Who Votes For The BAFTAs? How The British Academy Awards Actually Work

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There was a time, not that long ago, when the BAFTAs were a little bit embarrassing. Watching a handful of Hollywood stars smile politely while Judi Dench and Maggie Smith won everything, the British version of the Oscars looked like a marmalade conference in Eastbourne.

Then, back in 2001, the ceremony shifted from April to February and everyone started paying attention. Now predicting the big winners of the award season before it really begins, the BAFTA statue is seen as the respectable, serious, smarter younger brother of the blingy American Oscar (which is looking even more inappropriate this year: a naked man holding a sword?).

But who decides who wins? How does it all work? And why do this year's BAFTAs matter more than ever?

Who votes?

Margot Robbie, Joanna Lumley, Octavia Spencer, Christopher Plummer posing for a photo © Provided by Digital Spy

One of the reasons the BAFTAs are such a good way to predict the winners of the Oscars is that they're voted for by a lot of the same people. You can apply to become a member of BAFTA if you work anywhere in the entertainment industry (and are willing to pay £450 a year in fees), and the list includes plenty of Americans who work on British films, and vice versa.

All members are technically eligible to vote for the winners of the film, games and TV awards – but in practice they probably won't be accepted into an area they know nothing about. That said, there are currently around 7,580 members of BAFTA, and 6,500 of them vote in the film awards, which means this year's Best Picture winner could theoretically come down to a vote decided on by Alan Carr and the bloke who recorded all the tank noises for the last Call Of Duty.

Thankfully though, BAFTA has a lot of rules built in to make sure the voting is as fair and representative as possible – and the process starts with deciding who can and can't be nominated.

Which films are eligible?

Margot Robbie, Christopher Nolan, Octavia Spencer, Christopher Plummer posing for a photo © Provided by Digital Spy

To be considered for a nomination this year, a film has to be more than 70 minutes long and screened to a paying UK audience any time between January 1, 2017 and February 16, 2018. Last year, the Academy also added a few loosely worded rules to include films available to the public "through other patterns or forms of distribution" at the discretion of the committee, which basically means Netflix movies might be considered too if they're really good.

The wording of the animation category also saw some changes this year too, now classing a film as an animated feature if it's "primarily animated throughout the majority of the length of the film and has a significant number of animated major characters", which feels like it was put there just to annoy James Cameron whilst he's making his >Avatar sequels.

How is it kept fair?

RYAN GOSLING, Kenneth Branagh are posing for a picture © Provided by Digital Spy

The film industry isn't exactly enjoying its proudest moment right now. Race and gender inequality issues have been a problem for a long time, but the headlines of the last few months have brought it to the public's attention like never before. We can expect to see a very cautious, very guarded Oscar ceremony this year as everyone takes stock of all the celebrities that can't be in the room for legal reasons – but BAFTA has already started tackling the issue head on.

Introducing a new set of diversity standards in preparation for the 2018/19 awards, the statues given out this year will be the last given to anyone who can't prove that they're doing everything they can to make the film industry a fairer place to work in. Anyone submitting a film for an award this year has to fill out a form that asks questions about the script's meaningful representations of diversity, the percentages of key crew that are from under-represented groups, any mentorship schemes on set, and generally whether or not they considered everyone when they made it.

How are the nominations worked out?

a screen shot of Saoirse Ronan © Provided by Digital Spy

Everyone in the Academy gets a say on who should be nominated for Best Film, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Everything else is decided by individual 'chapters' made up of people who actually know what they're talking about – so visual effects artists vote on Best Visual Effects, costume designers on Best Costume Design and so on.

Each chapter is made up of at least 100 people, and all the nominations are submitted online by ranking choices from one to five in each category. When all the votes are in, the points are tallied and the nominations are set.

When do voters watch all the films?

a screen shot of a person © Provided by Digital Spy

They don't. The rules clearly state that voters must abstain if they haven't seen all the nominated films in each category, but there's no way of making sure they actually do it.

As soon as the nominations are announced in January, the producers of each film have a duty to make sure all the Academy members have a chance to see it before they vote. BAFTA members already get free daytime cinema tickets, but they'll also get hit with a barrage of private screening invites and DVDs in the post.

On top of this, PR firms go into overdrive in the weeks leading up to voting day and most producers will do everything they can to try to make their films sound like winners. In America, this means giant billboards on Sunset Boulevard, gushing full-page ads in industry magazines and lots and lots of gift baskets. In Britain, the rules are a lot stricter.

See all of this year’s nominees

Complimentary food and drink is allowed at private screenings, "but not on a scale where it could be seen as an inducement". No emails are to be sent marked "of high importance". No gifts are to be given to anyone, ever, and you're not even allowed to use "excessive DVD packaging" for any discs sent out. There are, of course, ways to get around the rules and companies with bigger PR budgets will always have the upper hand, but BAFTA does try to make sure the playing field is about as level as it can be.

How do they actually vote?

a man holding a sign © Provided by Digital Spy

The deadline for voting is February 14, Valentine's Day, which gives the appointed body of independent scrutineers just four days to add everything up and (hopefully) print the right names in the envelopes before the ceremony on February 18. Voting is conducted online and academy members can only vote once in each category for everything except the Fellowship award and the Best British Debut, which are only voted on by the committee.

What do the winners actually get?

The hefty mask-shaped award is made of solid bronze, hand-smelted in a workshop in Middlesex, set on a marble base. Winners also get a certificate (given to them backstage) and they get to keep both for life. In fact, if they ever decide to give the statue to anyone other than their children, BAFTA reserves the right to buy it back from anyone for exactly £1. 

The 2018 BAFTA awards ceremony takes place on February 18 at the Royal Albert Hall, hosted by Joanna Lumley.

Gallery: What the royals have worn to the BAFTA awards (Provider: Harper's Bazaar UK)

Princess Anne: <p</a>>Presenting James Bond actor Sean Connery with the special BAFTA silver mask in 1990.</p> What the royals have worn to the BAFTA awards

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