Proposal for a New Independent Film Rating System – By Duane L. Martin

The MPAA ratings board has a long standing history of using the ratings system to force their own brand of censorship on filimmakers, forcing them to either alter their artistic vision or get slapped with the dreaded NC-17 rating. The NC-17 rating pretty much spells box office death for any film that gets saddled with it since most theaters won’t run NC-17 films, and even in the few that will, the film loses it’s teenage audience.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone have had a long running fued with the MPAA ratings board. When Trey Parker released his film Orgazmo, they gave it with an NC-17 rating for no other reason than that they objected to the subject matter. The film involved a humorous look at the porn industry and a Mormon guy, played by Trey Parker, who gets sucked into it as he tries to make enough money for he and his fiance to get married at the temple in Salt Lake City. During the course of the film he becomes a porno super-hero and along with his sidekick Choda Boy, played by Dian Bachar, they bring down the evil porn kingpin and his empire once and for all. The film had very little nudity and actually showed far less in the way of sexual situations than shows like Sex in the City. Still, because the MPAA didn’t like the subject matter or the fact that it poked fun at Mormons, they slapped with with an NC-17 rating, while the far worse and more offensive Boogie Nights, which came out around the same time, only got an R rating because it was deemed by the board to be more artistically relevant. Am I the only one who sees the problem with this? What we have here is a board that charges many thousands of dollars to give a film a rating, and then uses that rating system to censor films that they, in their mighty wisdom, find to be offensive to their sensibilities. That’s just wrong, and it needs to stop.

What I propose is this. We need a new national rating system for independent, low-budget, and cutting edge films that will not be used for censorship purposes and will not be run by an organization that charges thousands upon thousands of dollars just to give ratings that are heavily weighted by the moral and political opinions of the ratings board.

As an alternative to the MPAA system, I hereby propose the following:

1. A ratings board be set up which consists of people familiar with or intimately involved in the independent film industry.

2. The film shall be viewed by exactly three members of the group, each of which will receive no more or less than $100 per film (paid for by the filmmaker / studio) as a fee for their work in the ratings process.

3. The final rating shall be the one given by the majority vote of the three group members.

4. A rating for adults only shall exist, but shall only be used in the most extreme cases and never be used as a tool to force filmmakers to alter their artistic vision. The only real use of the adults only rating would be when hardcore sex is involved in the film. No other content shall warrant the adults only rating.

5. An appeals process shall be put in place for anyone who thinks their film has received an unjust or unfair rating. If the rating is appealed, the head of the ratings board shall assign three members of the board not involved in the original rating to re-evaluate the film at no additional cost to the filmmaker. The consensus among the assigned members of the appeals committee shall be final.

6. The ratings system shall be designed and agreed upon by the ratings board, and a list of criteria for what constitutes each rating shall be agreed upon once the board is formed. The system will be geared more towards the independent film style than the current MPAA rating system, which is only really designed for mainstream hollywood films. Fans of independent films, horror in particular, are of a different mindset than people who only enjoy mainstream films, and therefore the rating system will be geared more towards the sensibilities of the average independent film viewer.

7. A website for the ratings board shall be set up with fully accessible information that the filmmaker may print out and take to a theater that he or she is trying to get their film shown at. Most theaters will not show unrated films, so having this website with a fully documented rating system will be an important factor in gaining widespread theater acceptance of the system. The website shall also contain a searchable database of each film that’s been rated along with the rating it was given.

It is my belief that this new ratings system will not only relieve the independent filmmaker of the huge financial burden involved in getting an MPAA rating, but will allow them to garner a fair and impartial rating for their work that does not penalize them for their content or vision. In a medium where ideas should be allowed to flow freely, censorship should never be allowed to rear its ugly head, and neither should extortion. This system will free the independent filmmaker from the bonds of the MPAA monopoly, and give them a far better chance of having their films shown in theaters throughout the country.

If you believe that the creation of such a new rating system would benefit the independent film community, then please send an email to me (the editor of this magazine) to express your support. If I see enough interest from the community, I will move forward with the project and attempt to find other interested parties within the industry to support it.