I am a documentary film director. Subjects of my films have included love, sex, 9/11, indigenous fisheries, hurricanes, refugees, HIV/AIDS orphans, and visualization of God. I am best known for the Real People, Real Life, Real Sex series of documentaries that simultaneously explore the vital role of sexual pleasure in committed relationships and the problematic place of explicit sexuality in cinema. This is my "Safe" blog.

Rating the Ratings Systems: A promotional tactic for a problematic film

Posted: September 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »


Last Thursday I called the MPAA and told them that I had a new film I wanted to submit for a rating. We did this back in 2007 for our film MARIE AND JACK: A HARDCORE LOVE STORY, which to no one’s surprise garnered an NC-17 rating. What was a surprise, at least to me, is that the folks at the MPAA remembered me, and even better, remembered my film, and were excited at the prospect of my putting another film through the ratings process.

Except that this time there’s a catch…

When we submitted MARIE AND JACK there was never any doubt in my mind that it was going to get the (dreaded!) NC-17 rating. How could it not? It’s a film about a grown-up topic, made for grown-ups, and not watered down by making it “safe” for underage viewers.

There was also never any doubt that we were going to accept the rating. We weren’t going to cut the film to get an R; we weren’t going to make a stink about the MPAA trying to “kill” our film by giving it an NC-17; and we weren’t going to decline the rating, and then release the Unrated version with words like “uncut” or “uncensored” or “the version the MPAA doesn’t want you to see” plastered all over the box.

This time is going to be different.

This time we’re going to submit BRETT AND MELANIE: BOI MEETS GIRL and find out what it takes to bring BRETT AND MELANIE down from an NC-17 to an R, or maybe even a PG-13.

At the same time we’re going to try and create a YouTube TOS compliant version to serialize on YouTube. I think this part is going to be trickier because the MPAA and YouTube do things a little differently.

First of all, YouTube only has three rating, where the MPAA has five. On YouTube content is considered all-ages appropriate (or G-rated), 18+ (or NC-17) or it’s banned from YouTube. By contrast, the MPAA has G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17; and nothing is banned from the MPAA rating system.

Secondly, if you want a lower rating from the MPAA, they’ll give you notes on just what to cut. YouTube publishes guidelines, but it’s up to you to try and interpret them.

For example, when we put our trailer up for BILL AND DESIRE: LOVE IS TIMELESS, based on other videos I saw on YouTube I thought it was inside their guidelines, but within a couple of days, the video was TOS’d and we had a flag on our account (get two in any six month period and your account is deleted.)

When I put a talking heads only interview clip from DAMON AND HUNTER: DOING IT TOGETHER I never imagined, given the other videos roaming at large on YouTube, that it would be flagged as “inappropriate”; and for about a year I was right. Then one day I tried to show it to someone who wasn’t logged in and found out it was flagged, and only accessible to logged in users. Not surprisingly, views for the clip have fallen off.

Why are we doing this?

Because right now the big question facing artist, educators, writers and anyone else working in sexuality isn’t whether or not something is obscene, or whether something is art or pornography. That horse is dead (not surprising, considering how long and how hard people have been beating it.)

No, the big question now is who is going to be allow to express their ideas within corporately controlled systems, why ideas they are are going to be permitted to express, who is going to make those decision, and how those decisions are going to be made. Different systems serve different needs, have different processes, and yield different outcomes; and I hope by showing BRETT AND MELANIE’s journey through these processes, I can open up a discussion about ideas like censorship, community, age-appropriateness, disintermediation, gatekeepers, status, etc.

Going through this process is going to entail some additional expenses, so we’ve submitted a project to Kickstarter.com and hope we’ll have approval shortly. Those of you who remember our Hurricane Katrina fundraiser and our No On Prop 8 fundraiser know I am loathe to ask people to give money for nothing, so we’ve got some pretty nice incentives going all the way down to the $10 level. I don’t know how long Kickstarter takes to review and approve projects, but I hope it’s soon, but because I’m raring to go! I hope you are too!


We have our project approval from Kickstarter. More details soon!

Leave a Reply