Those who wish to win an Oscar should know that there are 24 categories of Academy Award to choose from, but we’re not interested in make-up or sound mixing here. We’re talking the big five: best picture, director, actor, actress and screenplay. In fact, scratch that last one – famously in the movie business, no one cares about the writer!

If you’re serious about getting hold of that famous golden statuette, you’ll need to plan your project carefully from the outset. In the best picture competition, horror is out, as are sci-fi, comedy and musicals (with the notable recent exception of Chicago). Fantasy is another no-no, unless you’re Peter Jackson: as a rule, keep it gritty and realistic. The Academy also favours length – no winner has been less than 90 minutes, while Gone with the Wind, Ben Hur and Lawrence of Arabia all ran for more than 210 minutes.

If you’re aiming for best director, don’t be a woman – the only female winner so far is Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2009. Statistically, you stand most chance as a straight, white man. There has only ever been one winner of Asian origin (Ang Lee, though he’s won twice), and four out gay or bisexual winners. Only two black directors have ever been nominated.

Best actresses are, on average, aged 35, but there is hope if you’re older: Jessica Tandy was 80 when she won in 1989. If you’re naturally beautiful, try playing ugly – think Charlize Theron in Monster or Nicole Kidman in The Hours. It’s also smart to play a real person – 70 per cent of recent winners have done this. Best actors are older, averaging 43. Again, playing someone real is a smart move. Historically, mental disorders, addictions and disabilities are also fruitful subjects. Speak English, unless you’re Roberto Benigni in Life is Beautiful (though French actor Jean Dujardin won in 2012 for a silent performance in The Artist).

Your Oscar campaign will need studio backing to the tune of US$2–3 million. Sony spent US$5 million on The Social Network in 2011, and still lost out on best picture. The ceremony itself is watched by a billion people around the world, and is the showcase of the movie industry – so if you’re summoned to the red carpet, be prepared to splash even more cash on styling, clothes and jewellery. You have 45 seconds for your acceptance speech before they play you off – don’t waste it, and don’t forget to thank your mum.