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This Post is Not Yet Rated

Congratulations, you’ve been selected to read this somewhat off-topic post and provide your own comments at the end! This post is a bit different from our standard fare but I have to get something off my chest. The other day I watched the documentary “This Film is Not Yet Rated” and found it so engrossing, so compelling, yet so unintentionally comical, that it just begs to have someone point out the ridiculousness of it. Of course, I feel that duty falls on my shoulders here as should you feel it is your duty to read further! Heck, I’ll even do my level best to tie in a nice business lesson at the end so you can call this “work related!”

This Film is Not Yet Rated is basically the collective whine of a bunch of over paid, self-important “artists” that happen to make movies. It is designed to be an attack on the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), who has been given the responsibility by the major movie studios of rating films based on their content.

If you’re like me you often wonder why certain films receive a PG rating when you feel it should be PG-13, a PG-13 rating when you think it should be an R or an R rating when it clearly should be NC-17. Rarely do I ever see a film with a stricter rating than I think it should have had. I would venture a guess that I’m in the same camp of 90% of (adult) Americans who care about such things . For those that don’t, it really doesn’t matter because they’ll see what they want anyway.

The only viewers that movie ratings really effect is minors who have parents that monitor what they see. NC-17 movies are completely off-limits to anyone under 18 (at least in the theater) and R ratings require a parent or guardian to be with any minor under 17. It’s these restrictions that get the filmmakers panties in a bunch. They don’t want their audience restricted at all. Of course, this is where they attempt to make their pro-parent argument (it’s the parents job to monitor their kids, not the MPAA) which falls flat when you realize that without a rating system parents won’t know what the movie’s content is to begin with.

According to interviews in the documentary, the MPAA was established so movies could stop being censored and instead filmmakers could do and say what they want. Remember the days when swearing in movies was non-existent? Me neither, I’m not quite that old. But most of us have seen a few classic black and white movies where the harshest swear word was ‘damn.’ The creation of the MPAA allowed filmmakers to put more swearing, killing and sex into their movies without anybody looking over their shoulder. The trade off was that the film would be rated based on the content and therefore audiences restricted appropriately.

What I find odd is that filmmakers feel that the rating is akin to censorship itself. It’s not, but Rated does a humorous job of trying to make that argument.

Here’s the thing, all the major studios sign agreements with the MPAA that they will submit their films to the board to be rated. Because of this agreement the studios are not allowed to market or release non-rated movies in the same way as rated movies. That’s just the deal that’s been made. But let’s be clear, the movie studios enter into this agreement voluntarily. My guess is that there is a tremendous benefit to any studio that enters into this agreement rather than not.

Where it gets fun is when the movie directors, who are paid by the studios, resent the films being subject to MPAA ratings at all. (Let’s take a brief pause here while we think of ways that a filmmaker might be able to make a movie without being subject to MPAA ratings.) It’s actually fun to hear them make all kinds of arguments, many of them contradictory, in why the MPAA is bad. Even funnier, though, is that these same filmmakers continue to sign agreements with the studios stating that they must deliver movies to be within a certain rating. These whiners know what they are getting into before they even start a film. And if they don’t know what will or won’t pass MPAA standards for a certain rating by now, perhaps they should not be in the business!

But instead of creating the movie the studio wants, they create the film they want, and then complain that the ratings board is censoring their movie. Strange, I know.

Violence v. Sex
One of their most contradictory arguments is that violence is often allowed in lower ratings but sex isn’t. The argument posed by several filmmakers is that violence is worse than sex and therefore sex should be more permissive in regard to ratings and violence more restrictive.

This argument essentially debunks any argument they make against the MPAA in general. Are we to believe that if things were switched they would not then complain that violence is being “censored”? I think not.

Military Approval
Another complaint made is that war and military movies often don’t get made because the approval process is too stringent. Follow this one, cause it’s a brain turner. Any filmmaker that wants to use military craft or personnel in a movie must first get script approval from the pentagon and must also have a military representative on site during filming to ensure that the scenes are shot as approved. The military is protective of its image and wants to make sure that Hollywood portrays it properly.

But there have been plenty of movies made that have not been favorable to the military, right? Of course there have been. The only time the military gets involved in military movies is when the filmmakers want to use actual military craft. Is there an easy solution for the filmmaker? Of course there is. If they don’t want military “censorship” then they can choose (oops, that word ‘choose’ kind of debunks the whole censorship argument) not to ask the military for their toys.

Aside from sexual content, language is one of the most often complained about restrictions. One filmmaker shot a documentary of the Iraq war which included uncensored language from the soldiers. You know how rough that can get! But because it’s “real” the filmmaker could not understand why the documentary got an R rating. Huh? Really? It seems he wants young kids to be able to subject to the raunchiest of military talk on the big screen without the restriction of having mom and dad nearby. That’s the American way, I guess.

“It’s Integral to the Plot”
This is the argument that I love the most. Filmmakers who think a particular sex scene or bit of dialogue is so important to the plot of the film that not only can’t it be cut, but it needs to stay in and still get an R or PG-13 or whatever rating they are striving for. The makers of one film were asked to make an orgasm scene shorter in order to get the R rating. The filmmakers argued that the longer orgasm scene is “very necessary to the entire message of the movie, which should be seen by teenagers.” (Emphasis added. Source wikipedia). This is the part where I simultaneously fall out of my chair laughing and get sick to my stomach by the complete lack of moral compass these filmmakers must have to make such claims.

One of the other more comical points made in order to back up their beliefs is that only seven companies control over 95% of movies. I’m willing to bet if there were more major studios they would then complain that there are only 12, or only 20 or only 100. Seven is not a monopoly.

The underlying plot of Film is that they want to know who the “secret” movie raters really are. This is actually one of the best kept secrets in America, outside of military channels. The movie board raters have always been a secret and only two have ever spoken on the record. They argue that this should not be, but I wonder why they feel they should know who the raters are. The only purpose I can see is harassment and intimidation.

They also confuse the ratings appeals process with a court of law. It’s not. The MPAA is allowed to and does have their own rules. Part of the package deal. Don’t like it then don’t make movies with studios who agree to it.

The basic complaint of the rating system as a whole is that when a movie gets a certain rating this effectively reduces the size of the audience. Parents don’t let young kids see R rated films and nobody under 18 can see and NC-17 film. This, of course, means that their “art” doesn’t get seen by the people who would really appreciate it… or some sort of nonsense like that.

While watching Film I got the sense that filmmakers essentially want to be able to produce any kind of filth with no accountability whatsoever. The believe that everybody should see what they produce regardless of age appropriateness.

The movie ratings system may not be perfect but its been working fairly well for a long time. Perhaps their is a better way and as long as minds are open to ways to make the system better then there is no reason to throw it out. Personally, I appreciate the new information they’ve recently added to ratings (“Rated are for violence, brief language and nudity”) which can help me determine if a PG-13 movie is suitable for my kids or not.

One thing that I do find interesting is that several years ago the MPAA introduced the NC-17 rating as a means to not “brand” movies with an X rating and make them more palpable to the movie viewing audience. The MPAA had good intentions but it was the filmmakers, not the MPAA, that caused an NC-17 rated movie to be poison.

While a number of movies have been released with the NC-17 rating, none of them has been a major box office hit. In a bold attempt to broaden the acceptance of NC-17 rated films towards the movie going public, United Artists marketed its big budget Showgirls heavily, with splashy TV and print ads. The film became the first (and, to date, only) NC-17 rated film to open in wide release, on 1,388 screens. But the critically savaged film’s poor box office performance created only a larger stigma towards the rating, deeming any film rated NC-17 as being “box office poison.” (source: wikipedia)

By making NC-17 movies full of sexual content the filmmakers essentially branded NC-17 as sex movies which are, as the rating states, not appropriate for anyone 17 and under.

That, along with 90% of the complaints made in Film, are not the fault of the MPAA. In fact, all the whining done in this documentary should be directed at filmmakers themselves. But that’s when happens when “artists” feel that their “message” is so important that everyone needs to see it.

Filmmakers need to decide if they want to make money or make art. If its art then they can go outside the bounds of the MPAA and film what they want, how they want and distribute the film with whatever opportunities, however limited, they have. If its worth watching people will.

As Jack Valenti, founder of the MPAA said (and I paraphrase): No R rating of a good movie will keep people from seeing it and no PG rating of a bad movie will get people to see it.

People will see what they want, the MPAA just helps us know if the movie is one we want our kids to see or not.

And I promised to tie this into a lesson for you. So here it is. Its okay to try to change a system you believe to be unfair and is working against your business, but whining about it publicly is unbecoming. Along those lines, all business owners have a higher purpose than just to make money. We must take the society into consideration. Being all about the business is great, but not when it goes against the larger societal benefit.

So how would you rate this post?

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