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Monday, January 21, 2008

Study Reveals Strongest Predictors for Oscar Nominations

If you're an actor angling for an Academy Award nomination on Tuesday, you better hope you didn't leave the audience rolling in the aisles, suggests a new study from UCLA's California Center for Population Research.

"The odds of being nominated for an Academy Award are so much greater for performers who appear in dramas that — at least this time of year — it really pays to be a drama queen," says Gabriel Rossman, one of the study's two authors and an assistant professor of sociology at UCLA.

Albeit to a lesser degree, it also helps to have a major film distributor, prior Oscar nominations, a high spot in the pecking order in past movie credits, fewer films competing for attention and good collaborators. And it doesn't hurt to be a woman.

"A performer's odds of being nominated are largely set before the cameras even start rolling, back when the script was bought, the director was signed and the film was cast," says Nicole Esparza, the study's lead author and a Robert Wood Johnson Scholar in Health Policy Research at Harvard University. "It's surprising how many variables other than a performer's talent play a role in determining who gets nominated."

The 80th Academy Awards nominations are scheduled to be announced at 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

Using Internet Movie Database (IMDb) records for every Oscar-eligible film made between the founding of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in 1927 and 2005, Esparza and Rossman looked for conditions that improved the odds of a performer getting the nod.

The researchers looked at number of Oscar-eligible films in any given year, the distributors and studios behind each performer's films, the film's tone or subject matter, the cast size, the sex of the performer, the performer's contacts within the industry, and past Oscar nominations among a film's cast, directors and writers.

The single greatest predictor of a nomination proved to be serious subject matter — or at least a film that was classified by IMDb as a drama, despite the possible presence of comedic elements. In examining IMDb records on 171,539 performances by 39,518 actors in 19,351 Oscar-eligible films, the researchers found that actors were nine times more likely to receive a nomination for their work in a drama than in a non-drama.

"In the entertainment industry, there's long been a sense that the nomination process prefers dramas, but I don't think anybody is aware of the magnitude of the effect," Rossman says.

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