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Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who are eligible to vote for the Oscars and want to be able to continue to do so will have to pony up an extra $100 per year, the Academy informed them in an email Oct. 15 — and, not surprisingly, some of the organization’s nearly 9,000 members are not happy about it.
By raising membership dues from $350 to $450 per year — the first increase since 2015 — the Academy will generate an additional $800,000 in annual revenue. Members were told this was needed to pay for “increased member events, screenings and branch gatherings in the Bay Area, New York and Europe” and “to ensure that high-quality programming is available both locally and to the many areas that now count themselves as part of the Academy.” But some members feel it is simply a ruse to help pay for the over-budget and running-late Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
“It’s not about the money,” says a disgruntled new member of the public relations branch. “It’s about why. I think they’re doing it to get more money for their museum. They should just be transparent.” The member, who said she was surprised to be hit up for a contribution to the museum on the way out of a recent Academy gathering for new members, feels that the opportunities offered to members do not merit such high dues. “You’re paying $450 to get to go to screenings and get screeners,” she said. “And then, if you somehow win the lottery to get into the Governors Awards, that’s another $500 a ticket — that’s piggish. And very few members get in because the studios buy up all the tables for something like $60,000 a table.”
Another new member of the public relations branch feels differently. “They don’t tell you what the dues are until you’re accepted,” he said, “but to be honest, $450 a year is not very different from what I expected them to be. BAFTA is around $200 a year, and only certain BAFTA members get screeners; you basically just get a chance to go to screenings, and they can’t accommodate nearly as many members at them as the Academy can. Plus, for the amount of money that you pay for Academy membership, there are actually a lot of perks — you can bring guests, you get screeners, you get to go to special screenings of old films, there are special events. You do get a lot out of it.”
Membership dues only account for a relatively small portion of the Academy’s overall revenue — just $2.3 million, or 1.5 percent, of 2017’s revenues of $147.6 million; $122.9 million, or more than 83 percent of the Academy’s 2017 income, came from Oscars-related activities, primarily the Academy’s deal with ABC through which the alphabet network secures the ceremony’s television broadcasting rights.
Some members tell THR that the Academy shouldn’t need to raise dues at all in light of the fact that the organization invited an unprecedented 2,385 people to join its membership over the last three years as part of a diversity push, which means a lot more money is already coming in the door than did just a few years ago. And besides, some said, the surge in new members is already resulting in overflow crowds at high-profile screenings at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills — some members were recently turned away from both A Star Is Born and First Man.
The Academy counters that dues need to be raised in order to provide programming and services to a larger organization that now has members in more than 60 countries.
The 29 percent price hike may be felt most by older members, several longtime members of varying ages suggested. “It seems to me like a way to move the older, less affluent voters out of the game,” says a producers branch member. Adds another member of the PR branch, “Not every member is a Murdoch.” And a sound branch member points out, “It’s the older members that participate in things like judging the Nicholl Scholarships and foreign films, which require tens of hours. I would like to see how many new members take part in those areas or do anything other than further clog up the Oscars ticket lottery. I now have a better chance of getting killed by a terrorist than getting Oscar tickets.”
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