What do you have to do to be able to vote for the Academy Awards? Keep reading and we’ll tell you.
(This story has been updated to reflect the current rules as of 2019.)
Each of the 17 branches of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has specific rules about how many film credits or how much experience a person must have to qualify for admission.
But each branch also builds two escape clauses into the bylaws. First, an Oscar nomination by itself is deemed enough to qualify a person for admission. And second, every branch has a clause that allows invitations to those who have “achieved unique distinction, earned special merit or made an outstanding contribution,” or similar words to that effect.
Each spring, membership committees from each Academy branch go over the list of all prospective members whose applications have been sponsored by two members of the branch. Each year’s Oscar nominees are automatically considered and do not require sponsors.
Each branch committee submits a list of recommended new members to the AMPAS Board of Governors, which makes the final decision on who will be invited.
The full list of qualifying requirements is available on the Academy website, but here’s the breakdown, including all 17 branches and three additional non-voting categories:
Actors: Three credits on scripted theatrical films, one of which was released within the last five years and all of which “are of a caliber that reflect the high standards of the Academy.” (This last phrase is part of every branch’s qualifications.)
Associates: This non-voting status can go to those who have “achieved distinction” in the film industry for the past eight years, but who do not qualify for membership in any branch or in Members at Large. It includes owners and senior executives of “organizations whose primary activities have contributed to the art or science of motion pictures.”
Associates (Artists’ Representatives): Another non-voting status, this one goes to agents with a minimum of 10 years experience (increased from eight years in 2018), primarily in the motion picture field and in the years immediately preceding consideration for membership.
Casting Directors: Eight years experience in casting theatrical features, and screen credit on at least 10 films.
Cinematographers: Two theatrical film credits as Director of Photography, at least one of which is within the last three years.
Costume Designers: Five years experience on films, and four screen credits as a costume designer.
Directors: Two directorial credits on theatrical features, at least one of those in the last 10 years.
Documentary: Two director and/or producer credits on theatrical documentary films, at least one in the last five years.
Executives: A minimum of five years experience at a senior executive level at a company that has been producing, streaming and/or distributing theatrical films and has released at least three live-action features or two animated features in that time.
Members who do not continue to work in the motion picture industry for 20 years (which includes time in the industry prior to Academy admission) may be transferred to the Associates category.
Film Editors: A minimum of four “principal position” theatrical film credits, with at least two of them being “single card credits.”
Makeup Artists and Hairstylists: Seven years experience in feature-film makeup or hairstyling, and a supervisory position on at least five theatrical films, three of them within the last seven years.
Marketing and Public Relations: A minimum of seven years employment in publicity, advertising or promotion, five of them as the head of a department or chief strategist of a company involved in marketing or publicizing theatrical motion pictures. The person must “customarily and regularly exercise comprehensive and discretionary powers” over the creative strategy of film publicity. The requirement of seven years employment has been reduced from 10 years in 2018, and the “head of department” requirement can be waived by the branch’s executive committee.
The same 20-year requirement that applies in the Executive Branch also applies in this branch, which prior to 2019 was simply known as the Public Relations Branch.
Members-at-Large: Eight years experience in theatrical motion pictures “in a key creative position for which the Academy has no branch.” Additional requirements apply for prospective members in the stunt coordination, physical production, visual effects, post-production, scientific and technological and film preservation fields.
Music: Three onscreen theatrical film credits, one from the past six years, for composing, lyric writing or music editing, specifically excluding credits for music not written directly for the motion picture in question.
Producers: The Producers Guild of America’s “p.g.a.” mark on at least three theatrical films, or two producer credits on films that do not use the p.g.a. mark. “Normally,” according to the rules, at least one of these films must have been released in the past 10 years. The requirement specifically excludes executive producer, co-producer, associate producer or line producer credits. On a film in which more than one individual receives a “produced by” credit, each producer receives the appropriate fraction of a credit: For example, a producer on a film with two credited producers receives .5 credit toward the required two credits.
Production Design: Five years experience, and at least four screen credits as production designer, art director or set decorator.
Short Films and Feature Animation: Two credits in a “key creative role” on a live-action short, animated short or animated feature. Qualifying credits for a live-action short are producer, director and writer, and for an animated short or feature are producer, director and artist or technical artist “in a creative supervising, directing or lead role.”
Sound: A minimum of eight years experience in theatrical motion picture sound tracks, with the five most recent years “primarily focused on the day to day making of theatrical sound tracks” as a mixer, engineer or supervising sound editor. Sound editors must additionally have five credits on films for which they “have been responsible for the concept, planning and composition of the effects and related sound elements.”
Visual Effects: Eight years experience in a “key creative position” in the field of motion picture visual effects. The rules name 13 qualifying positions but say that membership is not limited to those specific positions.
Writers: Two feature film credits.