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This is why the Academy Awards are called the Oscars

All your questions about the Oscars, answered!

By Chloe Lal

The Academy Awards honour the best achievements in cinema from the previous year. The formal awards ceremony is one of the most celebrated events in Hollywood's calendar - but how much do you actually know about them, and why are they often referred to as 'The Oscars'?

Here, we answer all your Oscars questions.

Why are the Academy Awards called the Oscars?

There is a great deal of urban legend surrounding how the Academy Awards got the nickname "Oscar".

If you listen to screen siren and one-time Academy president Bette Davis, apparently in one of her biographies she dubbed the ceremony "Oscar" after her first husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson.

Another theory is that in 1931, the Academy's Executive Secretary Margaret Herrick saw the statue and it reminded her of her "Uncle Oscar".

Columnist Sidney Skolsky backed up Margaret's story, claiming he was there when it happened, writing, "Employees have affectionately dubbed their famous statuette 'Oscar'."

Oscar queen Bette Davis, pictured in 1939.
Oscar queen Bette Davis, pictured in 1939.

The name certainly stuck!

One year later, in 1932, Walt Disney won his very first award for Best Short Subject, and it is believed he thanked the Academy for his "Oscar".

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences officially gave the trophy its "Oscar" title in 1939.

What are the Academy Awards?

It's a celebration of the arts.
It's a celebration of the arts.

Their official website states: "The Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, are a set of 24 awards for artistic and technical merit in the American film industry, given annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), to recognise excellence in cinematic achievements as assessed by the Academy's voting membership."

When was the first ceremony held?

The first Academy Awards Ceremony was held on May 16, 1929.

It was a small dinner function at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel with about 270 people guests.

There were 15 awards, focusing on the 1927–28 period, celebrating the best contributions from the film-making industry.

The ceremony ran for a mere 15 minutes - how the times have changed!

The Oscar statuette

It's a stunner, and Meryl Streep has bagged three of them!
It's a stunner, and Meryl Streep has bagged three of them!

While its nickname is "Oscar", the trophy's official title is the Academy Award of Merit.

It is 13.5 inches (approx 34.3cm) and weighs 8.5 pounds (around 3.9kg).

The Academy's website shares that Cedric Gibbons designed the iconic gold figurine and it was inspired by a "knight holding a crusader's sword standing on a reel of film with five spokes signifying the five original branches of the Academy (actors, directors, producers, technicians and writers)."

Cedric didn't use a model during the design process.

The statuettes (which take three months to create 50) are made out of solid bronze and plated in 24-karat gold.

A true work of art: It takes three months to create 50 statuettes.
A true work of art: It takes three months to create 50 statuettes.

Despite it being expensive to make, an Oscar technically costs $1.

When winners receive their accolade, they need to sign a contract which says should they sell their statuettes, they must first offer it to the Academy for $1.

The rule was created in 1950 - meaning any award from before that time period is free game!

Steven Spielberg famously bought Bette Davis' Oscar for $578,000 (approx $AUD729,200) in 2001 before donating it back to the Academy, while in 1999, Michael Jackson paid over a million US dollars for David Selznick's gong.

In 1929, Emil Jannings was the very first person to receive an Oscar. It was for his roles in the movies The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh.

When do Oscar nominations get announced?

For the past 13 years, nominees are revealed to the public in late January, early February.

How does Oscar voting work?

There is a lot of thought that goes into Oscar votes.

Here is a water-downed guide to the process:

1. You need to be a member of the Academy to vote.
There are about 6000 members - and each individual is a part of a branch.

There's a director's branch, actor's branch, producer's branch etc. You can only be a member of one branch (even if you have multiple skills).

The Academy say that in order to be a member you need to have "achieved distinction in the motion picture arts and sciences."

There are other ways to become a member - usually if you're HIGHLY connected.

2. Your film needs to be eligible
The Academy believes not all films are equal. Your movie needs to be registered in the Official Screen Credits in early December and they determine if your movie is adequate.

There is a long list your movie needs to comply to including needing to have been played at a commercial theatre for seven days straight, have a premiere at a movie theatre and your film needs to be over 40 minutes.

3. Finally, time to vote!
This part is rather easy. All branches vote in their category and are asked to give their top five choices in order of preference.

Apparently they're asked to "follow their hearts!"

Everyone is allowed to cast a vote for best picture.

4. The accountants need to figure out who becomes a nominee
This is exceptionally tedious, with People explaining it's about finding the "magic number":

"The magic number is calculated by taking the total number of ballots received for that category and dividing them by the number of possible nominees plus one, and then rounding it up to the nearest whole number."

5. Count, count, count: Part 1
If a prospective nominee hits the magic number, including one first choice nominations, then they're in the ballot.

6. Step 5 is repeated again, and again.
Basically, you can never count enough.

Repeating this step also helps dwindle down the options so that you have your official set of nominees.

7.Time to tally up everyone's votes
Two partners of PricewaterhouseCoopers count the entire Academy votes for each category.

The person with the most votes wins.

It usually takes them just three days to figure out the results.

If you want to know more about the voting, you can head to the Academy's official website.

It's the special guys that do a whole lotta counting but after last year's disastrous Best Picture gaffe, this year's event will employ an even stricter system.
It's the special guys that do a whole lotta counting but after last year's disastrous Best Picture gaffe, this year's event will employ an even stricter system.

5 Oscar facts that will make you the dream dinner party guest

1. Not all sequels are bad
The Godfather: Part II is the only sequel to ever win the Best Picture category, back in 1975. Robert de Niro also bagged a Best Supporting Actor gong for his role!

2.They no longer say "And the winner is …"
It's a popular phrase no doubt, but it was kicked out from 1989 at the 61st Academy Awards. Taking its place is, "And the Oscar goes to …" Apparently it was changed so that it the vibe reflected the attitude that it isn't about winning, and there aren't any losers.

3. Oscars by the numbers
Walt Disney has won the most Oscars than any other person: 22 for his films and four honorary awards
Katharine Hepburn has the most awards than any other actor/actress: four
Meryl Streep has been nominated the most out of any actor/actress: 17 nominations, three wins.

4. The naughty winner
In 1969, Midnight Cowboy became the first and only X-Rated film to take home the Best Picture accolade.

5. The Oscars once had a streaker
A true story! In 1974, Robert Opel flashed himself and the peace sign as he ran across the stage naked.

David Niven was sharing the platform with him, set to announce Best Picture. Showing off his wit, David said the audience, "The only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping... and showing his shortcomings."