From What's wrong with the British Film Industry, a series of articles and polemics by Jonathan Williams, one-time media academic and the writer/producer of Diary of a Bad
Interesting what you find you, isn't it. Having had to fork out more than £700 to the BBFC, and having signed and returned the form saying that I accepted the ‘18' rating and the ‘consumer advice' saying: contains
strong sex, sexual violence and very strong language, they seemed to be taking a very long time in issuing the final certificate; so I contacted them to find out what was going on.
Back came the reply that I had to submit the packaging, to send them three copies of the DVD cover artwork which they would have to pass, and they sent me a link so that I could download the submission form.
Hang on, I thought: What's all this, you don't have to submit covers of books to anyone? Ah, yes, but as they explained, this was completely voluntary. I didn't actually have to submit anything, I just had to tell them I wasn't and
they'd issue the certificate.
But they also informed me that:
You should be aware, however, that by opting out of this scheme, which is registered as a Restrictive Trade Practice acceptable to the Office of Fair Trading, the product of your company may be refused handling by wholesalers and/or retailers
who are members of the Video Standards Council (VSC).
So there you have it. You send them the artwork, they look at it, they say: That's OK, here's your certificate, and you can now go ahead and add a VSC logo to the cover as well.
And then they ring you up and say: That'll be £41.28. Do you want to pay by credit card?
What?! More than £700 so that someone can take your film home and spend 90 minutes watching it is bad enough. But over £40 to look at your cover as part of what they call a voluntary scheme, but one which, if you don't comply with it,
means that the main retailers and renters won't handle your film! This isn't a voluntary scheme, it's a government sanctioned protection racket!
Recently I emailed the BBFC asking them why they were charging filmmakers for classifying purely factual
DVD ‘extras' such as interviews with cast and crew, director's commentaries, and so on.
To: the BBFC
I am contacting you on behalf of New Wave North West, which has as its members most of the region's no/micro-budget feature filmmakers, for clarification when it comes to an ‘extras' DVD.
Under your explanation of the ‘E' classification
and the 1984 act, a work is exempted if it is designed to inform, educate or instruct provided that there is no significant sexual or violent content.
From this it would appear that ‘extras' content, such as
Interviews with cast and crew informing and educating the audience about the film and its production are exempt.
A director or producer's commentary again informs and educates the viewer as is thus exempt.
Such as deleted scenes when placed in the context of a ‘mini-documentary' in which the filmmakers explain the reasons why certain content ended up on the cutting room floor, is also exempt.
Deleted scenes and other similar material, if presented without a context which informs, educates and instructs, would not be exempt.
Is it correct then that, under the provisions of the act, only material such as that listed under 4 above is to be submitted? As you state:
Under the Video Recordings Act, the onus is on the distributor to decide whether or not a video work is an exempted work, and distributors have tended to put an ‘E' symbol on tapes as guidance to the public.
The Board does not examine exempted works and does not decide whether or not a work is exempt.
BBFC Reply: Up to You
Under the terms of the Video Recordings Act 1984, every video work, supplied on a video recording of any type (tape, disc, hard drive etc.), must be classified by the BBFC before it can be rented or sold legally in the UK, unless the work is
exempt under Section 2 of the VRA. You can obtain a copy of the VRA from the Office of Public Sector Information.
The decision as to whether a work is exempt from classification is the responsibility of the video distributor. The BBFC's role is to classify works submitted to it; it cannot offer advice regarding the likelihood of a work being successfully
claimed as exempt.
Comment: VRA weights classification process in favour of the major distributors
By Jonathan Williams
So there you have it. It's nothing to do with us - you send it, we classify it - and if it actually
doesn't need classifying we won't tell you because we don't make the decisions. Like I said, we classify...and we charge money.
If you click their 'exemptions link' it will tell you that the Video Recordings Act (1984) is policed by 'Trading Standards' (who have to find out that a video recording which transgresses the Act is being sold, seize it, track down who's
responsible, press charges, etc).
My own suspicions are that the 1984 Act was a crass Mary Whitehouse/Daily Mail inspired response to 'video nasties' (or 'cult classics' as they are now called), is full of holes, completely out of date, and that the whole system remains in place
largely on the basis of threats and bullying. It has not been challenged though as they essentially don't censor '18' material, so there is no outraged publisher prepared to mount a case in defence of D.H. Lawrence etc. No, in fact the major
players like the system.
The more I look at where we are at, the more I realise is that everyone is just trying to justify their jobs,
if we didn't have a censorship board then our country would be seen to have no morals and be liberal, so we have to have one so we are seen to be in control, even though the agency pretty much is saying, do what you like, but if we find you and do
not like then we will destroy you,
As Richard Branson said, screw it lets do it and as nike said 'just do it
great work Jon!
Follow Up: Video Recordings Act UK (1984), Exempt Material
I posted the following on today's Shooting People.org bulletin. It questions whether this act, strangely passed in 1984…and amended in 1993&4, and therefore several years before the advent of the DVD, is being applied by
the BBFC to DVD extras material which could well be exempt, or presented in a way which would make it so, under the terms of the act. But the draconian penalties, a maximum 2 years in prison and unlimited fines means that none of the small
distributors are prepared to challenge the BBFC. But there is something we can all do.
The BBFC defines its purpose as being to protect children – anyone under 18 – from unsuitable material. This may be all well and good when it comes to films on general release, or on sale at supermarket checkouts. But over 90% of these films are
American productions (some with English actors and storylines) and at least six% of the rest are French productions from either Pathe or Gaumont.
Basically British independent films don't get a look in because UK distributors simply can't afford the marketing spends which the multiplex chains demand before they'll consider booking a film. The result is that these films only get screened in
specialised cinemas and arts centres which under 18s don't go to, and the DVD's are mainly sold via the internet to 18+ credit card holders. In short the BBFC is not 'protecting' anyone from these films.