On the inside track to the Oscars with a voter



There are about 6,000 members in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. All are sworn to secrecy about voting choices for tonight's Oscars presentation.

To be sure, the occasional anonymous rogue will spill the beans to The Daily Beast or Entertainment Weekly. But whether it's mailing in that paper ballot or clicking away at the online version -- this is the second year the academy has used a secure website -- the voting process is a fairly personal one.

Longtime academy member Jan Pascale said she wouldn't dream of breaking the rules. Ms. Pascale is a set designer who grew up in Beechview, Squirrel Hill and Bloomfield. She got her start working on George Romero and Stephen King's quirky 1981 comic book adaptation, "Creepshow," and did a stint on "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

She is a first-time member of the Board of Governors, an elected position within each of the Academy's 16 branches that includes actors, directors, public relations experts, editors, costume designers and animation.

86th Academy Awards
When: 8:30 tonight.
Where: Dolby Theatre, Hollywood.
TV: WTAE.

The governors vote on whom to admit to academy membership.

"I will be at the Oscars [tonight], and I'm very excited," said Ms. Pascale, a 2006 nominee for "Good Night, and Good Luck." She also worked on 2013 best picture winner "Argo."

"It's one of the perks of governorship. We went to the Science and Tech Oscars [Feb. 15] and we went to the [Feb. 10] nominees luncheon. We [governors] host a table; it's a great way to meet the people who are nominated and help them celebrate."

Four-time winner and Aliquippa native Joe Letteri will be at the Dolby Theatre tonight, having been nominated for creating the visual effects for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug."

"I'm actually taking my mom, brother and sister to the Oscars this year. You might even spot my mom, Gilda, on the red carpet," said Mr. Letteri, who is senior visual effects supervisor and studio director at New Zealand-based Weta Digital.

"I think the first nomination will always be the most memorable, but getting nominated never loses its excitement."

So, who is permitted to vote in the race to win Academy Awards? Academy members, and not everyone in the movie business is one. Invitations are extended to perhaps 130 people each year, and others are chosen after being sponsored by current members.

According to the official academy website (www.Oscars.org), film artists and craftspeople working "in one or more of the art form's key creative areas" must display "an unusually high level of quality and distinction."

Nominees are automatically up for consideration. Everyone else had better have the credentials, which vary. Writers, producers or directors are expected to have at least two high-profile film credits. Actors should have scripted roles in at least three major films.

For those hoping to be invited in the technical branches, longevity also helps.

As for the Academy Awards themselves, nominations are made within each branch -- writers nominate writers, etc. -- and everyone can suggest a best picture. DVD screeners are sent out from the studios, free admission to theaters and special screenings are set up, which makes viewing easier.

The ballots go out in December and the nominees are announced in January. From there, all members regardless of branch can vote for their favorites in all categories.

Despite lore of movie stars handing off the voting duties to their personal assistants, Ms. Pascale said the job is taken quite seriously these days.

"Everyone tries so hard to be very diligent, and usually my friends see very little of me over the Christmas holidays because sometimes I watch movies from morning till night."

She take notes on what she likes (or doesn't like) and even makes up a computer spreadsheet.

It has been a busy 18 months for Ms. Pascale, who worked the past two weeks on a pilot in Los Angeles after finishing "Anchorman 2" and "The Internship," both shot in Atlanta. She's also the set decorator for "Horrible Bosses 2," which recently began filming in Burbank, Calif.

For almost 25 years, she has hosted an Oscars viewing party with friends. With the exception of 2006, when Ms. Pascale left at the beginning of the party to walk the red carpet, it's a mainstay.

But with her serving as a governor -- it's a three-year term -- this time, the party is in jeopardy. Ms. Pascale said she hasn't really had time to worry about that. Her first Oscars dress option fell through. So, she was going to go with a Plan B outfit.

She said she expects this time to be more fun: "You don't have the added nerves of 'Will our film win?' I have no dogs in the race, as they say."

As for even a general guess for the best picture winner? She isn't saying.

"I'm terrible at predicting."


Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.

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