Thursday, March 14, 2013

MPAA Meets SXSW: All (okay fine, some) Of Your Questions Finally Answered!

Photo Credit: Indiewire

For the complete article, head to

In light of the burgeoning controversy over how the reportedly ultra-violent “Evil Dead” remake, which screened for the first time on Friday night, managed to get away with an R rating, I decided to take a brief respite from the traditional SXSW day-drinking and hit up the convention center for an event called “This Panel Is Not Yet Rated”. During the hour-long discussion, lots of myths about the Motion Picture Association of America’s iron-fisted ratings system were debunked and / or explained by the MPAA’s Classifications and Ratings head  Joan Graves, while opinions on how these ratings affect film were offered by Twitch Film’s Scott Weinberg, director Vincenzo Natali and Cheap Thrills CEO Travis Stevens. Unfortunately, while “Evil Dead” was minimally discussed (Weinberg noted that he generally doesn’t care what rating a horror film has, especially a new film, but if you’re remaking “Evil Dead”, you better make damn sure it has an R rating), Graves hasn’t seen it so she couldn’t speak to how the film managed to get away with avoiding an NC-17 (which in and of itself offers clues as to the internal workings of the MPAA). But fear not, plenty of interesting discussions were still had. Here are the 10 most fascinating things we learned.
1. Religious Organizations Do Not Participate in the Ratings Process
Graves clarified that when the MPAA was first created, religious organizations were up in arms, seeing it as the “fox guarding the hen house,” but their outrage increased tenfold when an appeals board made up of exhibitors and distributors was formed. To placate them, the MPAA agreed to let two members of two organizations have observer seats on the board, so that they may witness the discussion and see for themselves that no one has any personal interest or nefarious intentions, but they may not participate in any way — including so much as offering their opinions — and certainly cannot vote.

2. Adult Themes Don’t Cause R Ratings
When “Splice” was screened for the MPAA, Natali was concerned that he would receive an NC-17 because of what the film was about and the fact that, although it was filmed tastefully, there is an interspecies sex scene. Graves explained that theme/subject matter only plays a role up until PG-13, and from there it is only how that theme is articulated that may push it over the edge into R or NC-17. So as horrible as a a sex scene that manages to contain within it both incest and bestiality sounds, the fact that it exists only warrants a PG-13. Because of the context surrounding it and the tastefulness with which it was handled, the sex scene itself never entered into an NC-17 area.
3. Ratings Are Only For Parents – Unless Making Money Is An Issue
For indie filmmakers, they really couldn’t care less about a rating. The film is only going to be in theaters in a limited release anyway, and will eventually find more success on home video. On the other hand, for huge movies intended to be on 3000 screens and make a lot of money, the difference between PG-13 and R is enormously pivotal, and often will play a role in the creative process. Graves reiterated many times that the board has 12 parents (6 moms and 6 dads), from all over the country, and the only goal is to give parents a guideline for what might be appropriate for their children. The system is “voluntary” — if indie filmmakers aren’t concerned about money or the parents/kids market, they can bypass the MPAA altogether and still get released and distributed by certain companies ( i.e. what Killer Joe did). Graves even pointed out that when they talked to NATO and polled theater chains about whether or not they would show NC-17 films, only one chain in the entire country said they would not.