DGA: Re-cut pic ratings

Helmer's union calls for overhaul of MPAA system

Defying MPAA head Jack Valenti’s stalwart defense of the film ratings system, the industry’s directors issued a call Thursday for complete revision of the ratings.

The Directors Guild of America declared that a “simple, clean and detailed rating” should be adopted that would apply not just to films but all media.

It also emphasized that the NC-17 rating is “an abject failure” that has “unfairly stigmatized” movies but produced a situation in which many films that should not be seen by minors have been recut to receive an R rating.

“This has the effect of not only compromising filmmaker’s visions, but also greatly increasing the likelihood that adult-oriented movies are seen by the very groups for which they are not intended,” the union noted.

Announcement marks a significant break in Hollywood’s ranks as it is the first time the DGA has ever taken a position on the Motion Picture Assn. of America rating system. And it caps a week that has seen Hollywood hammered by politicians over a Federal Trade Commission report that accused the industry of knowingly marketing violence to children.

DGA statement, generated by its Task Force on Violence & Social Responsibility, offered few specific recommendations but calls for a more elaborate system of rating films so that parents can prevent their children from encountering unwanted violent images at the multiplex.

Parental responsibility

The union did not portray a revision of the 32-year-old MPAA ratings system as the cure-all for such problems, but declared instead that parents have the ultimate responsibility for protecting their children. It also called on exhibs to enforce a “zero tolerance” policy on admitting underage customers to inappropriate movies.

“No filmmaker wants his or her film to be seen by those for whom it was not intended,” said the 25-member task force, which includes Rob Reiner, Wes Craven, Michael Bay, Sydney Pollack, Michael Mann, John Carpenter, Paris Barclay and Gary Ross. DGA prexy Jack Shea chairs the group.

Although film was its chief concern, the union also proposed that a new system be used for all media, such as music and videogames. The FTC report also calls for a universal rating system and code of ethics.

“We will make this thing work,” declared Barclay, the DGA’s third national VP. “It might be a whole new idea that encompasses a lot of media.”

Barclay also said it is crucial that a system be created soon because of the coming explosion in delivery systems for content. “Three years from now will be too late,” he added.

Report response

The task force, created in June 1999, said it released the statement in direct response to the FTC report (which was released Monday) and added that its conclusions have been based on discussions with scholars and with Valenti.

“We believe that parents and other consumers should have access to a more useful and elaborate self-regulated ratings system (or systems),” the task force said. “A simple, clean and detailed rating should apply to all media.”

Shea said the union’s statement was delivered to Valenti on Wednesday, the same day that the MPAA head staunchly defended the current rating system in D.C. Shea said union leaders are hopeful it can begin meetings with MPAA and other industry members within weeks to work on a new rating system.

The DGA proposal is the second significant response from Hollywood to this week’s dramatic release of the FTC report accusing the industry of deliberately marketing violent content to children. The Walt Disney Co. unveiled policies on Tuesday restricting marketing of its R-rated films and setting guidelines for handling of other studios’ ads on ABC.

Ross said the task force recommendations do not represent a repudiation of the MPAA ratings system but a call for further development. “As the culture widens and broadens, the rating system needs to catch up,” he added.

And rather than blast the FTC report, the DGA praised it for its recommendations that the creative decisions be left to artists and distributors.

“The FTC has recognized that self-regulation can be effective, and we commend that agency for resisting the temptation to call for government intervention,” the task force said. “We think it would be both inappropriate and unconstitutional for any government agency to regulate or enforce any potential ratings system through civil penalties, criminal prosecution or other means.”

The FTC’s recommendations called for a ban and sanctions for target marketing of adult-oriented content to children; improvements in self-regulatory compliance at the retail level; and efforts to increase parental awareness of ratings and labels.

While the DGA was calling for a universal rating system, Valenti arrived in Los Angeles from Washington to discuss the FTC report with studio heads in the wake of a supercharged Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday, during which studio execs were harshly criticized.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Commerce Committee, will hold another hearing in two weeks for the express purpose of hearing from the studios.

(Pamela McClintock in Washington contributed to this report.)

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