Dick Attacks the Ratings System
'This Film Is Not Yet Rated' exposes the people behind the ratings
"Very soon we realized that there were independent directors who wouldn't go on the record," Dick explains. "They were very supportive of the film, but they said, 'Look, I'm really concerned about how my next film is going to get rated.' In the studios we couldn't get anybody to speak on the record. No one. Not one person, even though again, there's a great deal of antipathy toward the ratings system."
He continues, "If the paranoia functions on this level won't even speak out about the ratings system, it's very easy for them to claim, 'Look, it's pretty much accepted.'"
Ultimately, filmmakers like Kevin Smith, Matt Stone, Kimberly Peirce and John Waters were willing to talk to Dick about the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings system, an allegedly voluntary process that holds ridiculous and frequently inexplicable power over the industry. Nobody seems to know how many f-words make an R-rated film, how many sexual thrusts earn an NC-17, when violence is too gory for an R and when it's cartoonish enough to go down to a PG-13. And part of why nobody understands the rules is because nobody knows who's making them. The ratings board is an anonymous entity, or at least it was until now.
"I'd been wanting to make a film on the MPAA ratings system for more than a decade and was sort of stumped, in a way, because the secrecy didn't allow, there was no way to get any information about the system at all from them and I'd have been left with a clip film interviewing filmmakers and having them talk about their experiences," Dick explains.
In "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," Dick ("Twist of Faith") goes through the tradition clip packages, but he goes further. The director and producer Eddie Schmidt hired private investigators Becky Altringer and Cheryl Howell to track down the board members and expose their identities.
"In all Western European country, the ratings board members are known to the public," Schmidt says. "It's only here that there's this sort of intense veil of secrecy. For us we felt like by going this way, sort of showing that the emperor has no clothes in a way, it would send a ripple effect where ... OK. Now that it's out in the open, we can ask the right questions."
"This Film" raises many of those questions. Is the ratings board more restrictive about gay sex than straight sex? Of course it is. Is the ratings board more likely to give studio productions the benefit of the doubt than indie films? It seems that way. Dick knows that merely outing the board members isn't a solution.
"I think there's a bigger solution, but I do think it's important to know who these people are," he says. "It's important to know what their qualifications are. It's an important job. But I think it goes much broader than that."
He expands on his ideas: "There should be a professionally developed set of standards that should be published, that the public should know, that filmmakers should know. The whole entire process should for the most part be open. There should be experts on the board, you know, child psychologists, media experts, because these are complex issues and training should be brought to bear. Also, there should be more extensive description of what's in a film so that parents and audiences can make their decision."
Dick doesn't necessarily expect the MPAA to rush to make any changes, but he hopes his movie will get audiences riled up.
"I'm very hopeful," he says. "I know that the film really does galvanize people when they see it."
"This Film Is Not Yet Rated" opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, Sept. 1 and it will expand into addition cities soon after.