Brook gets to the bottom of the Academy Awards.

What criteria do films have to fulfil to qualify for Oscar nomination?

They have to be feature length (over 40 minutes) and publicly exhibited by means of 35mm or 70mm film for paid admission in a commercial cinema in Los Angeles for a run of at least seven consecutive days during the course of 1999.

Who nominates movies for an Oscar?

The 5500 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. These members are described by the Academy as "motion picture professionals".

Members work, or have worked in the film industry and are represented by 13 branches: actors, art directors, cinematographers, directors, executives, film editors, music, producers, public relations, short films and feature animation, sound, visual effects and writers.

What are their credentials?

Membership in the Academy is by invitation of its board of governors. Some of the criteria for admission are:-
a. Film credits of a calibre which reflect the high standards of the Academy.
b. Receipt of an Academy Award nomination.
c. Making an outstanding contribution to film.

How are they chosen to be on the voting panel?

A candidate for membership must be sponsored by at least two members of the branch for which the person may qualify, for example, an actor who is a candidate for membership has to be sponsored by two members of the actors' branch.

Each proposed member has to be endorsed by the branch executive committee before their name is submitted to the Board of Governors for approval

Are they young/old/evenly split?

The Academy does not publish or reveal names of its members. The studios have a pretty good idea who they are. The general view is that the membership tends to be middle-aged or elderly rather than young and hip.

Are they influenced by results of previous awards ceremonies in the same year?

No scientific studies but the answer is yes. The previous awards ceremonies, particularly the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Directors Guild Awards, do give a sense of the most likely candidates.

They may influence Academy members in that they indicate performances and films they should see before voting.

Do certain types of film seem to consistently please the Academy year after year?

The basic rule is that the Academy is conservative and likes to embrace movies that make its membership feel good. This means they tend to favour big epic productions with sweeping statements about the human condition. They tend not to like comedies, violent or overly sexual films, or animated pictures.

When it comes to actors, Tom Hanks is a favourite - although he is not nominated this year - because he embodies that all-American sense of decency the Academy admires. Meryl Streep is another favourite - she nearly always gets nominated.

The academy also likes to honour actors who portray characters who are physically or mentally challenged.

The record on child actors is mixed - but Haley Joel Osment does stand a good chance of winning this year because of his powerful performance in The Sixth Sense.

Costume dramas and period films with strong acting performances are also favourites.

Are there safeguards against bias or bribes?

The Academy is very strict about this. They sent out this note to all their voting members this year which read: "You may be importuned by advertisements, promotional gifts, dinner invitations and other lobbying tactics in an attempt to solicit your vote.

"Though the crude solicitations that occasionally surfaced in earlier years seem to be a thing of the past, we would ask each individual Academy member to be on guard against inappropriate attempts to influence your vote, and to register displeasure with anyone who might make such an attempt.

"The more emphatically that all of us can convey to the industry and the wider public that excellence in film-making is the ONLY factor we consider in casting our Academy Award votes, the more reason the world will have to respect our judgement."

Has any director/actor ever appealed or just complained after not winning or being nominated for an Oscar?

Jim Carrey has been voicing his strong displeasure - albeit in humorous terms - that the Academy has now passed on him twice - for The Truman Show and more recently for Man On The Moon.

How valuable is an Oscar to movie makers in personal and financial terms? Do the lesser Oscars count for much in boosting the movie's public profile?

An Oscar is a tremendous boost to the career of an actor or director. For a director, a nomination alone can result in multiple job offers. The picture is pretty much the same for actors and actresses.

Many of this year's first time Oscar nominees have told me they've already been inundated with scripts and job offers. Oscar nomination and win also enables actors to get an immediate, and sizeable, increase in salary.

At the box office, Oscar nominations and trophies can bring millions of dollars in extra box office revenue from the extra exposure. The exact amount will depend on whether the Oscar nomination/trophy windfall comes at the beginning or end of a film's release schedule and the size of box office already accumulated.

For example, The Sixth Sense has pretty much opened up around the world - Oscar victory would not do much to its box office. But if Hilary Swank won for Boys Don't Cry, that would have a much bigger impact on a film that most people know little about - and has not yet opened up around the world.

Lesser Oscars victories add kudos to a film, but obviously don't do as much as a bigger victor with best actor or best picture.

Do you know of any examples where someone has done well at the Oscars one year but not amounted to much since?

Louise Fletcher won the best actress Oscar in 1975 for One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest but her career has not made waves since.

Beatrice Straight won the best supporting actress Oscar in 1976 for Network but has gone on to hold only minor parts in small - mainly TV - projects.

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