Note: This post, originally published in November 2015, has been updated and republished to reflect a couple of new developments.
British filmmaker Charlie Lyne made a 607-minute movie of white paint drying on a wall, and over the course of two days, the British Board of Film Classification had to watch every second of it.
“Paint Drying,” as the film is titled, became a crowdfunding campaign in late 2015, as a way for Lyne to protest what he sees as the unfair cost for independent filmmakers who want their work released in the United Kingdom. His crowdfunding money covered the nearly £6,000 in fees necessary to get the British film board — the equivalent of the Motion Picture Association of America — to give the it a rating.
On Tuesday, the BBFC declared that the film was “U,” for “no material likely to offend or harm,” presumably because the film is literally just 10 hours of paint drying and nothing else.
A film effectively can’t be shown in the U.K. without a BBFC certificate, Lyne argued, although he’s completely aware that more or less no one, ever, would want to watch his film all the way through anyway. On Reddit, Lyne said he himself has not watched the full version of his masterpiece.
Instead, his intent here was to draw attention to what he sees as flaws in the practically compulsory review process for films in Britain, and how those flaws make it harder for artists — particularly those who aren’t backed by major studios — to get their work seen by the public.
In addition to the often expensive fees required for a rating certificate, Lyne was also concerned that the effectively compulsory review process leads to the censorship of films in Britain. He hoped the project would help draw attention to both of those issues.
Judging by the response to Lyne’s Reddit AMA on Monday, Lyne very well may have succeeded in his mission.
“One of the most striking things for me has been the number of responses from people in other countries, chiming in with complaints about their own censor boards,” Lyne said in an email to The Intersect on Tuesday, adding that filmmakers from Australia and India seem to be particularly supportive of his project. “Maybe they can all crowd-fund their own regional ‘Paint Drying’ remakes,” he suggested.
The BBFC’s fees are determined by the length of the film, in minutes, and the board promises to watch any submission it receives “all the way through” before evaluating its content and assigning a rating. So the more money Lyne raised, the longer the film he could afford to submit to the board, and the more minutes of paint drying the examiners had to watch.
Lyne filmed 14 hours of paint drying on a wall in advance, and raised enough money to submit about 10 hours of that footage to the board.
“Everyone was very polite and helpful — I think the board has decided to take the film in its stride and treat it like any other submission, which is probably a good strategy,” Lyne said in an email to The Intersect on Tuesday. Because of BBFC rules preventing reviewers from watching more than 9 hours of material per day, the BBFC viewing this week was split up into two days, concluding Tuesday Lyne added.
In a statement to Mashable, the BBFC confirmed that they were treating “Paint Drying” just like any other film. “Examiners are required to watch a very wide variety of content every day, so this didn’t faze them,” a spokesperson for the organization said.
The BBFC added that the organization’s income “is derived solely from the fees it charges for its services,” and that “Film makers wishing to show their films at cinemas in the UK without a BBFC certificate may do so with permission from the local authority for the area in which the cinema is located.”
Lyne had promised to reshoot the film to make it even longer if his funding campaign surpassed its Kickstarter goal. Had that happened, he said in November, “Paint Drying” would have been the longest film the board has ever rated. That title is currently held by Jacques Rivette’s “Out 1,” he said.
The BBFC submission fee is 101.50 British pounds per film, with an additional charge of 7.09 pounds for each minute of the film’s length. That cost typically runs at about a thousand pounds per feature film, Lyne says, a cost that can be “prohibitively expensive” for independent filmmakers who distribute their films themselves.
“I self-distributed my first film, ‘Beyond Clueless,’ earlier this year, which meant paying for the BBFC certificate myself,” Lyne said in an email to The Intersect in November. “It cost £867.60, which was about 50 percent of the entire distribution budget.” Lyne said that he wouldn’t have been able to show his film in the U.K. if he didn’t have the money to pay for the certificate already saved up.
“I know of several planned releases that have been abandoned for exactly that reason,” he added at the time, “which is terrible for British film culture.”
The BBFC has been a part of British filmmaking culture for about a century. It used to be called the British Board of Film Censors, until changing the “C” in the BBFC to the slightly friendlier “Classification” in the 1980’s. And its longevity is in part why Lyne thinks that the current certificate system gets so little scrutiny.
“If a new organization came along today and wanted to censor books, or music, people wouldn’t stand for it, whereas the BBFC has been around for a hundred years so nobody’s ever known anything different,” Lyne told us in November. He hopes his project will start a discussion in the U.K. about “whether or not we want a government-mandated board to control an entire art form.”
In November, Lyne said he had no plans to screen his film for the public. But now that the film has a rating, he’s working on putting one together. “I’m talking to a cinema in London this afternoon about potentially showing it,” Lyne emailed on Tuesday. “Probably just the one screening, for everybody’s sake.”
[This post, originally published on November 19, was updated on November 20 to include an interview with the filmmaker. It was updated again on January 26, 2016, to include several new developments and a follow-up with the filmmaker.]
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