Pete Hammond

UPDATE, 4:20 PM: The Academy has sent out its official release that voting for Oscar nominations for its 5,856 voting members opens at 8 AM PT on Monday and closes at 5 PM PT on January 3. The full announcement is posted below.

PREVIOUS EXCLUSIVE, 11:43 AM: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences announced this morning that 282 films have qualified for the Best Picture Oscar. But the more interesting story is how their members are going to be able to vote for them as the Academy ushers in a new era. With voting beginning Monday and running through January 3rd for the 2012 Oscars — via online (a first for the Academy) or the old-fashioned traditional paper ballot used for the past 84 years — the deadline for registering for one of those paper ballots is today. Online ballot registration continues through January 2nd. The Academy extended the one-time registration period for requesting a paper ballot for two weeks from the original November 30th cutoff after my Deadline column ran on November 28th explaining members would be out of luck if they didn’t pay their dues and apply by the 30th. At the time, I explained it was like a Presidential election where you must register to vote by a certain date. An Academy executive told me they received numerous calls of concern about how it was going to work. But this week, I started hearing from informed sources that the Academy has come up with a solution to satisfy everybody.

Now, virtually on the eve of its first major foray into the world of electronic voting, the Academy has confirmed to me there is even more of an effort being made to make sure that no member who has paid their dues will be disenfranchised. Firmly answering those concerned members, the Academy is going the extra step of automatically sending a paper ballot to every dues-paid voting member who did not, for whatever reason, register to choose either online or paper ballot options by today’s deadline. In other words — have no fear. As long as your dues are paid up, one way or another next week you will be getting a ballot even if you did nothing. Whew.

Originally it was speculated that many less tech-savvy older members might have trouble figuring out the codes and passwords needed to vote online and would be the most likely to request a paper ballot. But  an Academy executive told me that surprisingly it was “A-listers” and some top studio people who made the most noise about meeting the deadline and ensuring that every potential voter knows they have to register to vote — online or paper — and has the proper time to do it.

A perfect example of this was borne out again this week when I talked to one studio head and another prominent Academy Board member (both with films in the race). Both were still expressing concern that some members were unaware that, providing they had paid their dues, they just aren’t going to automatically receive a ballot in the mail as they have every past year. The studio topper was vehement about making a ballot available to any voter who needs one until the very last minute on January 3rd. In the November 29th press release the Academy issued announcing the two-week extension, it said “the majority of Academy members have already registered to vote online”, but I continue to find some prominent members who still don’t seem to know about it despite the Academy’s multiple and repeated efforts to fully inform membership of the process.

During a Monday luncheon, I asked one high-profile member who has even produced an Oscar telecast if he had registered. It was the first he knew about it and asked me if one does it by going to the Academy’s website. I explained the Academy sent letters with detailed security information and he immediately took out his iPhone and emailed his assistant: Apparently it hadn’t registered with him at least that you had to register. As the voting nears, I am also told the Academy is involved in intensive talks with PricewaterhouseCoopers, its longtime accountants, about making sure all goes well on their end when the counting begins. With every new innovation in a long-standing institution there are bumps along the way, but the Academy appears eager to smooth them out before, rather than after, the voting gets underway.

In relation to that, the schedule for choosing nominees for Best Foreign Language Film had to be tweaked, committee co-chair Ron Yerxa told me, as he discovered some members of his Executive Committee would not be back from their holiday break in time. They were to meet right after New Year’s in order to choose their three picks — or “saves” — that will be added to the main committee’s six top-scoring films and then shown to another group of specially selected members who will view all nine finalists the weekend of January 4th to select the five final nominees. So that meeting has been moved to December 20 — just three days after the last of the 71 entries (Kenya’s Nairobi Half Life) screens on Monday night. The nine finalists will be announced December 21.

Yerxa told me fortunately the committee found out in time to make the change, but it is part of the toll of juggling schedules to make the new earlier Oscar nomination deadline (nominees will be announced January 10th). As it is, the schedule for showing all 71 entries (the largest number ever) was compressed from the usual three months to two. Yerxa and co-chair Bruce Davis told me for the last two weeks of the grueling process they had the committee — or at least those still toughing it out — screening virtually every day in order to get it all done in time.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – Nominations voting for the 85th Academy Awards® will open at 8 a.m. PT, Monday, December 17, for the 5,856 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Members will have until 5 p.m. PT, Thursday, January 3, 2013, to vote electronically or mail in a paper ballot. Any paper ballots received after the deadline will not be counted.

Nominations and final Awards ballots will be tabulated and verified by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to ensure that all aspects of the balloting process are accurate and secure.

This will be the first year the Academy is providing its membership the opportunity to vote electronically. Several voting resources will be available to members, including assisted voting stations in Los Angeles, New York and London, and a 24-hour support call center during voting periods.

The 85th Academy Awards nominations will be announced live on Thursday, January 10, 2013, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2012 will be presented on Oscar Sunday, February 24, 2013, at the Dolby Theatre™ at Hollywood & Highland Center®, and televised live on the ABC Television Network. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries worldwide.

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