Why Hollywood Should Encourage the Return of the NC-17 Rating

A chart of the MPAA rating system.

The MPAA Rating System, from G to NC-17.

By Patrick James Quinn.

How often have you seen parents buying movie tickets for teens to a film that is clearly too adult for them? Or a little kid cowering in a theater during a disturbing horror film?

The MPAA’s R rating is generally respected for its mature content. It is also tremendously broad in its scope. “The King’s Speech” is rated R for some language, while “Crank: High Voltage” bears the same rating for frenetic strong bloody violence throughout, crude and graphic sexual content, nudity and pervasive language.

Parents often don’t have the time or concern to properly research what it is their teens are wanting to see. And even if parents refuse, teens tend to find a way to get tickets, perhaps through older siblings or friends’ parents. As a rule, the R-rating requires an accompanying parent or legal guardian for anyone under 17, but many theaters don’t enforce this.

The NC-17 rating expressly states that no one 17 and under will be admitted, which would serve to separate a lighter R rating, such as the previous example of “The King’s Speech” from a far more graphic and arguably adult film such as “Crank: High Voltage” or innumerable other titles that push the envelope in terms of acceptable content for younger viewers.

The reason Hollywood avoids using the NC-17 rating is that it is often misconstrued as pornographic, heavily affecting a film’s box office performance. This misconception is because the rating was originally a simple X, which the porn industry began using because the MPAA could not trademark the single letter. In 1990 they changed the rating’s name, but the correlation had already been made. “In the minds of Hollywood studios, theater owners and parents groups, if a movie was NC-17, then it was pornography,” says Frank Paiva of MSN.

However, in the last few years Hollywood has become bolder in its ratings, releasing films such as “Shame” (2011) or “Killer Joe” (2011), both of which boast A-list stars like Matthew McConaughey or Michael Fassbender. “What we currently have is a system that’s slightly flawed in the reluctance of filmmakers and distributors to use the NC-17. What they’ll do is cut and trim and try to cram a movie into the R rating category so that it escapes the NC-17, and that’s not a legitimate use of the system. We end up with a very broad R category.” says John Filthian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners.

Examples of such trimmed-down films are “South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” and “Boys Don’t Cry.” “Blue Valentine” was originally branded as NC-17, but this rating was overturned after an appeal.

As films continue to push the boundaries of graphic, adult content, the encouraged return of the NC-17 rating would not only aid in protecting young and impressionable minds, but also inform adults, guardians, and general film-goers of a movie’s subject matter via a more specific rating system.

The Blue Fox Drive-In Theater ‘s Fight to Survive Digital Conversion

Written by Patrick James Quinn.

Neon Sign for the Blue Fox Drive-In

The Blue Fox Drive-In’s iconic neon sign.

OAK HARBOR, Wash. – The Blue Fox Drive-In is has entertained since it first opened in 1959. But with the mandatory switch from 35mm to digital projectors looming after New Year’s in 2013, that all may be coming to an end.

The Blue Fox Drive-In has been owned and operated by the Bratt family since 1988. The Bratts have been working for the whole of 2012 to raise the $60,000 to $80,000 for the new digital projector. If they are unable to raise the funds, the Blue Fox‘s screen will go forever dark.

In the late 1950’s, when drive-ins were at their peak of popularity, there were 4,000 to 5,000 in operation in America. According to drive-ins.com,  there are now only 366 open in the United States today, and those numbers are dropping. The Blue Fox is one of the last of its kind, and without our help it may join many of its closed predecessors.

Movie studios are switching for many reasons. Sending out digital copies of the films is infinitely less expensive when compared to the cost of making and shipping the heavy celluloid prints and repair of any damage. “The price of silver, heavily used in film processing, soared from $5 an ounce to about $25 this year,” says deadline.com, “The firm says that at one point distributors used 13B feet of film a year, equal to five trips to the moon and back. By 2010, though, film usage was down to about 5B feet.” This is mostly due to theaters progressively making the change to digital.

Other reasons for the digital switch is filmmakers taking advantage of the more flexible format. Christopher Nolan, director of the latest Batman trilogy, often uses the IMAX format for grander shots and action sequences in his films. Peter Jackson, director of the upcoming Hobbit trilogy, shot the films at 48 frames-per-second, which traditional 35mm projectors would not be able to display. The steady rise and popularity of 3D and the new sound system Dolby Atmos also encourage digital conversion.

Major theater chains such as Regal or AMC have mostly, if not completely, switched to digital already. It is the independent theaters or drive-ins that have only a few screens that will struggle with the ultimatum they’ve been dealt.

The Blue Fox Drive-In has been a staple of the Pacific Northwest. Families come from hours away to enjoy the atmosphere and watch the movies. To help save the Blue Fox Drive-In, visit its website at http://www.bluefoxdrivein.com/apparel.html.

Four of the Biggest Motion Picture Awards Shows

Written By: Sarah Clausen


For movie buffs, the start of the new year means one thing: Awards Season. Starting in January it seems like nearly every week there is another awards show being held. So what are some of the different types of awards can a film receive?


One of the first awards show of the season is the Golden Globe awards. This annual ceremony and dinner recognizes the year’s best domestic and foreign films and television shows. The first Golden Globes were given out in January 1944 by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Since 1961 the awards show has been held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. The 2012 Golden Globes were held on January 15.


The Golden Globes

The Golden Globes are held annually in January

Those interested in the directorial aspects of film should be aware of the Directors Guild of America Awards. These annual awards are given out by the Directors Guild of America to films with outstanding direction. And interesting note about the DGA Awards is that only six times since the awards’ inception in 1949 has the winner of the Award for Feature Film not won the Academy Award for Best Director. The 2012 DGA Awards will take place on January 28.


A similar award is the Producers Guild of America Awards. A new addition to the field, they were started in 1990 as the Golden Laurel Awards. The Producers Guild of America seeks to honor and recognize those who produce motion pictures and television. The PGA Awards also have a good track record of predicting which film will win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The 2012 PGA Awards were held on January 21.


Of course, one would be remiss to not mention the culminating awards show of the season, the Academy Awards. Also known as the Oscars, these awards have been given out since 1929 by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). The nominees are voted on by the members of AMPAS, with the nominations being made public in late January of each year. The 2012 Academy Awards will be held on February 26.


The Academy Awards

The Oscar is given out at the Academy Awards


This is just a small sampling of the myriad awards presentations held each year. Whatever awards show you follow, the most important question is: Did you favorite film win?

3-D: Everything Old is New Again, and Vice Versa

60s 3-D movie audience

3-D is just as exciting and innovative as it was in 1960

Written by: Holly Troupe

3-D is the bane of the contemporary cinephile’s existence. It is brain-addling. It encourages filmmakers to insert awkward and jarring stunts. The ticket cost is prohibitively high. Yet movie studios cling to the new technology as one might to a life raft in the swirling seas, even in the face of dwindling receipts. Will 3-D weather the storm of passing fancy, or will it go back on the shelf for another 50 years?

Who doesn’t enjoy a novelty? Impresarios have dazzled consumers for hundreds of years with innovative methods for the absorption of diversions: P. T. Barnum and his menagerie of wonderment; Nickelodeons projecting images of strongmen and dancing ladies; Al Jolson strapping on a microphone for “The Jazz Singer.” 3-D technology is nearly as old as movies themselves, and was one of the numerous movie amenities entertainment industrialists attempted over the decades. However, for the past 10 years with the implementation of digital technology, 3-D has enjoyed a boom that has surpassed even its 1950s heyday.

The biggest technological innovations in filmmaking—color and sound—began as curiosities. As use of the technologies became more sophisticated, the market demand became such that color and sound became studio no-brainers. While black and white films will never entirely go away, use of black and white is a specific style choice, rather than something the industry drags out of mothballs when the color bloom wears off. Once those technologies came into the mainstream, it was all on-wards and upwards. The same cannot be said for 3-D. Yasser Hamed, a senior 3-D animator, attributes the fluctuations in popularity to short-sightedness on the part of filmmakers. “3-D failed once before in the 1950s because directors considered it more of a gimmick,” he said. “People no longer go to the movies just for a story, they go for the experience. But directors need to ensure they are not making the same past mistakes to secure the long-term future of 3-D.”

Can 3-D ever be more than a gimmick? We can hear and we have color perception, so it makes sense that an audience wants the flickering on screen projections to be perceived just as they would be live. But 3-D on screen isn’t really three-dimension as in life. “The biggest problem with 3-D is the ‘convergence/focus’ issue,” says film editor Walter Murch. “The audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen — say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what. But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3-D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another.” This optical phenomenon is what causes many movie-goers to experience headaches and nausea while watching 3-D films; our brains just aren’t wired to efficiently absorb visual information that way.

The quality of projected 3-D films is also an issue. Some theater projectionists have been deliberately dimming the bulbs in the projectors during screenings to save money. As a result, many films have a dark, muddy look theatergoers (and, occasionally, reviewers) attribute to the filmmakers. Filmmaker Michael Bay, in desperation, wrote to projectionists before the opening of his film “Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon,” asking them to turn the bulbs back up, telling them: “Projectionists are of ultimate importance because your expertise defines the audience’s experience. Let’s make the audience believe again.”

What does 3-D offer? Something that has no convenient hand-held alternative. An enormous swathe of stimuli; a sensory wash of color, shape and excitement; something impossible to recreate at home. “3-D is about choice and it’s an option our guests have when they come to our theaters. We believe 3-D has a bright future as undoubtedly evolving technology will only work in its favor,” said AMC Director of Public Relations, Ryan Noonan.

3-D has evolved, albeit in a meandering way. The technology existed, in some form or another, for nearly 100 years. It first made an appearance in 1915, when the Lumiere brothers modified their original film “L’arrivée du Train” for 3-D using Stereoscope. Studios have released at least one 3-D film nearly every year since 1934, with 57 released in 1953 alone. These films were primarily a series of oddities—Andy Warhol’ version of “Frankenstein” was in 3-D—that became more and more laughable as the culture became more politically and socially charged in the 60s and 70s. 3-D dwindled until the late 90s, when digital technologies made 3-D conversion more practicable. IMAX cinemas with specialized projection also began showing huge screen productions that eclipsed anything seen in a standard multiplex. IMAX’s gain in popularity caused a steady increase of 3-D conversions in the early 2000s. We all have James Cameron to thank for the rest.

“Avatar,” James Cameron’s fiscal magnum opus and the world’s blue-skinned cultural touchstone, earned 71 percent of its $2.7 billion total gross on the 3-D version of the film. However, the biggest 3-D releases since—“Shrek Ever After,” “The Green Lantern,” “Pirates of the Caribbean”—earned more money opening weekend on standard screens than their 3-D counterparts. For many, the 3-D experience isn’t markedly better, at least not enough to justify paying as much as $6 more for a ticket, not including the cost of glasses. “So many movies are made in 3-D now, people are tired of it and so many are just not that impressive,” said Rob Weiner, film librarian at Texas Tech University. “The suits in Hollywood think that audiences only want to see something 3-D which is totally wrong.”

Not according to James Cameron. “When color came out, was it overkill? It’s just the way things are. Everything is in color now. It’s not in black and white. Everything will eventually be in 3-D.” Woe betide the cineaste planning to re-make “My Dinner with Andre.”

California Loses more Money as Movie Crews Leave for Canada and Beyond

Californian movie sets like this are growing ever more scarce by the year

In 2003, California’s world share of studio films – or, in other words, the movies made by the six biggest studios – was at a healthy 66 percent; by 2008 it had plummeted to a meager 34 percent. To question how Hollywood has slowly become the least popular place to make movies, is to trace the roots back to 1998, when Canada first started to offer incentive tax breaks for producers and crews who were willing to conduct business outside of California. Since then, seven U.S. states, and 24 different countries have begun competing with grants, rebates, and tax credits promising to eliminate as much as 40 percent of the cost for shooting a film.

Product of Vancouver, Canada

The reason behind the madness is simple economics; when a monstrous production arrives in any location, there are instantly a few hundred new jobs that pop up out of thin air (which is especially fantastic when the given city doesn’t have the money to build factories). California, which is currently suffering from a hard budget crisis, has managed to get ten feature films shot on location in Los Angeles by using what modest incentive the golden state could muster.

Perhaps the city of L.A. should offer up free gas masks or parking spots to those who do decide to continue making movies in California.