Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Academy Members Project: Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

This page contains some of the most frequently asked questions that we get at The Academy Members Project. If you’d like to suggest additional questions for this page, you can email them to .

Have you identified ALL of the members of the Academy?

No, not all of them. But a significant number. We keep a running tally on the Home Page.

You say that you are the largest PUBLIC list of Oscar Voters. Are there larger Private lists?

Yes. The Academy itself has the official list, of course, as do their vote counting partners at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Additionally, most major studios and awards consultants maintain complete or partial lists that they use to conduct their Oscar campaigns. Many journalists and media organizations also have private lists, which is how they can run those articles about the Academy’s demographics and get quotations from members so quickly.

But so far, none of those groups have been willing to share. Unlike each of them, we publish everything that we find.

What got you started?

You can find our full origin story here, but basically we had read enough news stories with anonymous interviews and demographic analyses to realize that the media was holding out on us. They claimed that the Academy’s membership was a closely guarded secret, but left out the fact that they were the ones guarding it.

We recognized that there was a vacuum that needed to be filled: An area of intense cultural interest (at least once a year on Oscar night), that no one was researching -- or at least, where no one was sharing the results of their research with the public. So we stepped in to fill the void.

What is the biggest misconception people have about the Academy?

The biggest misconception that people have about the Academy is the myth that all Oscar winners and nominees automatically get invited to join. They Don’t, as you can see on our Non-Members pages. Nearly every branch of the Academy has chosen to leave some of their own nominees and even winners off their membership rolls.

We suspect that this misconception gained steam as a result of two factors: First, Oscar nominees and winners from the better known actors and directors branches often do get invited (although again, not always), and therefore it became an easy shorthand for journalists to use in describing the Academy to the general public without getting specific about exact names.

The second factor that leads to confusion is that the Academy itself does waive one of the preliminary steps to entrance for nominees and winners: The requirement to have two “sponsors”. We think that some casual readers of the Academy’s rules may fail to notice that there are several steps after that which are NOT waived, including approval by the appropriate branch’s executive committee and a vote of the full board of governors.

How do you gather your information?

We have found sources for our research almost everywhere you can imagine: books, newspapers, magazine articles, archival documents, interviews, press releases, celebrity bios, artists’ resumes, studio websites, obituaries, targeted internet searches, and social media. We were even able to confirm one name based on a game show! On an episode of the $25,000 Pyramid that runs frequently on the Game Show Network, Clifton Davis admitted to being a member and said that he’d recently voted for Cher in Moonstruck.

How certain are you of your results?

An important part of our process is that we try to cite our evidence for each member right on our website, so that interested readers don’t have to take our word for it. We let the public know everything that we know.

As explained on our methodology page, names in bold font are the ones for which we have the best evidence, while names in standard font and italic font have progressively weaker evidence.

Do you have a separate list organized by branch instead of alphabetically?

Unfortunately, I don’t. But many web browsers have a search feature that will allow you to search each page of the site. (It’s Control + F on my machine.)

When I started this project, branch classifications were one of the most difficult things to determine. Many news sources and biographies confirmed that someone was a member, but didn’t say which branch they were in. Sometimes the branch was pretty obvious, but often it required a bit of guesswork: Was this writer/director a member of the writers branch or directors branch? What about the studio executive who had worked their way up as a producer or public relations expert? The art director who did a significant amount of their work for an animation studio? The multi-hyphenate talent whose branch might vary widely depending on which decade they were first admitted? As a result, I decided that an alphabetical listing was the way to go.

As our research has progressed, branch information has become both more clear and more complicated. We have found documentation confirming the branches of many more members than we used to have, and have also become more adept at recognizing which job titles have historically been assigned to each branch. But we have also learned that the Academy’s history includes people changing branches much more often than we would have imagined when we began. Sometimes this is the result of large-scale changes to the Academy’s branch structure, but other times it merely reflects the career trajectory of the individual member.

Given all of this, I’ll probably stick with the alphabetical listing for the foreseeable future.

Do many people leave the Academy or turn down their invitations?

“Many” is probably overstating it, but there are definitely some. The reasons can vary widely: sometimes political, sometimes personal, sometimes just forgetting to pay their annual dues!

Learning that someone has left the Academy or turned down their invitation can be even harder to figure out than the fact of their initial membership was. In some cases we’ve found explicit statements by the artist or documentation showing that they resigned. But more often our evidence comes from comparing sources and realizing that someone no longer appears where we would expect them to. (This can get even more complicated if someone later reappears, since we don’t always know if it means that they left and were later reinstated, or if the original omission was actually an error.)

When we do find evidence of someone who appears to have left the Academy, we record that information in two places: on the Members page since they had been a member at one point (and might later be reinstated); and also on the Non-Members page, where it is easier to search for them. (They’re the names that are indented on the Non-Members page).

Why is your website called “Never Too Early Movie Predictions” and your online twitter name @NeverTooEarlyMP ?

This site used to focus on making Oscar predictions, and making them very far in advance. But people’s interests change over time, and I gradually found myself more drawn to researching the Academy members than to making predictions. I have considered changing the name or starting over at a new web address, but the existing name is attached to several different social media accounts and known to enough online friends that I am keeping it for now.

Have you gotten any feedback from the Academy or from any Academy members?

We have visited the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library to conduct research, and interacted with the very helpful and professional librarians there. We have also heard from several individual Oscar voters who have found our site over the years, and several have written to us to make sure their name was added or to make corrections to their screen credits. Being an Academy member really is an honor that they take seriously, and most want their membership to be known.

But we have not had any official communication with the Academy or any of the Governors.

It probably helps that we never publish personal contact information like addresses, phone numbers or emails. We stick to name, branch and a short list of their most prestigious credits or achievements. Our goal really is to both identify and celebrate their contributions.

Are you planning on turning this into a book?

Probably not.

Economic incentives seem to be one of the reasons that the list of Oscar voters has been kept secret for so long. Whether it is studios and publicists who want to gain an edge in their awards campaigns, or newspapers and journalists who want to cash in on a yearly scoop or exclusive, the pattern remains the same: They ultimately decide that it is more profitable to keep the list secret than to publicize it.

I’m worried that monetizing this project in any way -- even if it was just to recover the costs of publication -- would inevitably draw me into the same pattern. The only way to avoid that temptation is to keep the project as it is: on a free, publicly accessible website.

An added benefit of this approach is that a website can more easily be updated as the Academy evolves. Every year we have new invitations sent out, new deaths and resignations, new Oscar nominees and winners. And hopefully, new research that allows us to identify and confirm existing members that we didn’t know about before.

What is your position on the Academy’s latest controversy or political scandal?

Scandals are great for researchers!

Seriously. They bring journalistic sunlight to previously secret procedures and processes. They highlight aspects of the organization that can help us to refine our search. And they are often the impetus for Academy members to speak out and come public about their membership.

As people who read a lot about the Academy and the Oscars, we of course have opinions. And as a collection of researchers, we often have differing opinions, not only about the most recent headlines, but about decisions and actions from throughout the Academy’s history.

But our first instinct whenever news breaks is to put on our detective hats and pay attention. There’s real data being revealed alongside the opinions and outrage, and our job is to find it.

What are the biggest complaints you receive about your project?

Our site has grown to serve two related but slightly distinct functions: We are an ongoing research project that is still very much a work in progress. And we are also the largest (and as far as we know, only) source that the public has for learning the names of this many Academy members.

Most of the complaints that we receive are the result of these two goals coming into conflict. Researchers want evidence, sources, and citations. They want specifics about dates and credits. They caution us to be clear when we are making assumptions or pursuing hunches that have not been fully verified. They want us to highlight when sources give conflicting information. They want the details, which means that entries become longer and more complex.

More casual readers often want us to get rid of all that “extra stuff”. They would prefer a simpler, more user-friendly list that is free from all the links, fonts, disclaimers, and explanations. They may feel that we are overly cautious (or overly zealous) about the types of evidence that we require, or that our emphasis on documentation gives an impression of uncertainty that is artificial or unnecessary, particularly when applied to high-profile artists.

Because this project is run by volunteers, we’re caught between these extremes -- and all the possible points on the spectrum between them. We do our best to strike a balance between these perspectives, which is a fancy way of saying that both sides will sometimes be disappointed.

There is a name missing that I think should be on your list. How do I add it?

We encourage people to send suggestions, additions, confirmations and corrections via email to .

I try to reply to all emails and tweets within 24 hours. If it’s been longer than that and you haven’t heard anything from me, you might want to check in to see if I got your message.

Updates to the actual website sometimes happen the same day that new information comes in and sometimes take a few days longer, depending on a number of factors such as: how many total changes there are to make (from you and from others); which Academy events we are currently tracking (the speed of social media means that it is often better for us to focus our energy on information gathering during big events); how close we are to a regularly scheduled full site update (usually at the beginning/end of the month); and, most importantly, what the schedule for my day job looks like (remember: we are all volunteers!).

How can I be part of this project?

We’d love to have you be part of the project. The more researchers, the merrier! Check out our Join The Search and Special Projects pages for ideas, and don’t forget to sign up for our monthly Newsletter as well.

Return to Home/Index Page.

No comments:

Post a Comment