Oscar by the Numbers: How Many Votes Does It Take to Get Nominated?

If you’re in the right category, you get a nomination with only 18 votes — here are all the figures

When it comes to securing an Oscar nomination, it's all about quality, not quantity.

Costume designers, for instance, can land a nomination with only 18 votes from other top professionals in the field, cinematographers with 34, composers with 40.

Oscar ballot mailingEven actors need fewer than 200 votes, while a Best Picture nod can be yours with slightly more than 500.

Chalk it up to the Academy's structure of branches, in which the nominees in each category are selected only by a select group who've been invited to join the Academy because of their extensive and impressive resumes. 

Most AMPAS branches are made up of between 200 and 500 people, with new members admitted sparingly and the entire voting membership holding relatively steady at less than 6,000 members.

And now that the Academy has sent out its nominating ballots (above; photo by Greg Harbaugh/AMPAS) and released the number of voting members in each of its branches, we can play our annual game of How Many Votes Does It Take to Get an Oscar Nomination?

And it turns out that in an Academy of 5,755 voting members, fewer than 70 votes will secure you a nomination everywhere except the four acting categories and Best Picture. 

The basic rundown: each branch nominates in its own area of specialty, and one-sixth of the voters plus one vote is enough to put you in the top five and guarantee a nomination.

Without getting too deeply into the preferential process of vote-counting (I've explained it more fully here), it's worth pointing out that while each voter lists five (or, in the Best Picture race, 10) favorites on the ballot, he or she actually only votes for one movie. In many cases, the accomplishment listed first on the ballot will get his or her vote; if that first-place contender is eliminated during the process, the second, third or fourth-place votes can come into play.

Best Picture, the category where every member is eligible to vote (including members in the executives, producers and public relations branches and members-at-large, none of whom can nominate in other categories), requires the most votes – but with the growth of that category to 10 nominations, it’ll only take 524 voters to put a film over the top. (If category still had five nominations, it would take 960.)

These figures, by the way, assume that every eligible member votes, which is unlikely. And they don't take into account an Academy rule that allows members to vote outside their branch if they've been nominated in a different branch. (Example: directors branch member Cameron Crowe can also vote for the writing awards, because he was nominated, and won, for his "Almost Famous" screenplay.)

But if we assume that the outside-the-branch voters will be counterbalanced by the branch members who don’t vote, here’s the breakdown, using the Academy’s final figures for the 2010 awards season:

Acting awards

Actors branch members: 1,183 active

Votes required for nomination: 198

Art direction
Members: 364 members (but 107 are costume designers, who vote in a separate category; that means that 257 members are eligible to vote for the art direction Oscar)

Votes required for nomination: 43

Cinematography
Members: 202
Votes required for nomination: 34

Costume design
Members: 107 (from the art directors branch)

Votes required for nomination: 18

Directing
Members: 367
Votes required for nomination: 62

Film editing
Members: 220
Votes required for nomination: 37

Original score
Music branch members: 236
Votes required for nomination: 40

Sound editing, sound mixing
Sound branch members: 407
Votes required for nomination: 68

Original screenplay, adapted screenplay
Writers branch members: 375
Votes required for nomination: 63

Best Picture
AMPAS voting membership: 5,755
Votes required for nomination: 524

In nine of the categories, different processes are used:

Animated feature: Nominated by volunteer committees open to all members, not just those in the 343-member short films and feature animation branch. Volunteers must see 80% of the eligible films (this year, 12 of the 15) in a theatrical setting. Each film is scored on a scale of 6-to-10, and the top three films with at least a 7.5 average receive nominations.

Documentary feature and documentary short: 157 members in the documentary branch, but both categories use a multi-level screening process in which committees view and score each eligible nominee. To produce the shortlist, each eligible film might be viewed by fewer than 20 members; to come up with the final nominations, the 12-to-15 shortlisted films are viewed by all members who wish to attend special screenings, and a preferential ballot is used.

Foreign-language film: There is no foreign-language branch. The Academy uses a variety of committees, first to come up with a nine-film shortlist (six of the nine selected by what is generally between 200 and 250 volunteers from all branches, the remaining three by a select committee). A second, blue-ribbon committee then views those nine shortlisted films in a three-day session, and selects the five nominees.

Makeup: The process starts with a meeting to vote for a shortlist of seven films; the rules specify that at least 15 members (out of the branch of 118) must attend this meeting. Once the field is narrowed to seven, the branch holds a “bakeoff” in which the shortlisted makeup artists show clips and talk about their work, and the members in attendance then vote. Members who can’t attend the bakeoff but have seen all the contenders may also vote by mail.

Original song: Voting is restricted to those from the 236-member music branch who view a reel of all the eligible songs as they are used within their films. Voters  score each song on a scale of six-to-10, and only songs with at least an 8.25 average can be nominated (unless only one song tops 8.25, in which case the next highest-rated song will also be nominated).

Live-action short, animated short: The short films and feature animation branch contains 340 members, but nominations are determined by committee in a two-round process in which the films are scored on the six-to-10 scale, and a 7.5 average is necessary for a nomination.

Visual effects: An executive committee from the 289-member branch narrows the field to seven. A nominating committee open to all active members of the branch then receives written descriptions of the shortlisted effects, and meets to view excerpts from the films and vote for the final field of five. Potential nominees are allowed to address the nominating committee at this meeting.