The Academy is currently made up of 17 branches, but it began with only 5.
The history of how the branches changed and expanded (and sometimes contracted) can make historical research like ours complicated. Individual members shift between branches over time, sometimes crossing back and forth. Branches appear and disappear and are renamed. New categories and subcategories pile up -- both outside the branches and within them.
This page includes a narrative description of the Academy’s branch history, plus a few other large-scale shifts in the Academy’s membership that our researchers have encountered. There is also as a handy summary chart near the bottom.
1927: Founding of the Academy
The Academy began with five branches:
These five original branches took on a mythical importance in the Academy’s iconography. For example, the Oscar statue stands on a film reel which features five spokes, signifying the five original branches.
While the five canonical branches were adhered to as an official structure for over a decade, exceptions began to be made almost immediately. Membership lists from 1930 and 1931 show additional people being listed as “Special Members” -- a category that would eventually lead to the “Members At Large” grouping.
It’s also worth noting that the 1927 Bylaws already allowed for Associate Members, who were sometimes listed separately and sometimes listed as associate members of a particular branch. One list from 1931 subdivides further, separating out “Assistant Directors” as a particular type of associate member within the directors branch.
1933-1936: The Guild Exodus
The period from 1933 to 1936 saw a massive exodus of members from the Academy, which had taken a pro-studio stance against the emerging guilds and labor unions. In a single year more than half of the Academy’s membership had resigned. By 1936, Frank Capra reported that the membership had plunged from a high of 600 members down to only 40.
Many of the members who had left the Academy rejoined soon after the contract disputes ended, and others would be reinstated over the years and decades that followed. But several never returned.
1939: Creation of the Sciences Branch and its Four Sections
In 1939, the Technicians Branch was renamed the Sciences Branch, and subdivided into four “Sections”:
- Art Directors Section
- Cinematographers Section
- Film Editors Section
- Sound Section
Each of these sections would eventually become a branch of its own, but for several years they remained under the “Sciences Branch” heading to keep the original branch structure at five.
Various other “Sections” of the Sciences Branch appear in some membership lists, including the Photographic Section and the Equipment Section. These seem to be short lived and were absorbed into one of the other sections.
1941 & 1942: First Official Branch Expansion
1941 saw the creation of two new branches: the Music Branch and the Short Subjects Branch.
The Academy also changed the name of the Producers Branch to the “Producers And Executives Branch”
A year later, in 1942, the Public Relations Branch was created, formed from a committee that had been established in 1940 called the Public Relation Institute.
1947: Arts And Sciences Clusters
By 1947, the Academy separated the combined “Producers and Executives Branch” into two separate branches: the “Producers Branch” and the “Executives Branch”.
With the number of branches climbing from five to twelve, the Academy attempted to conceptualize its branches into two clusters: the Arts and the Sciences.
- Actors Branch
- Directors Branch
- Executives Branch
- Music Branch
- Producers Branch
- Public Relations Branch
- Short Subjects Branch
- Writers Branch
- Art Directors Branch
- Cinematographers Branch
- Film Editors Branch
- Sound Branch
While the distinction between Arts Branches and Sciences Branches was later discarded, the division of the Academy into stand alone branches would remain.
This is also the period where the two non-branch categories of At Large Members and Associate Members seem to solidify.
1953: The Administrators Branch
In 1953, the Academy added the Administrators Branch as its 13th branch.
The Administrators Branch would become unique in that it would eventually become the only example in the Academy’s history (so far) when the number of branches contracted rather than expanded. After 17 years, the Administrators Branch was eventually absorbed into the Executives Branch in 1970, decreasing the number of branches from 13 to 12.
1970: Gregory Peck’s Academy Realignment
In 1970, Gregory Peck oversaw a massive realignment of the Academy’s membership. In addition to merging the Administrators Branch into the Executives Branch, a total of 546 members were transferred from their branches, either to other branches or to Members At Large or Associate Members.
The shakeup was controversial, with many members protesting their transfers. Particularly controversial was the move of somewhere between 300 to 400 members to Associate Member status, which stripped them of their Oscar votes. Several members resigned in protest.
It is worth noting that while most of the transfers stuck, there were some that were reversed or where the person was later readmitted to their original branch. In particular, we have found evidence that several members of the Public Relations Branch who were moved to Associate Member status were later transferred back to the Public Relations Branch -- after Peck had finished his term as Academy president! Peck wasn’t happy about this, just as the public relations members hadn’t been happy that he transferred them in the first place.
1974 Short Films Branch Name Change
In 1974, the Short Subjects Branch (which had been created in 1941) changed its name to the Short Films Branch. The name would remain the same for two decades, until 1995 when it would be renamed again as the Short Films And Feature Animation Branch.
1992: Introduction of Retired Status
In 1992, the Academy introduced the option of “Retired Status” to their members.
This was a voluntary program, where members could choose to lower their membership dues while maintaining their affiliation with the Academy. Those who choose this option pay half the normal rate, but do not get to vote for the Academy governors or for the Oscars.
Note that the Academy’s Retired Status is not necessarily related to one’s career status: One can still be working in films while on this status, while others who have long been retired from their careers have not opted to join this category.
The program is apparently quite successful. Reports are that over 500 Academy members opted for it in the first year. In December 2016, there were 686 members listed as Retired Members.
Note that the Retired Status option does present some challenges for researchers: Some biographies and resumes are worded in ways that make it unclear whether someone is retired from the Academy (ie. they left or resigned), or if they have retired status within the Academy (ie. they are still a member but can’t vote). Additionally, branch counts from the Academy and reported by journalists can vary greatly: Sometimes retired members are included within the counts for their branch (of which they still remain a member), while other counts focus on active Oscar voters and include all the retired members in a separate category, or leave them out altogether.
1995: Visual Effects Branch, and Short Films And Feature Animation Branch
In 1995 the Academy’s expanded its branches again with the creation of the Visual Effects Branch. Sources suggest that most members of the new branch originally came from the Cinematographers Branch or the At Large Membership, although some seem to have also come from the Art Directors, Short Films or other branches.
1995 is also the year when the Short Films Branch (formerly Short Subjects Branch) was once again renamed as the Short Films And Feature Animation Branch.
2001: Documentary Branch
In 2001 the Academy created the Documentary Branch. Members of the new branch came from several other branches, but there seem to be a high number of transfers from the Short Films And Feature Animation Branch (formerly known as the Short Subjects or Short Films Branch), the Directors Branch, and At Large Members.
2006: Makeup Artists And Hairstylists Branch
The Makeup Artists And Hairstylists Branch was created in 2006. Prior to this, many of these artists had been listed as At Large Members.
2012: Designers Branch Name Change
In 2012, the Academy changed the name of the Art Directors Branch to the Designers Branch. At the time, the branch consisted of art directors, production designers, set decorators, costume designers and others. (Note that the costume designers would be given their own branch a year later).
2013: Costume Designers Branch and Casting Directors Branch
In 2013, the Academy created the Costume Designers Branch. The vast majority of these members had previously been part of the Designers Branch (formerly called Art Directors Branch), although a few may have been At Large Members.
Later in 2013, the Academy created the Casting Directors Branch. Prior to this, many casting directors had been listed as At Large Members, although some also seem to have been part of the Executives Branch.
2016: Introduction of Emeritus Status
In 2016, the Academy adopted a new Emeritus Status. Emeritus members do not pay dues, but also do not get to vote for Academy governors or for the Oscars.
The status is applied on a rolling basis to:
- Those who are not Oscar Winners or Oscar Nominees
- Who have not worked in their field in the past ten years
- Whose careers have not spanned three ten-year terms.
Note that all three criteria must apply before moving to Emeritus status. If someone has been nominated or won an Oscar, or has worked at any point in the last ten years, or has worked in the industry during three ten-year terms at any point, then they are not supposed to be moved to Emeritus Status.
Like the realignment that happened under Gregory Peck, the announcement of the new Emeritus policy was quite controversial, with some members threatening to resign. Unlike Peck’s system, however, Emeritus members are not transferred to Associate Member status, but rather remain part of their respective branches, although unable to vote. Note too that the Emeritus Status is separate from the voluntary Retired Status option that still remains in place.
Initial reports suggest that about 70 members were moved to Emeritus status in the first year. Since it is meant to be an ongoing policy, this number may increase over time.
The Academy’s Branch History
1927-present Actors Branch
1927-present Directors Branch
1927- present Writers Branch
1927-1941 Producers Branch
1941- 1947 Producers And Executives Branch
1947-present Producers Branch
1947-present Executives Branch
1953-1970 Administrators Branch
1927-1939 Technicians Branch
1939- 1947 Sciences Branch - 4 Sections
1947 - present Cinematographers Branch
1947-present Film Editors Branch
1947-present Sound Branch
1947-2012 Art Directors Branch
2012- present Designers Branch
1941-present Music Branch
Short Subjects Branch
1974-1995 Short Films Branch
1995-present Short Films And Feature Animation Branch
1942 - present Public Relations Branch
Visual Effects Branch
2001-present Documentary Branch
2006-present Makeup Artists & Hairstylists Branch
2013-present Costume Designers Branch
2013-present Casting Directors Branch
Academy Developments that weren’t Branch Specific
Various Associate Member Categories
1952-present Associate Members
Various Special & At Large Categories
1948-present Members At Large
1933 - 1936 Guild Exodus
1970: Gregory Peck Realignment
1992-present Retired Status
2016- present Emeritus Status
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