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banner Sunday, 24 March, 2002, 11:56 GMT
Diary: Swinging the Oscars vote
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The countdown to the Oscars goes on
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By BBC News Online's
Darren Waters

Spare a thought for the 5,739 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

It might seem an enviable task to help decide where the Oscars go each year, but for the conscientious members it is an increasingly Herculean endeavour.

Many members attempt to see all the shortlisted films before casting their vote, and to aid them DVDs and videos are sent to their homes by the dozen.

Add to this the accompanying soundtracks and even screenplays, plus the propaganda-style advertising campaigns waged by the studios, and overload is not far off.

Oscars preparations
Over 5,000 members are eligible to vote
The range of categories, often outside the expertise of the member, makes the awards a lottery for the film studios.

Can a cinematographer really be expected to vote on special effects, costume and make-up?

Unsurprisingly, many of the Oscar ballots often are returned with only a few of the categories voted upon, which is perfectly permissible.

To compensate new academy members are sent a pamphlet upon joining, which includes hints and tips on judging different categories.

The film studios themselves are also very happy to oblige with some gentle "help", although interfering with the voting process is strictly forbidden by the academy.

A film's director and/or star has been known to attend private screenings of movies and studio parties for academy members and are only to happy to help with any questions.

Oscars preparations
Over 5,000 members are eligible to vote
The Los Angeles Times reports that stars have been known to visit the Motion Picture and Television Fund's retirement home, although the academy is adamant that the home accounts for just two votes.

Despite all this, the Oscars rarely surprise greatly.

Gossip, word of mouth, conservativism and consensus are the by-words of the academy.

Don't expect the unexpected on Oscar night.

Rugby plans

On a different subject, the thing about Los Angeles is that you never know who you might meet.

Of course, the stars are locked away in their homes in the Hollywood hills and the wannabes are the ones waiting on tables and serving drinks.

But every now and then you can bump into a Hollywood power broker.

David Jones, brother of Catherine Zeta Jones, was among the Welsh expatriates on Saturday gathered for the England v Wales rugby match at a bar in Santa Monica.

He runs Milkwood Films, the production company set up by his glamorous sister.

He is working with Sara Sugarman, director of Mad Cows and Very Annie Mary, on a new film due to be shot in Wales later this year.

"We've just secured the finance for the film," said Sugarman, who was also among the Welsh abroad.

"It is about rugby and we start filming in the summer."

Sara Sugarman
Sara Sugarman: Part of the Welsh contingent
Casting has been organised but Sugarman was under strict instructions not to give away any names as yet.

The finance of the film is American, while the producer and director are British - a not unusual arrangement within the industry and a reflection of the fact the two countries work very closely together.

That relationship is reflected in the nominations for this year's Oscars - British stars have a strong chance in many of the acting categories.

"It is great the Americans respond to the performances and to the films we make," said Sugarman.

"Long may it continue because we can't survive without that recognition."

The Oscars ceremony is broadcast live on BBC Two on Monday from 0045-0500 GMT and reported live on BBC News Online.

See also:

23 Mar 02 | Oscars 2002
Diary: Awards excitement mounts
Links to more Oscars 2002 stories are at the foot of the page.

Links to more Oscars 2002 stories