The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) also referred as the Motion Picture Academy and the Academy, headquartered at Beverly Hills, California, US, is an international professional honorary organization purpose of which includes recognizing and supporting excellence in the motion picture arts and sciences. A brainchild of Louis B. Mayer, head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), AMPAS is today best known worldwide for presentation of its annual Academy Awards, popularly known as The Oscars, that is considered one of the world’s most prestigious and significant awards given to recognize and celebrate artistic and technical excellence and achievements in the American and international film industry, and viewed by millions. Other activities of the organization that is dedicated to the advancement of the arts and sciences of motion picture and broadening its educational and cultural outreach, includes championing research and education for advancing motion picture technology; collecting, preserving and restoring diverse items related with motion pictures that are of historical, cultural, technological and aesthetic significance; encouraging motion picture study programs; and promoting unity among different branches of the film industry.
Louis B. Mayer, a noted film producer and co-founder and head of MGM, came up with the idea of launching an organization that would handle and mediate labor issues without unions; unite the five branches of film industry namely actors, writers, producers, directors and technicians; and create a better image of motion picture industry. He discussed this idea with film actor, director and producer Fred Niblo, film, television, stage and radio actor Conrad Nagel, and head of the Association of Motion Picture Producers Fred Beetson. Initially there was no discussion made on any awards presentation however the four conferred about organizing an annual banquet. It was decided that those involved in one of these five branches will be eligible to become members of the organization.
On January 11, 1927, Mayer invited 35 people from the film industry including Nagel, Niblo and Beetson at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles to join him in a formal banquet. There he presented to them the notion of developing a new organization for benefit of the film industry calling it the International Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Mayer along with all the invitees of that day including prominent personalities like Mary Pickford, Irving Thalberg, George Cohen, Cecil B. DeMille, Cedric Gibbons and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. eventually became founders of the organization that was finally named the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences after removing the word International from the originally proposed name.
On May 4, 1927, the official Articles of Incorporation for AMPAS was filed and its first official meeting took place on May 6. Fairbanks was elected as first president and Niblo as first vice-president of AMPAS; while American inventor and businessman Thomas Edison was awarded with the first honorary membership of the organization during its first organizational meeting that took place at the Biltmore Hotel on May 11, 1927. 300 guests attended the banquet that day of whom, 230 joined the AMPAS each paying a sum of $100. AMPAS was set up at 6912 Hollywood Boulevard and later relocated at 7010 Hollywood Boulevard in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in November 1927, and then to 7046 Hollywood Boulevard in 1930. Library of the organization started accumulating books and other published materials related to the world of cinema from across the globe in November 1927 and by December 1930, it boasted of having a complete collection of information on the film industry that can be found anywhere at that time. The organization published its first book Academy Reports (No. 1): Incandescent Illumination for its members in July 1928. After 1935, as staff of the organization grew it moved its administrative offices to the Taft Building and its library to 1455 North Gordon Street.
AMPAS was initially more concerned with labor issues including labor-management arbitrations and negotiations, however as time passed it furthered itself from such issues and by 1937 it abandoned labor negotiations. Although a committee for Awards of Merit was formed initially, the idea of presenting awards and forming structure of the awards was not seriously considered and discussed until May 1928 following which proposal to present the Academy Awards of Merit was approved by board of directors of AMPAS paving way for formation of its voting system, nomination and selection procedure thus marking initiation of the oldest and one of the major worldwide entertainment awards ceremony, the Academy Awards. Mayer wanted to bring together the five sections of motion picture industry through presentation of these awards. MGM art director Cedric Gibbons designed the Oscar statuette in 1927 which was then sculpted by George Maitland Stanley.
In April 1929, a state of the art screening room was built in the Club lounge of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and on May 16 that year, the 1st Academy Awards ceremony, hosted by Fairbanks, was held during a private dinner at the hotel with about 270 people attending the 15 minutes event. Fairbanks had earlier recommended opening of a film school, the first of its kind in America, soon after he became president of AMPAS. He and his supporters faced rejection from several universities in such pursuit before getting a nod from the University of Southern California which initially gave permission to conduct just one class, called Introduction to Photoplay, in 1929. Joint venture of AMPAS members with the university led to formation of Department of Cinematography in the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences in 1932 which was rechristened as the Department of Cinema in 1940 and which paved way for the USC School of Cinema-Television that was set up in 1983 and since 2006 is known as the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
Other awards presented by AMPAS besides the Academy Award of Merit (Oscar award) includes the Academy Honorary Award, the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award that are given during the Governors Awards presentation; the Academy Award of Merit (non-competitive), Technical Achievement Award, Scientific and Engineering Award, the Gordon E. Sawyer Award and the John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation that are given during the Scientific and Technical Awards ceremony; and the Student Academy Awards that are given to college and university filmmakers. AMPAS also awards a maximum of five Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting per year.
AMPAS carries out its various operations and programs from its three facilities - its headquarter building in Beverly Hills, the Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study, also located in Beverly Hills and the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study in Hollywood. The headquarter building in Beverly Hills houses the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre, which is used by the AMPAS for members-only screenings, film premieres, announcing nominations for Academy Awards and public programming besides carrying out other special activities. The famous Margaret Herrick Library of the organization that is counted among the biggest film research libraries in the world and holds numerous print, graphic and research materials related to motion picture is housed at the Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study. The Linwood Dunn Theater and several departments of the organization including the Academy Film Archive, the Science and Technology Council, the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting and Student Academy Awards and Grants are located within the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study, Hollywood’s oldest surviving structure. AMPAS also established the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in 2021. Located within the Saban Building (formerly May Company Building) on Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, California, the museum houses two theatre halls, galleries, educational areas and areas for keeping exhibitions and special events and holds over 13 million objects which includes film reels, screenplays, posters and costumes among others.
Janet Yang, a noted American film producer, is the first Asian-American to hold the presidency of AMPAS. She was elected in 2022. While at the beginning only five membership branches of actors, writers, producers, directors and technicians were established by the AMPAS, the number of branches rose with time and presently the organization has eighteen branches representing different disciplines in film production. The branches include that of Actors, Writers, Producers, Music, Directors, Casting Directors, Cinematographers, Production Design, Costume Designers, Executives, Film Editors, Make-up Artists and Hairstylists, Documentary, Short Films and Feature Animation, Production and Technology, Sound, Marketing and Public Relations and Visual Effects. Membership of the organization is divided into these branches and a member may not become part of more than a single branch. In case a member’s work does not come within the bracket of one of the branches then he/she may become part of the group called Members at Large. Board of Governors of AMPAS is composed of governors from each of the membership branches and the governors-at-large who are nominated by the President and elected by the board. Board of Governors has the authority to supervise corporate management and general policies of AMPAS and induct CEO and COO of the organization. Any qualified film professional from across the globe can become a member of AMPAS, however by way of invitation only from its Board of Governors. An individual becomes eligible for membership in the AMPAS if he/she garners a competitive nomination for the Oscar, or has been sponsored by two AMPAS members belonging to a particular branch in which the person wants to get admitted