The last 12 months have been rough for Hollywood agents, with the pandemic drying up new film deals and the practice of packaging under fire. But when it comes to the Oscars, agents might be the new secret weapon.
The proof is in the December 2020 branch count from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It shows that the organization has passed the 10,000 mark in members for the first time ever and that the Oscars will have more than 9,000 eligible voters for the first time in more than 75 years.
The strange thing about the count is that 893 more people are eligible to vote for the Oscars this year than they were last year: 9,362 in 2021, compared to 8,469 in 2020. This came after a year in which 819 film professionals were invited to join the Academy — in other words, even if everybody who was invited to join did so, and not a single existing voter died or retired, there still wouldn’t be enough new members to account for all 893 new voters.
(Compare this to 2018, when 842 people were invited to join but the number of voters only increased by 567. Given deaths and retirements, that’s typical.)
So why did the number of voters increase so much? Agents, that’s why.
During the same June meeting in which the AMPAS Board of Governors approved the list of new invitations, it decided to move all the agents in the Academy from associate membership status to members-at-large. Associate members can’t vote for the Oscars; members-at-large can.
And just like that, members-at-large had a bigger 2020 influx of new members than any of the Academy’s 17 branches, growing by 166. The number of associate members, meanwhile, dropped from 208 to only 95.
So while there’s no telling what kind of impact those newly-enfranchised agents will have on Oscar balloting this year, they’ve already made their presence felt. And you just know that after the kind of year the agencies have had, they’d love to provide the swing votes in a category or two.
The December branch count, mind you, is not the final word when it comes to this year’s Oscars. Because the ceremony has been pushed back to late April and nomination voting doesn’t begin until early March, an additional, upcoming branch count will determine the actual number of potential voters this year. (Those totals will likely be very similar to December’s.)
But the count, when compared to the similar count from December 2019, does show how dramatically the Academy grew over the last year. The number of Oscar voters briefly topped 9,000 in the 1940s, when members of some Hollywood guilds were allowed to vote even though they weren’t Academy members. But that rule ended in 1945, and the number of voters has never again been that large.
All 17 branches increased in size during 2020, with the Documentary Branch having the largest growth for the second consecutive year, from 486 to 597. Its increase of 111 members was by far the largest, with the Marketing and Public Relations Branch having the second-largest growth of 84, followed by the Short Films and Feature Animation Branch with 83 and the Executives Branch with 71.
The branches with the smallest growth were Cinematographers, which grew by 13; Costume Designers, 14; and Casting Directors, 17.
Here are the December 2020 branch counts, which will be adjusted slightly before Oscar nomination voting takes place.
Actors: 1,363 (2020 increase: +39)
Casting Directors: 145 (+17)
Cinematographers: 286 (+13)
Costume Designers: 168 (+14)
Directors: 564 (+38)
Documentary: 597 (+111)
Executives: 662 (+71)
Film Editors: 372 (+27)
Makeup Artists and Hairstylists: 225 (+19)
Marketing and Public Relations: 598 (+84)
Music: 376 (+31)
Producers: 618 (+35)
Production Designers: 384 (+41)
Short Films and Feature Animation: 823 (+83)
Sound: 541 (+38)
Visual Effects: 587 (+42)
Writers: 509 (+24)
Members-at-Large: 544 (+166)
Total voting members: 9,362 (+893)
Associate Members: 95 (-109)
Total active members: 9,457 (+780)
Retired members: 844 (-16)
Total members: 10,301 (+764)