Revised R has a parental guide

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LAS VEGAS -- The Classification and Ratings Administration is adding a new warning to the description of its R rating.

While the R rating requires that anyone under the age of 17 be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian, the National Association of Theatre Owners and the MPAA, which operates the ratings system, want to discourage parents from bringing smaller children to violent and sexually graphic movies. The new advisory will read: "Generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated motion pictures."

The additional language comes in response to complaints from moviegoers, which has led theater owners to grapple with the situation. The ratings system is undergoing modifications, and key members of NATO and the MPAA convened Wednesday at a ShoWest panel to formally announce the changes.

Although independent filmmakers have been closely following the process, exhibitors did not demonstrate the same degree of interest -- possibly because key components of the changes, including the public disclosure of the rules and regulations, alterations in the appeals process and a new filmmaker liaison, were revealed in January and presented to the indie world at the Sundance Film Festival.

About 100 attendees gathered here at the Paris hotel for a presentation that included a history of the ratings system and a reminder that the voluntary ratings system is in place to inform parents of the content of movies.

As NATO general counsel Kendrick Macdowell said, "Our sole purpose is not to be a prescriptive body but a descriptive body." Also on the panel were NATO executive director Mary Ann Anderson, MPAA senior vp and CARA chairman Joan Graves and MPAA general counsel Greg Goeckner. NATO chief John Fithian introduced the event. MPAA chairman and CEO Dan Glickman did not attend.

Macdowell outlined the majority of the changes, which include posting the rules on NATO and the MPAA's Web sites. The ratings board also intends to formalize the education of its raters, though not to the extent that they lose their important point of view as "ordinary parents."

Speaking of the new advisory on R movies, Macdowell said that exhibitors are experimenting with initiating standards that would refuse admittance to parents with young children to R-rated fare. No industrywide effort has been launched in that direction, though.

Goeckner offered details about the appeals process and its changes, the largest being the precedent rule, allowing filmmakers to cite previous films when arguing for the turnover of a specific rating. Goeckner cautioned, however, that all appeals board members must consider each scene in the context of the film in which it appears, explaining that two exact scenes in two different movies might be viewed differently.

Of the 900 films the board rates annually, about 10 are appealed. Already in 2007, the appeals board has heard five cases, including DreamWorks' "Norbit," which has grossed $87 million since it was released Feb. 9 by Paramount Pictures with a PG-13 rating. The film originally was cited with a R-rating.

Goeckner also addressed the role of religious organizations in the appeals process. He said they are relegated to the role of observers, allowed to sit through the films and the Q&As, but they are forbidden to state their opinion or vote. They are there only to ensure that the process remains fair.

Members of the appeals board, made up of industry insiders including distributors, exhibitors and filmmakers, serve three years and can serve a maximum of two consecutive terms. Also, appeals must now be requested 25 business days after a rating has been issued in order for marketing materials to contain the proper rating in enough advance time before the release of the film.
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