The Rating System

Posted: Thursday, April 8, 2010
by Jeremy Doyle

The Question.

A couple of weeks ago Julie and Jessica threw out a simple question (on the King is a Fink facebook fan page) that really intrigued me.  It was a question that has many implications and the answers are completely subjective.  It effects everyone that watches movies.  Their question: PG-13?  That was it, a simple rating with a question mark.  My answer at that time was, "I have a lot to say about it.  Maybe I should make it a blog post."  Welcome to that post.

Now at this point I could go into a whole description of the rating process and the history of ratings, but that information is already out there, so I'll just point you in that direction if you want to read more about it:

There is also a tremendous documentary that I would highly recommend that goes pretty in depth as well.  Its title is "This Film Not Yet Rated".  Not only does it cover ratings, it also goes into some piracy issues which are very interesting.

For the sake of this post, I'm just going to list the current ratings and their definition.

G - General Audiences
All ages admitted
PG - Parental Guidance Suggested
Some material may not be suitable for children
PG-13 - Parents Strongly Cautioned
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
R - Restricted
Under 17 requires accompanying by a parent or adult guardian
NC-17 - No One 17 and Under Admitted

Here is my take on the ratings system:

 It sucks.  It's good intentioned, but it doesn't work.  Much like the television and video game rating systems, the MPAA is a self-governed committee.  They are putting ratings on films as a way to self-police, and there is no standard for giving a film a rating.

Now as we watch films we can start to guess at the formula.   Generally, in my observation, if you have male full-frontal nudity, you are going to get an "R" rating.  On the contrary, if you have female frontal nudity, (by female frontal nudity I mean breasts and / or vagina) it's going to depend on the length of the shot.  Take, for instance, one of the first PG-13 movies, "The Woman in Red", which has a scene of a woman's dress being blown up.  Guess what?  No underwear.  What?  Why is that? How come the double standard?

If you use the "F" word more than twice, you'll pretty much be guaranteed a "R".  I guess other profanities are less vile, as they don't earn an "R".  Seriously?  Why?  This is language most people hear everyday.

Language is such an objective, culture-based thing.  I don't use "profane" language much myself for the simple fact that I don't find it polite.  But it doesn't take much looking around to see that even politeness changes. "Pissed off" is something that I regularly say.  It's common language now days.  However, I'm thinking it wasn't that long ago that that phrase seemed pretty vulgar.

Most people are either familiar with or have heard of The Ten Commandments.  At one point in time this was a moral code.  Are they relevant for today?  Not according to the ratings system.  There is not a single one of them that, if broken in a film, would give it more than a PG rating.  So where do we derive our moral code from?  How is that translated into our films?  What is the compass the ratings board uses to judge things?

Clearly, in my opinion, the ratings system is broken. 

Back to the original question...

PG-13?  Yes, I believe there needs to be something between PG and R.  A couple years ago a change was made that was much needed and has improved an imperfect, broken system.  Underneath the rating is a box that lists the potentially objectionable content that was used to determine the film's rating.  For me, especially now as a parent, this is helpful.  I know what my child is being exposed to.  Don't get me wrong, I will still see the majority of movies before my children do in their formative years, but it could (and should) be a big help to lazy parents.  The short of it is, you can't un-see something.  Whether it be in real life or at the movies, it will be filed in your memory.  And, as parents, it's important to pay attention to what's going into our kids' heads.

In the end, I believe that the ratings system a broken system, but it's something that needs to be in place.  

This is a big, big topicI didn't even get into violence or how ratings effect box office ticket sales.  Feel free to add your comments. 
  • What are your thoughts about the rating system? 
  • Can you think of an alternative?
  • And I'll ask again: PG-13? 
BTW Tilt, if rated at this point, would be  "PG-13" "R" for Language, Violence, Some Drug Use. Of course, the script's only 2/3's done, so maybe that will change and we can still hit "NC-17"...

What makes a movie compelling?

Posted: Monday, April 5, 2010
by Jeremy Doyle

What makes a movie compelling?

Is it the actors?  Is it the shooting? The editing?  The musical score? Sure all these things add into it, but none on their own make a movie compelling.  I believe the answer to what makes a movie compelling is the story.  Without a compelling story, movies become forgettable.  

Because I work in production and post-production and have for the last 13 years, I watch movies and TV differently.  I'm critical of the lighting, editing, sound mix, color grade, shot composition, and just about everything else. There is no way around it.  That is just how I'm wired.  I'm sure many of you reading this blog can relate.  

If a story is good, I'll be drawn in and the analysis will become secondary.  I'll throw out an example from an educational video that my wife and I were watching recently.  The host was telling a dramatic story of a friend who had cancer.  The music was slow and low, giving a sad vibe.  Photos of the friend were doing simple fade ins and outs as not to draw attention to the editing.  When it dissolved to the talking head, the camera was on a slow zoom in (and when I say slow, I mean crawl, barely distinguishable) to heighten the intensity.  Then as the story climaxed, the music switched.  It became a little quicker and more lively.  My mood lifted. The camera started to pull back lessening the tension.  

I was fully aware of every trick being done in the production and still I felt the tears building in my eyes.  The story had touched me.  I was able to put myself in the storytellers place and relate with the people being talked about.

Later, in the car, my wife and I were talking about what we had just saw.  I told her I had been laughing at the same time as crying because I was fully aware of how I was being manipulated, but it didn't matter.  The story connected.  She just looked at me, because she knew.  She knew I can't just watch something without analyzing it.  It's rubbed off too.  She can sometimes speak my language now, as we dissect what we watch.

What does that mean for us as indie filmmakers? 

Let me throw out a couple of my ideas.  

First, we have to have a compelling story.  It has to be interesting and people have to be able to connect to it.  The easiest way for this to happen is for the characters to be relatable.  You have to see part of yourself or part of someone you know in a character.  Another way this can be done is by telling a tale people are familiar with.  The subject matter is relatable.  The audience has experienced what is happening, and shared experiences make it relatable.  Still another way is to make it so unique, that every one watching is learning something.  In my opinion this can be hit or miss.  Some people just don't want to experience or learn new things and I think you'll lose them fast. So, in my opinion, the easiest way is to make it relatable either by character or experience.

Second, indies are made with sweat equity.  Lots of time and devotion.  People pouring their own hard earned money from their day job, supporting their film making habits.  These films are our babies.  They are a part of us.  They are stories we believe need to be told.  Because of this emotional attachment, we can sometimes take criticism the wrong way.  We need to be able to step away from the story and look it from another view point.  This is very challenging, but needs to be done.

To sum it up, I think story is the key, but the acting, shooting, editing, and sound all play support parts that if not done properly, can distract from the story.

What do you think?  Can a movie be compelling without a captivating story?

An Intimate Look at King is a Fink's Screenwriting Process

Posted: Thursday, April 1, 2010