As a producer of one of the handful of NC-17 films ever made, Lucky Bastard, I can tell you it's like the guys on Jackass finding out what happens when you get kicked in the nuts: Yes, it hurts like hell.
The distributor of Steve McQueen's new film Shame has lashed out at Australia's classification board, saying the internationally acclaimed film doesn't deserve an R18+ rating.
Transmission Films general manager Courtney Botfield says
she is disappointed the Australian Classification Board has stamped Shame with the rating, which restricts marketing and tends to dent box office takings.
The classification is harsh, she claims, given the film's level of explicit content and the
absence of violence:
We were disappointed, we don't think the film is that terribly explicit to deserve an R rating.
Given that it was rated in a similar classification bracket in the US it was
on the cards, but we were pretty confident it wouldn't get one.
In fact the film was rated adults only in both the UK (18 rating), and the US (NC-17 rating).
Botfield says some people will miss out seeing an important film
because of restrictions on marketing. She explained:
Mainly it's the trailering. The trailer is automatically rated R and can only play with other R-rated films, of which there are none, so that key marketing tool
After a showing of the NC-17 rated Shame at the US AFI Fest, National Association of Theater Owners president John Fithian talked to TheWrap about Shame and the distribution of adult rated films..
Fithian said about Shame:
It would have destroyed this film to cut it down to an R rating. Too many filmmakers and too many studios do that, and I applaud Steve McQueen and Fox Searchlight for sticking to their guns.
This is the kind of
film that the NC-17 is designed for, and I think we need more bold filmmakers and distributors to make content appropriate for the rating and release it that way.
Fithian then claimed that distributors reluctance to release NC-17
films was largely based on myth. He said:
The first myth, is that theaters will not play movies with the rating.
That's just not true. We've surveyed 100 of our members, and three of them said
they would never play NC17s, just as a personal choice. So that myth is 97% false.
And the other myth is that you can't advertise movies that are rated NC-17. That's wrong, too. Fox Searchlight released a Bertolucci picture a
while back [9 years ago] called The Dreamers , and [company president] Steve Gilula says they got it played where they wanted to get it played. In terms of advertising, one newspaper in Utah wouldn't take advertising for NC-17, and that was about
Fox Searchlight's US distribution deal with Shame specified that the studio would not re-edit the movie for a lower-rating even though it's almost certainly going to get an NC-17. The movie, which follows the downward spiral of a sex addict
(played brilliantly by Michael Fassbender), features copious sex and nudity with a sprinkling of implied incest.
There are multiple challenges to marketing an NC-17 movie. Most networks won't air promos for an NC-17 film (at least not during
primetime), newspapers are wary of buying ads for NC-17 movies, and even theaters aren't eager to show NC-17 movies because it's adults only. This allows for stupid folks to come out an accuse the theater of not being family friendly.
Shame has been very well received wherever it has been shown on the festival circuit, so Fox will market the film on the strength of good reviews and word of mouth. It has a good start as it picked up awards at the Venice Film Festival for Best Film and
Shame isn't going to open with a wide release. It opens in New York and Los Angeles on December 2nd, which means that the studio will only have to rely on newspaper ad buys in those cities. Fox will also put a green-band (suitable for
all ages) trailer into theaters.
The Fox studio co-president Steve Gilula said:
I think NC-17 is a badge of honor, not a scarlet letter. We believe it is time for the rating to become usable in a serious manner.
The sheer talent of the actors and the vision of the filmmaker are extraordinary. It's not a film that everyone will take easily, but it certainly breaks through the clutter and is distinctive and original. It's a game changer.