Changes Planned to Film-Ratings System
Saturday, January 20, 2007; 3:52 PM
PARK CITY, Utah -- Hollywood's movie-ratings system, which critics call a secretive process that leaves filmmakers in the dark, will implement changes to make it more open and understandable to parents and filmmakers, its overseers said.
Dan Glickman, who heads the Motion Picture Association of America that manages the ratings system, plans to meet with filmmakers Monday at the Sundance Film Festival to discuss the plans.
The most substantive change for directors would be in the appeals process, allowing filmmakers to cite similar objectionable scenes in past movies when trying to overturn what they think is an overly harsh rating that restricts the ages of movie-goers.
The ratings system and its appeals process were harshly criticized in director Kirby Dick's documentary "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," which premiered at Sundance last year.
Dick's film said the ratings system was stacked in favor of big studios represented by the MPAA and against independent filmmakers such as those who attend Sundance. His documentary also accused movie raters of conducting an anonymous process in which filmmakers and the public do not know who rates the movies or what standards are used to judge the films.
Arriving in Utah on Saturday, Glickman said the changes to the system were not prompted by Dick's documentary. Glickman said the revisions had been in the works since 2004, when he took over the MPAA from Jack Valenti, who founded the ratings-system in the late 1960s.
"The system works very well. What's clear to us is we need to do a better job of explaining the system, of making sure people know it's transparent, it's not secret, it's open and it's accessible," Glickman said.
At Monday's meeting at Sundance, Glickman will be accompanied by Joan Graves, who heads the MPAA's Classification and Ratings Administration that uses panels of raters to decide if movies should get an NC-17, R, PG-13, PG or G rating.
Among other changes the MPAA plans:
_ Posting the names of its three senior raters on the association's Web site. Other raters will remain anonymous, but details on their background, families and where they come from will be posted online.
_ Enforcing a policy to ensure that raters have school-age children, which the association's overseers said was important so raters could give parents proper perspective on what might be inappropriate for kids.
_ Putting information online about the association's standards for rating movies, along with forms and instructions to filmmakers for submitting movies for rating.
_ Providing clearer definitions of movie ratings and sterner warnings to parents about films that might contain material inappropriate for younger children.
Dick said he was glad the association now would allow filmmakers to cite similar scenes from other films in the appeals process, but that other changes were cosmetic and would have little or no effect on making the ratings system more open.
"I don't think this is a decent first step," said Dick, whose "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" comes out on DVD on Tuesday. "A decent first step would be to create transparency around the whole system. Make known the names of all the raters and the people on the appeals board. They say the ratings system is for the public. Well, if it's for the public, the names should be public."
Glickman said he expects the changes to be implemented by March, when he and officials of the National Association of Theatre Owners hold an annual meeting with cinema operators at the ShoWest convention in Las Vegas.
The ratings system will remain under review, particularly as digital technology changes how consumers view movies, Glickman said. As they have for the past four decades, changes will be implemented as needed, he said.
"Like the U.S. Constitution _ and I'm not saying we're the U.S. Constitution, of course _ the basic framework, the basic document has lasted for over 200 years. It's been changed periodically but the fundamentals have remained," Glickman said. "I personally see no need for what I call revolutionary change."
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