After seeing Superman: The Movie in theaters recently, I joined the many film lovers with the mythical phrase: “they don’t make ’em like they used to”.
However, I did wonder whether or not films had to be reclassified upon a theatrical re-release. Let’s see…
In short, the answer is maybe…
The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), previously the British Board of Film Censors, is a non-governmental organization, founded by the film industry in 1912 and responsible for the national classification and censorship of films exhibited at cinemas and video works (such as television programmes, trailers, adverts, public Information/campaigning films, menus, bonus content etc.) released on physical media within the United Kingdom. Note that this does not include video on demand services (VOD) – such as the UK NETFLIX platform.
The Classification Process.
If the BBFC have previously classified a film for theatrical release, a new classification may be required.
- If BBFC last issued a theatrical certificate to the film prior to the introduction of the modern age ratings (U, PG, 15 or 18) in November 1982.
If this is the case, the film will need to be resubmitted for a full viewing to issue a new certificate and black card. This will cost the 75% of the standard fee, unless the film contains previously cut, re-edited or additional material, in which case the standard fee applies.
- The BBFC last issued a theatrical certificate to the film between November 1982 and 31 July 1989 inclusive:
a) If the film makers still have the original U, PG, 15 or 18 certificate and black card and are sure that the version they intend to release is exactly the same as the classified version, you may release the film with the original certificate and black card.
b) If the film maker does not have the original U, PG, 15 or 18 certificate and black card or are not sure whether the version they intend to release is exactly the same as the classified version, film makers will need to submit the film for a full viewing so that we can issue a new certificate and black card.
- If the BBFC last issued a theatrical certificate to the film on or after 1 August 1989
a) If the BBFC classified the film U, PG, 12A, 15 or 18, and if the film makers still have the original certificate and black card and are sure that the version they intend to release is exactly the same as the classified version, the filmmakers may release the film with the original certificate and black card.
b) If the film makers do not still have the original certificate and black card, or if the BBFC classified the film 12 (i.e. not 12A), but the film makers are sure that the version they intend to release is exactly the same as the classified version, the BBFC Compliance Managers will determine whether a full viewing is required. They will do this by considering existing examiners’ reports and other relevant documentation in relation to the following criteria:
- whether a certificate has been issued under current Guidelines;
- whether a more recent certificate has been issued for a version of the film to 2 be released on another format (e.g. video, online);
- whether changes in our Guidelines and/or policies, or the law, since the last classification are likely to result in a different classification;
- whether the film has previously been cut;
- whether or not any previous release(s) of the film have provoked controversy.
Where the BBFC conclude that a full viewing is required, they will charge 50% of the standard fee. Where BBFC conclude that a full viewing is not required, film makers will just need to book the film in via the extranet and send BBFC the DCP so that they can take a new measurement. BBFC will charge an administration fee of £104.57 for the issuing of a new certificate and black card. Interestingly, where BBFC decide that a film previously classified 12 does not require a new viewing, they will reclassify it 12A.
c) If BBFC classified the film U, PG, 12A, 12, 15 or 18 and film makers are not sure whether the version they intend to release is exactly the same as the classified version, they will need to submit the film for a full viewing.
Interestingly, BBFC chief executive, David Austin explains why the BBFC (every 4 years) consults the UK public in preparation for revising its film rating guidelines, whilst also expanding its portfolio of responsibilities.
“That’s one of the reasons we have such high trust levels,” says Austin. “Last time we carried out this research in 2014, we had 92% approval ratings from the public. The reason is that we talk to them, we do what they tell us to do.”
The last consultation ran during the summer of 2018, where by the general public are asked about subjects including discrimination, transgender representation, difficult themes: including self-harm and anorexia; and imitable techniques including violence, threat and tone at the junior classifications.
The BBFC board was set up in 1912 so that it could oversee its own censorship affairs without interference form the government. At the end of 2016, it had a reserve of around £14m and Austin claims that this was deliberate “because it has a lot of investment to make”. Indeed, some UK filmmakers have grown increasing frustrated that the BBFC charges the same amount for certifying a small scale indie film as for a US studio summer blockbuster. Unlike the US system, which has a sliding scale cost based on budget.
Using the BBFC fee calculator, a standard theatrical 90-minute film would cost £914 to be rated, which is significantly more than in France and Spain. In fact, in Italy, there would be no charge at all.
Disputes in Classification
However, statutory powers remain with the local councils, on whose behalf the BBFC classifies films. There has been occasions whereby filmmakers have gone directly to the LA to reclassify films. One example of this is with This Is England, which the board rated 18 but some local councils reduced to 15. Some authorities have also banned films (for example, Life Of Brian) regardless of their classification. These days, it’s much more uncommon that the BBFC refuse certification at all but altogether more uncommon for studios to make a major film that would even come close.
The BBFC works increasingly with the video on demand exhibitors, with more than 20 on-demand services submitting content on a voluntary basis. 2017 saw NETFLIX has the BBFC’s biggest ever customer and are currently classifying between 60% and 65% of content for the UK NETFLIX platform.
BBFC New Guidelines – February 2019
BBFC’s public consultation – involving more than 10,000 people – showed that young people and parents want to see an increase in classification guidance, particularly around online content, as well as more consistency across all platforms.
Demand for age classification has never been higher, with 97 per cent of people saying they benefit from age ratings being in place. 91 per cent of people (and 95 per cent of teenagers) want consistent age ratings that they recognise from the cinema and DVD to apply to content accessed through streaming services.
David Austin, Chief Executive Officer at the BBFC, said: “Over the last five years the way we consume film and video has changed beyond all recognition. That’s why it’s so important that there is consistency between what people watch on and offline. The research shows that parents and teenagers want us to give them the information and guidance that they need to view what’s right for them.”
The BBFC’s consultation confirms that people feel a heightened sense of anxiety when it comes to depictions of ‘real world’ scenarios, in which audiences – especially young people – are likely to be concerned that it could happen to them. For example, realistic contemporary scenarios showing terrorism, self-harm, suicide and discriminatory behaviour. This research confirms that the BBFC’s current category standards are reflecting the public mood.
The large scale research also found that attitudes towards sexual threat and sexual violence have moved on since 2013/14. Although the BBFC already classifies such content restrictively, people told us that certain depictions of rape in particular should receive a higher rating. The BBFC has therefore adjusted its Classification Guidelines in these areas.
People also told us that they expect the strongest sex references, in particular those that use the language of pornography, to be classified at 18. The new guidelines reflect this demand.
David Austin added: “We’re here to listen to what people want, which is why they trust our age ratings. So it’s encouraging to know that we’ve been classifying content in line with what people want and expect when it comes to difficult themes around credible real life scenarios. We also know that people are more comfortable with issues such as action violence, if it’s in a way that they are expecting – such as a Bond or Bourne film. We are updating our standards around depictions of sexual violence and very strong sex references to reflect changes in public attitudes.”
The BBFC found film classification checking is most evident among parents of children under the age of 12, finding that 87 per cent check all or most of the time, and a further 9 per cent check occasionally. Interestingly, there has been a marked increase in the level of claimed classification checking by parents of children aged 12-14 years – up from 90 per cent ever checking in 2013 to 97 per cent in 2018.
The new guidelines will come into effect on 28 February 2019.
This post was written by noxford