The Oscar voters: Meet the members at large
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One designed the red laser bullets used in the original “Star Wars” trilogy. Another choreographed a sold-out tour for Madonna and music videos for Michael Jackson. Then there are the analytical chemist, the former rodeo cowboy who took falls for Frank Sinatra, the longtime assistant director to Alfred Hitchcock, and the Harvard graduate who assembled the cast of “The Wedding Crashers.”
It’s a diverse group, yet they all have one thing in common. They are among the 244 voting members at large of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Members at large don’t belong to one of the 15 specific “craft” branches in the academy, but they share the same basic privileges as the actors, writers, directors, cinematographers, and producers who are members.
“I get to nominate only for best film category, but when the voting comes around, I can vote on every category,” says Vincent Paterson, a choreographer who joined in 2001.
MCA founder Lew Wasserman, actress-turned-publicist Helen Ferguson and MGM house counsel I.H. Prinzmetal were among the earliest members at large, according to announcements in academy newsletters published in 1947 and 1948. The 1946 academy by-laws state that members at large are “entitled to all privileges of active membership except representation on the board and voting for the election of governors.”
Six current members at large agreed to talk with the Los Angeles Times about their careers and remarkably different paths to membership in the academy.
Among them is Lisa Beach, 53. One of her tasks as a casting director is to read lines opposite actors auditioning for parts in a film. She has played the Owen Wilson role in the mother-in-law seduction scene in “The Wedding Crashers” and a suicidal mental patient opposite Angelina Jolie in “Girl, Interrupted.” Her readings have landed her cameos in “The Wedding Crashers” and all three “Scream” films.
Beach has assembled the casts for more than 50 films and TV pilots. She gushes like a teenager when talking about her job, whether it’s meeting Miley Cyrus while casting “Hannah Montana: The Movie” or auditioning women willing to strip down to their “Mother Hubbards and Playtex bras” for the role that eventually went to Kathy Bates in Alexander Payne’s “About Schmidt.”
“I love my job,” says the Pittsburgh native. “I consider myself lucky every single day.”
When her first two applications for academy membership were rejected, Beach says she took it in stride. When her third attempt in 2007 was successful, the thrill was akin to getting the “big fat envelope” that admitted her to Harvard 30 years ago, she says.
“Finally, I got the letter saying I was in [the academy], and I just cried my head off,” she says. “It is an honor beyond measure for me.”
Read about these other at large members: Hilton Green, 82, who worked with Hitchcock in the 1950 and 1960s; Beverly Wood, a serial killer afficionado with a graduate degree in analytical chemistry; Nina Saxon, title designer who worked on “Forrest Gump” and “Back to the Future”; Vincent Paterson, 61, who played the white gang leader in Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video; and veteran stuntman Billy Burton, 66, who took horse falls for Frank Sinatra.
-- Laura Randall