The Academy’s efforts to record filmmakers’ stories began in 1948 when Film Curator Howard Walls interviewed a number of silent film pioneers such as J. Searle Dawley and Blanche Sweet. In 1989, the Academy established its Oral History Program. The program was based around recording audio interviews, with edited transcripts bound into volumes and accessed through the Margaret Herrick Library. These in-depth and long-form interviews take a detailed look at the careers of more than 70 individuals, including such visionaries as Haskell Wexler, Theadora van Runkle, and Frank Pierson. To bring these efforts into the future and to support the needs of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, the Oral History Projects department was established in late 2012. The goal is to unify and manage all forms of oral history at the Academy, from recording, to collection, curation, and preservation.
For more information about the Howard Walls and Oral History Program collections, visit the Collections page
Video is a powerful tool for the field of oral history, allowing increased visibility, engagement, and access to a greater number of interviews. In acknowledgement of this, the new Visual History Program, part of the Oral History Projects department, records 2-6 hour long interviews in high-definition video. The interviews will then be indexed to allow researchers the ability to pinpoint specific portions based on keyword and subject searches. The Academy plans to create a digital archive of this growing oral history collection which will be made accessible to users on oscars.org and visitors to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
To build the most comprehensive oral history collection on the art and craft of moviemaking, the Academy is bringing together dispersed oral history collections by providing storage, digital migration, cataloging and access assistance to a number of partner organizations. In joining with craft guilds, labor unions and foundations that have been recording oral histories—such as the Art Directors Guild, Motion Picture Editors Guild, Film Music Foundation, International Cinematographers Guild, SAG-AFTRA, Screen Actors Guild Foundation, and Writers Guild Foundation—this collaborative project seeks to improve oral history practice through resource sharing and building on commonalities in collections and missions.
Q: What is oral history?
Oral histories with filmmakers reveal intimate and often eye-opening stories of the challenges, collaborations, opportunities, visions and breakthroughs of moviemaking.
Oral histories are conducted for the specific purpose of documenting and preserving the memories and reflections of those interviewed. The Oral History Association defines oral history as: “… a field of study and a method of gathering, preserving and interpreting the voices and memories of people, communities, and participants in past events.”
- Oral histories are by nature subjective
- Oral history practice strives for a balance between seeking truth, and respect for interviewees’ interpretation of events and experiences
For more information about oral history, see the Resources page.
Q: How long are the interviews?
A: Our interviews generally range from 2-6 hours. A small number of interviews are under 2 hours.
Q: How do I access the interviews?
A: Currently interviews are accessible on-site at the Academy Film Archive through the Public Access Center. For information about accessing specific interviews, contact:
Q: What topics are covered in the interviews?
A: We ask questions regarding early life and family, career chronology, and reflections on craft. Interviewee-specific questions are developed by researchers, who spend an average of 40 hours per interview researching the interviewee’s life, career and historical context in which they worked. This extensive research helps interviewers to develop informed questions and build rapport with the interviewee.
Q: How do you decide who should be interviewed?
A: Oral History Projects strives to select interviewees who have not yet been interviewed in oral history format, and who have made a significant impact on film history. We gather recommendations from Academy members, as well as staff, partners, and film subject specialists. We prioritize interviewees based on age and strive for ethnic, gender, geographic, profession, and subject diversity.
Q: Do you accept donated interviews?
A: For questions about donating oral history material, contact:
Q: Are transcripts of interviews available?
A: Yes, transcripts exist for the majority of interviews. If an interview has not been transcribed, we can provide transcripts on request. For access to transcripts, contact:
Q: Who is this collection intended for?
A: This collection is intended for anyone interested in film history and filmmaking, whether you are a teacher, researcher, scholar, filmmaker, journalist, author, student or just plain movie lover!
Q: Where are your offices?
A: Our offices are located at:
The Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study
1313 Vine St.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Q: How can I find out more about the Academy Oral History Projects?
A: For questions about Oral History Projects please contact: