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MPAA, NATO reform ratings system

Process more clear for parents, filmmakers

Looking to reform and demystify the ratings system, the MPAA and National Assn. of Theater Owners are planning a series of changes, including a new admonishment to parents that certain R-rated movies aren’t suitable for younger kids, period.

Another key change: For the first time, a filmmaker will be able to cite another movie when waging an appeal.

Along with specific rule revisions, the campaign to make the ratings process more user-friendly and transparent for parents and filmmakers includes an extensive outreach and education program.

Campaign officially kicks off Monday at the Sundance Film Fest when MPAA topper Dan Glickman and Joan Graves, chair of the Classification & Rating Administration, will meet with indie filmmakers, producers and specialty arm execs to go over the alterations. (CARA is operated by the MPAA, which reps the major studios, and NATO.)

A year ago at Sundance, Kirby Dick made noise with his docu “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” which took direct aim at the Motion Picture Assn. of America’s ratings system for being shrouded in secrecy and, hence, lacking accountability.

At the time, Glickman had already been meeting with and gathering input from various stakeholders in the ratings system — including filmmakers, guilds, parents’ groups and Washington lawmakers — but Dick’s film had an impact.

“The documentary made it clear that we probably haven’t done as much as we can to explain how it all works,” Glickman told Daily Variety, adding that the voluntary ratings system–devised and implemented by Jack Valenti, his predecessor — is a “gem,” even if it needs some polishing.

To that end, the public soon will have access to information previously unavailable. That includes:

  •  For the first time, CARA will post the ratings rules on the MPAA Web site, describing the standards for each rating. The ratings and appeal processes also will be described in detail, along with a link to paperwork needed to submit a film for a rating.

  •  Most members of the ratings board will remain anonymous, although CARA will describe the demographic make-up of the board, which is composed of parents. The names of the three senior raters have always been public; now, they will be posted online.

In terms of rule revisions, the planned changes include:

  •  A filmmaker who appeals a rating can reference similar scenes in other movies, although the appeals board still will focus heavily on context.
  •  CARA will formalize its rule that a member of the ratings board doesn’t stay on the board after his or her children are grown.
  •  CARA also will formalize its educational training system for raters.
  •  When the CARA rules are implemented later this year, the MPAA and NATO will designate additional members to the appeals board who don’t come from the MPAA or NATO fold. (Indie filmmakers might be one possibility.)
  • NATO and MPAA will occasionally be able to designate additional observers from different backgrounds to the appeals board.

Glickman, Graves and NATO prexy John Fithian said CARA also will increase its efforts to educate parents, including circulating a poster and video that will advertise a new Red Carpet Ratings Service, a weekly email alert that gives the parents the ratings for new releases.

In terms of the new explanation stating that a particular picture might not be appropriate for younger children, MPAA and NATO often receive numerous complaints from parent orgs about adults who take younger kids to movies with a hard R-rating.

The new explanation is designed to give parents, as well as theater staff, additional info. Anyone under 17 would still be allowed into any R-rated movie if they were accompanied by an adult.

“We are the frontline when it comes to enforcing the ratings system,” Fithian said.

CARA hasn’t come up with the precise language for the admonishment, which would be included in the rating definition.

After Sundance, Glickman, Graves and Fithian will hold a series of roundtables with a number of other interested groups to talk about the changes and what they mean for the ratings system, culminating with a briefing at ShoWest, when theater owners will be briefed by Fithian.

The ratings system can’t ever be completely defined, since there will always be a subjective factor to decisions made by the ratings board, but Graves believes the changes will help make the process less opaque.

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