Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (abbreviated as the AMPAS, or ‘the Academy’) was formed on May 11th 1927 in Los Angeles, with the express aim of ‘advancing the arts and sciences of motion pictures’. The organization was the brainchild of the legendary Russian-American film producer and studio mogul Louis B. Mayer, then head of the famous Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film studio, and was formed with the intention of providing a positive public image for the industry, as well as to help mediate in disputes between those working in the movie business. The Academy plans to open the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles in 2019.

The Academy’s roots can be traced back to a meeting at the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel on January 11th 1927, during which Louis B. Mayer proposed the idea of an ‘International Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ to a roomful of top film-industry executives. Less than four months later, the Academy with born (though without its ‘International’ prefix) – and incorporation documents were filed on May 4th 1927, with each of the executives present at the initial meeting becoming founding members and investors. These 36 founding members included representatives from various aspects of the filmmaking world – and included actors Douglas Fairbanks and Harold Lloyd, directors Cecil B. DeMille and Frank Lloyd, and producers Sid Grauman and Harry Warner (alongside Mayer himself).

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is known globally for its annual Academy Awards (better known as the Oscars), held in February or March of each year. The Academy Awards are intended to promote and to recognize excellence in the preceding year’s American film industry, with assessment performed by the Academy’s secretive voting membership, which is thought to be made up of around 6000 members – with each member’s inclusion judged on their own significant contributions to the art of film-making. The Academy Awards are presented in different categories representing the various aspects of the art of motion picture production, with awards for actors being Best Actor/Actress in a Leading Role and Best actor/Actress in a Supporting Role. Behind-the-scenes awards at the Academy Awards are numerous, and include: Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, and Best Production Design. Awards for writing include Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay. Other awards include Best Sound Editing, Best Original Song, and Best Foreign Language Film. There is technically a Best Original Musical category, however since there is continually a lack of eligible nominees, the award has not been given since 1984 (when it was given to the Prince biopic Purple Rain). In addition to these current categories there have been, in the 91-year history of the Academy Awards, a number of now-discontinued categories – such as Best Assistant Director, Best Dance Direction and Best Engineering Effects.

The Academy is situated today in three separate buildings in Los Angeles: the Academy Headquarters, a specially-constructed building in the Beverly Hills area; the Pickford Centre for Motion Picture Study, situated in central Hollywood; and the Fairbanks Centre for Motion Picture Study, which can be found on La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills. The Academy Headquarters was once home to two free-to-access galleries, which have now been closed in anticipation of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures – which is due to open in 2019. The Samuel Goldwyn Theater is also located at the Academy Headquarters, a 1,012-capacity building designed for screening films at optimum technical efficiency with cutting-edge sound and visual equipment for Academy members. The building was once the location of the Academy Little Theater, but this miniaturized screening facility has since been converted into office space. The Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study was named in honor of the actress Mary Pickford, and has the distinguishing feature of being the oldest structure specifically designed for television to survive in the Hollywood area. The Pickford Center is home to numerous administrative departments of the Academy, such as the Science and Technology Council, Student Academy Awards and Grants, and the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. The building also houses the Academy Film Archive, which was created in 1944 with the purpose of preserving the history of motion pictures in America, as well as to organize the educational activities of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Film Archive consists of an extensive collection designed to safeguard important and noteworthy films, and can be accessed by researchers on an appointment basis. The Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study is the location of the Margaret Herrick Library (named after the Academy’s first ever librarian). Created in 1928, the library is a repository of historically-significant graphic items pertaining to motion pictures, and houses in excess of 1,000 original movie scripts, official production records and other correspondence between motion-picture professionals and organizations – much of it relating to the Academy Awards specifically. The Academy also had a headquarters in New York City, located at East 59th Street – but moved out of this 220-seat capacity theater venue when the building was sold by Lighthouse International, a charity for the visually impaired. As of 2018, the Academy has plans to open a new Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. The museum is currently being built, and will feature 290,000 square feet of galleries, exhibitions and events – drawing from an ‘unparalleled collection… which includes more than 12 million photographs, 190,000 film and video assets, 80,000 screenplays, 61,000 posters, 20,000 production and costume design drawings, and 104,000 pieces of production art’ (according to the official Academy website).

Today the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is made up of a board of governors which issues invites to industry professionals to become one of its members. Membership is divided into 17 distinct groups – each dealing with a certain aspect or discipline relating to the production of motion pictures, and members are not permitted to belong to more than one of these groups. Members whose work does not fall under any of the defined categories are termed ‘Members at Large’ – and they have all rights and privileges of branch membership except being represented on the board. Recent Academy policy has seen a shift in policy relating to ethnic background, age and gender, as the Academy seeks to move with the times. A Los Angeles Times study of an Academy membership sample in 2012 found that an overwhelming 94% were white, 76% were male, and 86% aged over 50. As of 2016, a concerted effort has been made to make the Academy more inclusive and representative – partly due to a campaign led by activist April Reign, with her Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. The Academy has increased membership of women and people of color, and has stated it is committed to doubling the number of both groups in its membership by the year 2020.

Source: “Academy Story“. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

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