What Does It Take to Vote for the Oscars?

A branch-by-branch breakdown on the requirements for Academy membership

AMPAS branches

For the next three weeks, the most powerful people in Hollywood will be the 6,124 members of the Academy who are eligible to cast the ballots that will determine who gets Oscar nominations.

But how did those folks, who can begin voting next Monday, Dec. 29 and continue through Jan. 8, get their power? What does it take to get into the Academy?

For some, it takes a minimum of 10 years in the business and 10 film credits. For others, two credits can do the trick. And getting nominated for an Oscar – or, even better, winning one – can throw all the other requirements out the window and give you a fast track to an invitation.

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It’s a more time-consuming process for casting directors, sound mixers and editors and visual effects specialists than it is for actors, writers and directors, because the qualifications for Academy membership vary from branch to branch. And meeting the requirements is no guarantee of admission: You must still be sponsored by two members of your branch, be approved by a membership committee from that branch, and then be voted in by the Academy’s Board of Governors.

Here’s a rundown of just what it takes to qualify for Academy membership in each branch. Note: When we talk about film credits, not just any films will do. To qualify, credits must be from films that “reflect the high standards of the Academy.”

And all the branches have two escape clauses that can mean the credit and time limits don’t apply: You’re eligible if you’ve been nominated for an Oscar, or if you’ve otherwise “achieved unique distinction, earned special merit or made an outstanding contribution” to your field.

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Actors Branch: Three film credits. No minimum time in the industry.

Casting Directors Branch: A minimum of eight years casting theatrical films, and 10 film credits.

Cinematographers Branch: Five film credits as Director of Photography, at least one within the last three years.

Costume Designers Branch: Six screen credits as Costume Designer.

Designers Branch: Five years experience and four screen credits as Production Designer, Art Director or Set Decorator.

Directors Branch: Two directorial credits, at least one in the past 10 years.

Documentary Branch: Two director or producer credits on a theatrical documentary, at least one within the past five years.

Executives Branch: Three years experience as the CEO, COO or head of production, animation or domestic or international distribution at a company that has been in business for three years and released at least three live-action or two animated features. (Only one executive can be admitted during the first seven years of a company’s existence, and executives who don’t remain in the motion picture industry for at least 20 years are automatically shifted to associate, non-voting status.)

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Film Editors Branch: Four film credits, at least two of which are on a single card (i.e., not shared credits).

Makeup Artists & Hairstylists Branch: Seven years experience on features, and a supervisory position on at least five theatrical films.

Music Branch: Three on-screen credits, at least one from the past six years.

Producers Branch: Two producer screen credits on films in which the candidate performed the majority of functions of a producer. Shared “produced by” credits count as a fraction toward the total of two.

Public Relations Branch: 10 years employment in publicity, advertising or promotion, five of those as a department head or chief strategist of a company involved in producing, distributing, marketing or publicizing theatrical motion pictures.

Short Films & Feature Animation Branch: Three theatrical film credits.

Sound Branch: Eight years experience, five of those as mixer, engineer or supervising sound editor, plus five film credits.

Visual Effects Branch: Eight years in a “key creative position” in visual effects.

Writers Branch: Two feature film credits.

Members at Large: Eight years in motion picture production “in a key creative position for which the Academy has no branch.” The requirement is waived for sitting executive directors of the DGA, SAG, PGA, WGA and IATSE.

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Members at Large (Creative Science and Technology): Eight years “in a key position supporting the theatrical motion picture experience,” or the creation of “leading creative tools and/or systems for the crafts involved in the creation of the motion picture experience.”

Members at Large (Production): Eight years in production “in a key creative position for which the Academy has no branch,” or five consecutive years as head of physical production, visual effects production or post-production.

Members at Large (Stunt Coordinators): 10 years experience as a motion-picture stunt coordinator, and 10 films as the sole-credited stunt coordinator.

Associate Members: Eight years as the owner or senior executive of an organization “whose primary activities have contributed to the art or science of motion pictures,” or eight years of distinction “in the theatrical motion picture industry,” but not in a field that would qualify a person for membership in an AMPAS branch or as a Member-at-Large.

Associate Members (Artists’ Representatives): Eight years experience as an agent.