Censorship – The ‘M’ Rating and how to get there…

Help Poster Tropfest NZ winner 2014

With the Tropfest deadline coming up in a week it seemed like a good time to go over Censorship in NZ. Tropfest has an ‘M’ rating and if your film doesn’t pass it can be disqualified from the competition. We were lucky enough to have the chance to resubmit our film ‘Help’ after making changes to the film in a day to ensure it came in on the rating, so here are my thoughts on Censorship…

Our Tropfest winning short film ‘Help’ was a great little learning film for our team. Created in 6 days from idea to final edit, the film allowed us to experiment with a couple of concepts that have become staples in our way of creating films, namely the thoughtful voiceover and the telling of a human/relatable story within a filthy humorous setting.

m-label-largeHaving made the film so quickly we did not have any expectations and were shocked and elated to make it through the initial culling. This meant that our film had to go to the labelling body for a rating. Of course with the filthy humour we were a little sceptical about whether the film would pass.

If your not sure what constitutes an ‘M’ rating the classifications office wrote a great article clarifying it here.

Unsurprisingly the film did not pass the initial censorship round which lead to a tense night for us as a team. Not passing would mean we couldn’t play at Tropfest and we obviously really wanted to screen. We knew the content was iffy but as filmmakers you sometimes don’t really think about the implications of wanting to keep the film as you envisioned and don’t always take the audience into consideration. Our only initial comment was that “they didn’t like the beastiality”, with our response, “but you don’t actually SEE anything.”

After direction from the Tropfest team we got in touch with the team at the video labelling body and went through the film over the phone to make sure that we knew exactly what triggered the rejection. This is an important step. Instead of just focusing on the one main area we made sure that everything was discussed and went over the film in great detail “What about the masturbating?”, “No we think that’s okay,” “Okay great, the poo story?”…

It should also be said that the team at the Film and Video Labelling body are incredibly lovely people. If you are respectful, they will be respectful and will help you out where they can.

Duck Shot still Mick InnesSo as filmmakers we had a big decision to make. Do we remove over a minute of our film to still be eligible for Tropfest or keep it the way it was? For us that was a no brainer, it had to be changed. I feel having flexibility as a filmmaker is incredibly important. Being an auteur is all well and good but if no one gets the chance to see your work what is the point?

We had less than a day to make all the necessary edits of the film and resubmit for censorship. We had to come up with an idea fast. We also didn’t want to loose the whole scene involving animals, we wanted to find a way of making part of it cleaner so it would still pass.

Luckily within an hour we had an idea (Andy had to take the day off work and I had to start making furious phone calls to actors and our post sound team at Envy Studios – everyone should use them, they are amazing!). We had to make a large cut in the film (luckily fairly simple as we were just removing from one place), do a quick photoshop/masking job and ADR a couple of lines to make the film fit. Then after reexporting and uploading we had a film back to the labelling board. We also had to do all of this with our editor away, so there were a few requests for technical advice along the way.

We then sat biting our nails the next morning waiting for a response. It was quite a nerve wracking time waiting for the call/email that would let us know if our rush job was going to be okay. Obviously we were fine though and the rest as they say is history…

Tropfest Winners 2014The main point to take from this is that working with organisations like the labelling body to make changes to your film for a release doesn’t have to be a bad experience. They are not evil people trying to destroy your creative integrity, they are following a rule structure set-up to protect the viewing public (whether you agree with it or not) and can assist you to reach a greater audience than you would have by having your film restricted. We ended up with two versions of ‘Help’, the clean one, and the filthy one that premiered at the ‘Chicago REEL Shorts Film Festival’ recently.

In a future post I will go over the details of getting a low budget film classified. If you have any other queries, comments or experiences to share please do so in the comments below.

And if you haven’t seen ‘Help’ click here to watch the M rated version – see if you can spot the edits…


What does ‘M’ mean – Classification Office – http://www.classificationoffice.govt.nz/news/news-what-does-M-mean.html

Film and Video Labelling Body – http://www.fvlb.org.nz/nz

Envy Studios – http://www.envystudios.co.nz

‘Help’ – M rated version – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UN9ybIPKYEI


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