'Captivity,' then discipline


The MPAA on Thursday disciplined After Dark Films for its controversial outdoor advertising campaign for the upcoming "Captivity" by imposing a monthlong suspension of the ratings process for the horror film, which has not yet been rated. The move could make it difficult for the film to bow on its scheduled release date of May 18.

In an uncharacteristically harsh reprimand, the MPAA — which had not approved After Dark's ads for general audiences — also said that After Dark and its distribution partner, Lionsgate, will be required to clear all the "Captivity" promotional materials it uses going forward in addition to the locations and venues of all advertising buys relating to the film. It is the first time the MPAA has imposed such a sanction, though some observers questioned whether the MPAA will be able to monitor all the ad buys.

While the MPAA will review After Dark's promotional materials before May 1, "Captivity" will not be eligible for consideration by the ratings board until then and will not be given priority scheduling at that time. There is no set time period for how long it takes the MPAA to issue a rating. That is dependent on the number of films lined up for a rating. The sanction doesn't give After Dark much time to recut or re-edit the film if the company is not satisfied with the initial rating issued.

"The sanctions in this case are severe because this was an unacceptable and flagrant violation of MPAA rules and procedures," MPAA senior vp advertising Marilyn Gordon said. "After Dark Films presented their ads for approval, as all companies are required to do if they wish to receive an MPAA rating. However, their ads were summarily rejected for their graphic depiction of a woman's torture and death. Yet After Dark proceeded to post them on billboards anyway, and these ads appeared in some of the most prominent public locations in Los Angeles and New York. It is now up to After Dark Films to restore good faith with the MPAA."

The MPAA's decision could force After Dark to postpone the release date of the film, moving it further into the heart of the busy summer moviegoing period. The production company also could decide to release the film unrated, which would severely limit its distribution because many commercial movie theaters will not play unrated movies.

A public outcry against the movie's billboards and New York taxi tops led to After Dark quickly removing the posters last week (HR 3/20). But After Dark continued to advertise its movie with a message, "Captivity Was Here," on the billboard locations where the ads first appeared. The new advertisement displayed the film's release date of May 18 along with the film's Web site.

After Dark CEO Courtney Solomon said at the time that the billboards were a mistake, but the fact that the company continued to promote the film in the locations where the offending ads had been featured has led some competitors to question its sincerity.

After Dark didn't return calls seeking comment Thursday.

"If the violation by After Dark Films is flagrant as alleged, then the MPAA response is appropriate," said Peter Wilkes, president of Lionsgate's investor relations. Lionsgate is co-releasing the film with After Dark. "However, we believe that the MPAA will rate the film itself on its own merits."

According to one marketing executive, who declined to be named, the two-week window between the date when "Captivity" may now apply for a rating and its release is too short to complete the ratings process. "These people tried to play the MPAA, and the MPAA came back," the exec said. "The real question is: Is this print campaign really going to put people in seats? No print campaign has that much power, so was it really worth all this?"

In order to receive an MPAA rating from the ratings board, it is required that all promotional materials that will be publicly displayed — either in print, television, theaters or online — must be cleared with the MPAA.

"MPAA reviews tens of thousands of promotional materials each year," Gordon added. "Our rules are important to moviegoers generally and parents in particular. The good news is that, as disturbing as this case has been, it marks a rare instance where a company has acted in such a clear and direct violation of our rules. The overwhelming majority of companies and filmmakers understand, support and abide by MPAA rules and procedures."