Question: I recently learned that the total number of voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is only some 6,000. Considering the thousands of working actors, producers, directors and other industry people, I was surprised it was so small. What do you have to do to become a member of such an exclusive insider's club? — NTT

Flickchick: The Academy is sort of like a country club ? you have to be invited to join. It was the brainchild of legendary MGM head Louis B. Mayer, who in 1926 ? a year marred (from a studio boss's perspective) by contentious union negotiations ? conceived of an industry organization that would mediate labor disputes. But it quickly evolved into something more ambitious and less single-mindedly union-busting in orientation. The organization was formed in May 1927 with a mandate to "advance the arts and sciences of motion pictures; foster cooperation among creative leaders for cultural, educational and technological progress; recognize outstanding achievements; cooperate on technical research and improvement of methods and equipment; provide a common forum and meeting ground for various branches and crafts; represent the viewpoint of actual creators of the motion picture; and foster educational activities between the professional community and the public-at-large." The founding members leaned heavily towards producers, but included actress-turned-screenwriter Jeanie Macpherson; actors Douglas Fairbanks and Harold Lloyd; directors Frank Woods, Raoul Walsh and Frank Lloyd; and art director Benjamin Carré.

There are now 13 branches of the Academy ? actors, directors, screenwriters, producers, cinematographers, film editors, art directors, musicians, short films and feature animation, sound technicians, visual effects artists, executives and publicists ? and candidates must first be sponsored by at least two members of the appropriate branch and then endorsed by that branch's executive committee. The candidate's name is then submitted to the Academy's Board of Governors (which currently has 39 members, including actors Kathy Bates, Ed Begley Jr. and Gregory Peck; directors John Frankenheimer, Michael Mann and Robert Wise; editor Dede Allen and cinematographer Conrad Hall) for approval. Only after the candidate is approved does he or she receive an invitation to join the Academy. Membership is supposed to be limited to individuals who have achieved distinction in the arts and sciences of motion pictures. Some of the criteria for admittance are: "film credits of a caliber which reflect the high standards of the Academy [!], receipt of an Academy Award nomination, achievement of unique distinction, earning of special merit, or making of an outstanding contribution to film."