Demystifying Classification for you low-budget Feature

IMG_0004-0A part of self-distribution that is not always discussed is classification. In NZ you must get your film rated to be able to screen it or distribute it. It may seem daunting initially but the process is relatively simple and easy to do. Here I will explain the basics of the process and the few things to think about before you start.

Are you going through the process yourself?
The first factor to ponder is whether you want to go through the process at all. If you think you have a shot at a distribution deal then you probably wouldn’t bother. More likely you will have tried every distribution company in the country and been turned down so you have to investigate other options (of course self-distribution is still a valid form of distribution, but we will focus on that in other posts). Another approach would be to enter the NZ International Film Festival, if you get in then they will get your film classified.

Timeline Determined
When making your distribution plan you should incorporate the timelines for the censorship into the plan. Particularly if you are looking for a discount (explained later in the post). You need to think about when you want to release the film and then work backwards from there. Generally the time frame for a restricted film will be up to a couple of months, but you may want to double check this when you apply.

Will it be M or Restricted film
There are two avenues with ratings, one for anything rated M or below and a different path if your content is going to be restricted. Both have different costs involved. You really need to think long and hard about the content of your film. If you know that you will definitely not get a restricted rating then you can take the easier path. If not you will be going straight to the classification office to get a restricted rating. This is the more expensive avenue, but the process is still very simple. Click here for more information on censorship.

Paperwork and a letter to the censor
When filling out the paperwork you need to be very clear about how your film is going to screen, will it be playing in theatres, DVD, online, a mixture, just one or two? This informs a lot of the process. The form is simple to fill out and requires you to deliver the same sorts of things you would normally need for any kind of application. You can also get your posters, trailers and other content rated as well if you feel that is necessary (for extra costs) – if you have alot of objectionable content in the trailer it might be worth sending it in.

The other thing to note here is that the classifications office does have a provision for you to get up to a 75% fee reduction if you write to the Chief Censor. If you have the money it would be better to pay it, but if you are self-distributing you probably don’t. The key to this is to be very clear about why your film should get a discount. You should read the guidelines and ensure that you meet the requirements for this letter and explain your situation using those provisions as a guideline. You should also be honest with both yourself and the censor in that the likelihood of you making lots of money for this will be incredibly slim.

Another important note about contacting the censor, take the time to google their name and address the letter to them. Why should they discount your film if you can’t even address a letter properly.

If you are doing a theatrical release then the cinemas screening your film will need to display a ratings certificate for your film on their premises. You will be supplied this, just make sure you have one for each cinema.

DVD Labelling
All of your DVD’s need to be labelled. My suggestion is to just go to a professional DVD creator and this whole process will be managed for you. You do need to pay a nominal fee for the labels (something like 2c a label) but it doesn’t really add anything to your cost per item.

There are a number of other decisions that  need to be made with DVD’s (as with any form of distribution) but one thing to mention that goes hand in hand with labelling is a barcode. Make sure that this is done right too.

The rating for online content is different to everything else. This incurs another fee of roughly $40 on top of the other classification. To get this you need to fill in paper work after receiving the original classification. If you talk to the really friendly team at the labelling body they will explain the process in greater detail.

If there is anything you have to add about the process or if there is something you would like to know more about let me know in the comments.



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