Academy’s 650-Plus New Members Are ‘A Pain in the Rear End’ for Oscar Campaigners

Studios and consultants have been working hard to track down a record-setting number of new members from 59 different countries

In June, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences invited a record-shattering 683 actors, filmmakers and other film professionals to become members and vote for the Oscars.

And now, more than three months later, the size and global diversity of the AMPAS class of 2016 are causing headaches heading into Oscar season.

The biggest problem is faced by Oscar consultants and publicists who reach out to Academy members with invitations, screenings and screener DVDs and links. The Academy, which officially frowns on Oscar campaigning, does not supply studios or publicists with a list of its members or contact information for those members, meaning that PR firms and studios must simply try to track down everybody on the released list of new members, which this year included film professionals from 59 different countries.

“It’s more of a massive pain in the rear end than a serious problem,” said one consultant who claimed her company had tracked down all but about 50 of the new members. “This is something that happens every year, but it’s harder this year because there are 683 of them.”

According to consultants and publicists who have tried to track down the new members, a few dozen have been particularly elusive, with the Directors Branch proving especially tricky.

Complicating things further, many of this year’s invitations went to people who had not officially applied for membership, but who were identified in the Academy’s concerted outreach program to find deserving women and people of color. People who didn’t ask for membership to begin with can be harder to find — and some of them may not even accept the invitation, a piece of information the Academy only shares if a consultant or studio asks point blank about a specific invitation.

The Academy, though, said that it has had an extremely high acceptance rate. An AMPAS spokesperson said that the organization’s membership department has been in touch with every one of the 683 prospective members, and that fewer than 20 have yet to accept the invitation.

The Academy would not reveal the names of invitees who have yet to accept or have declined, though that group is believed to include “Creed” and “Fruitvale Station” director Ryan Coogler, whose films have been largely snubbed by Oscar voters; Mexican writer-director Carlos Reygadas, whose acclaimed “Silent Light” was bypassed by Oscar foreign-language voters in 2007; African-American director Melvin Van Peebles (“Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song”); and Argentine director Lucrecia Martel (“The Headless Woman”).

Maren Ade, the German director of the Cannes sensation (and Oscar foreign-language contender) “Toni Erdmann,” told TheWrap that she almost turned down the invitation without even knowing it. “I looked at the email and thought it was an ad or something,” she said, “so I just deleted it.” It was only when a reporter asked her for her reaction at being invited to join the Academy that she fished the email out of her trash folder and realized it was legitimate.

New members in Los Angeles and San Francisco have been invited to recent welcome-aboard receptions in those cities, with attendance at both being high. A New York meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, while a meeting in London will take place next week, during the London Film Festival. In past years, the Academy has held a single new-member reception, in Los Angeles.

One thing the new members may not have learned, though, is that accepting the Academy invitation will not automatically fill their mailboxes with screeners. AMPAS only sends DVDs in the foreign, documentary and short-film categories; the rest come from studios.

“When you find them, they say, ‘But I already gave my information to the Academy,'” a consultant said. “They don’t realize that the Academy doesn’t give out that information.”

And so the search continues. “You try to find their agent, and if that doesn’t work you look at the filmography and see if they’ve worked with anybody you would know,” said the same consultant.

“And there’s a lot of trading that goes on between us. But I don’t think anybody has found all of them.”