Why Academy membership is elusive

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Taylor Lautner isn't a member of the Academy.

Nor is Woody Allen. Nor is George Lucas.

But Rupert Murdoch is. And so are Pedro Almodovar and Sacha Baron Cohen.

Wade through a list of the Academy's 5,777 voting members (or at least try, since the Academy pretty much keeps it under lock and key) and you'd be surprised who's part of the club and who isn't.

Hollywood bad boys like screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, uber-agent Michael Ovitz and actor Christian Bale are all there. And so are obvious figures like Jack Nicholson, Kathy Bates and Tom Hanks.

But some of Hollywood's best-known names haven't made the list, ranging from NBC Universal's Jeff Zucker to Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson -- who might seem an unlikely candidate with movies like "The Tooth Fairy," but who is, after all, a boxoffice favorite.

Joining the Academy is a rare privilege that's accorded to roughly 100-plus new members per year. Members range from 15-year-old actress Dakota Fanning to 81-year-old composer Burt Bacharach, from German filmmaker Wim Wenders to Hollywood starlet Jennifer Aniston.

Invitations to join the Academy usually go out annually in late June, following a lengthy process that starts when two members "sponsor" a person and ends when the board of governors extends the invite.
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After submitting reference letters and examples of their work, prospective members are reviewed by the executive committee of the branch to which they are applying. Those approved are passed on to the general membership committee and finally to the board.

Oscar nominees in any given year are thrown into the mix of candidates, but that doesn't mean they make the cut. Quality of work is one thing, but the Academy also likes its members to have a body of work behind them.

Among recent Oscar nominees, Anne Hathaway ("Rachel Getting Married") and Viola Davis ("Doubt") received invites -- but Ellen Page, nominated for "Juno," didn't.

Similarly, after getting nominations for 2006's "Brokeback Mountain," actors Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal were invited -- but not their fellow nominee and co-star Michelle Williams. (Williams did get asked to join this past June.)

As to newcomers like "Twilight's" Robert Pattinson or "Suberbad's" Jonah Hill, they've yet to be invited -- though the wait might be briefer than it was in the past, given that the Academy has been making a concerted push to bring younger members into the fold.

For the youngsters, getting an Oscar nomination may actually be easier than becoming an Academy member.

"It's not uncommon for people with very few credits to receive a nomination," says the Academy's director of membership, Kimberly Roush, "whereas some people with many, many credits don't get an Academy Award nomination. The committees are looking at the bigger picture."

But perhaps not the entire picture: The Academy looks at the professional side but is quiet about people's private lives. Hence the membership roster includes a number of jailbirds, like "Pulp Fiction" writer Roger Avary and Canadian entrepreneur Garth Drabinsky, and former jailbird Roman Polanski.

"We don't have a felony clause," Roush quips.
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