The director and producer search for the members of the MPAA in the documentary
Have you ever wondered who decides what the rating is on movies? Kirby Dick did, and so he decided to make a movie about it; he called it This Film Is Not Yet Rated.
But how would he go about it? These people aren't known by anyone; when Jack Vilenti started the MPAA (The Motion Picture Association of America) in 1968, he decided it would be best if no one knew the identity of his employees.
Kirby and his producing partner, Eddie Schmidt hired a private investigator; Becky Altringer was one of those chosen. "When Eddie and I kicked around the idea of hiring an investigator, that's when the idea moved forward; we knew that would have provided an arc to the film. At the same time, it would be a shot at the MPAA of outing those people."
Throughout their mission, they quickly realized Becky was the perfect choice for This Film Is Not Yet Rated. "Becky's personality is so appealing, and she's such an uncharacteristic choice, in a stable lesbian relationship; he was very creative," says Kirby. "And from the beginning, she said she really wanted to be a part of this project; and between the first and second meeting, she researched the MPAA. We needed someone like her.
Eddie jumped in with, "Yeah, she was the only one we interviewed who this wasn't just a gig, who really said 'I really want to figure this out.' And she really is likable, and that's a plus. But we wouldn't have put her in the film if we thought she couldn't pull it off."
In all the years people have been making films, they've been held back by the MPAA restrictions. Kirby felt he needed to change that in American cinema. "I've been wanting to make a film about the MPAA ratings system for more than a decade and was sort of stumped in a way because the secrecy, there was no way to get any access from them. I would have been left with a clip film interviewing filmmakers and talking about their experiences."
Towards the middle of This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Kirby decides to enter what he had so far from the doc to the MPAA. What he heard back was not what he was expecting. "What we submitted to the ratings board was pretty much what you saw up until that point in the film. I got a call; once Joan Graves (ratings board chair of the MPAA) had found out the film had been changed, she said, 'I have to let you know, now that you've changed the film, you can no longer use the NC-17 rating.' We were devastated, as you can imagine."
And after that call, he found out more investigation went into this movie than usual. "They also made a copy of my film, even though they told me they weren't going to do it. I guess they wanted to keep a copy of it; we called them and we heard that Dan Glickman (President of the MPAA) saw it and we were told only the raters were supposed to see the film. Dan Glickman's in Washington; I talked to Joan, and I said, 'Joan, you made a copy of the film.' And she said, 'Er, uh, not to my knowledge.' And then five days later, the MPAA attorney called up and said, 'Well Kirby, we did make a copy of your film, but you don't have to worry because it's safe in our vault.' And it's still there today."
Both Eddie and Kirby are hoping This Film Is Not Yet Rated is a difference maker in the ratings systems; they definitely want things to change. "I really hope it will," says Eddie; money talks, so if this film does well, and Hollywood could come back. It isn't just the industry who is interested in this; parents are as well. If people get galvanized, and asked the right question, things could change."
The film set out just to expose the members of the MPAA ratings board; what Kirby and Eddie found was a lot more than they expected. "I actually thought we would find out," says Kirby; "we wanted to let people know who these people were. What we did find out was surprising - we thought the appeals board would be run more professionally."
On a side note, the animation in the film was done by a company from the Klasky-Csupo family, Ka-Chew! Productions.
You can see everything Kirby and Eddie went through in This Film Is Not Yet Rated when it opens in select theaters September 1st; it's unrated.