The original AMPAS (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) consisted of 230 members, who each paid a $100 fee to join.
The first awards ceremony/banquet was held in Hollywood (at the Roosevelt Hotel) on May 16, 1929 with tickets costing $10, to honor films made for the 1927-1928 time period. There was no suspense to the announcement of winners in the five-minute ceremony – they had been named three months earlier. This first awards ceremony was the only time in Academy history that the event wasn’t broadcast in some way.
There were only twelve categories for the Academy’s first merit awards:
- Picture (Production)
- Unique and Artistic Picture (Best Quality Film)
- Direction (Drama Picture)
- Direction (Comedy Picture)
- Writing: Based on Material From Another Medium (Adapted Writing)
- Writing: Directly for the Screen (Original Screenplay)
- Writing: Titles (interstitial captions in silents)
- Art Direction
- Engineering Effects
One winner, and two runners-up were named in each category. In the first year of the awards, the term “Honorable Mention” was used in place of the term “Nominee.” (However, the term nominee will be used in this summary.) Fifteen statues are awarded, all to men except for Janet Gaynor who won for Best Actress. For this year only, the Academy gave awards for multiple, rather than single achievements.
Four of the five nominated films for Best Picture were from Paramount Pictures studios.
The silent classic war film filmed in widescreen Magnascope, director William Wellman’s and Paramount’s Wings, was the official first winner of the Best Picture award as the “most outstanding motion picture production.” The most expensive film of its time (at $2 million), it featured spectacular aerial footage (air battles, bombing raids and crashes) and state of the art visual effects in its story of two flying buddies who accidentally shot each other down. To provide continuity, the Academy now lists Wings as the “official” Best Picture of the first awards. That makes Wings the only silent picture to have won the Best Picture award.