Although the writers strike has created a swirl of uncertainty, Hollywood's awards season will be business as usual on Wednesday, when the academy mails Oscar nomination ballots to its 5,829 voting members.
And strike or not, nobody will be more excited about helping bestow one of the world's most prestigious honors than Brett Morgen and the 114 other new academy members who are casting Oscar ballots for the very first time this year.
"It's great to be part of a democratic process where your vote actually matters," said the documentarian, who was up for an Oscar in 1999 and was invited to join the academy this year. "In a way, this is more exciting than getting nominated."
For weeks now, even as the Writers Guild of America strike started shutting down Hollywood, studios have been busy touting their Oscar contenders placing "For Your Consideration" ads and sending promotional DVDs to academy voters, including new member Bryan Hirota.
"I'm getting all the screeners in the mail, which is pretty great," said the visual effects artist. "The academy is like a really good Netflix program."
Despite the strike, Hirota insists he's "still just as excited about voting," which he characterized as a responsibility and a privilege.
This year's new members toasted their induction into the film industry's most elite organization at a private reception held at the academy's Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills that is typically closed to the media. Inductees sipped cocktails and nibbled on finger food as they mingled with fellow freshmen. Joining the academy is "an honor beyond measure," said Lisa Beach, as she flung herself on the floor to illustrate her overwhelming joy.
"It was like getting into college. This was that day 35 years later. I just cried my head off," said the casting director, whose credits include
Walk the Line
"I might take it more seriously than I take my presidential vote. I'm going to watch every one of the movies."
Alex Rodriguez added to the event's international flavor, traveling from his native Mexico to attend the soiree.
"It's very weird to become a member of the emblem of cinema," said the soft-spoken film editor, whose credits include
Children of Men.
""It's strange to judge other people's work. It's a responsibility _ a good responsibility."
And with it came some freshman jitters, too.
"Who am I to judge makeup? Costumes?" said Eric Swenson, a visual-effects artist for 23 years. "I know what I like, but is that enough?"
Gustavo Santaolalla, who won back-to-back Oscars for composing the scores for
, also said he was nervous about voting.
"I hope I can make sense of it," he said. "It's such an honor to vote. It's as unbelievable to me as having two Oscars at home." Academy president Sid Ganis tried to quell the newcomers' nerves. "The academy doesn't know who votes and who doesn't," he said in a brief speech to new members. "Vote on what you know about, what you know in your heart is the best of the work, and you'll be doing your service to the academy and to the world, really." So how does one get into the august Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences?
By invitation only. And winning an Oscar doesn't guarantee admission. Member nominees must be confirmed by the academy's Board of Governors, representing all of its 15 craft branches, before they are officially invited to join.
Membership is lifelong but not without its deadlines. This year's Oscar nomination ballots must be returned by January 12, with the nominations to be announced on January 22. Final ballots go out on Jan. 30 and are due back by February 19, less than a week before the February 24 Academy Awards ceremony.
It remains unclear whether a writing staff or even celebrities will grace a potentially picketed Kodak Theatre if the writers strike stretches to the big night. What is certain, however, is there will still be a couple dozen Oscars to hand out thanks, in part, to a labor of love by some very proud first-time voters.