John August has written an article about the need to get PG-13 rating on your movie.
John August writes:
“From personal experience, one of the worst things that can happen to your movie is to cut it down to a safer rating after you’ve shot it. It’s not just losing the F-words. It’s losing the moments that called for the F-words. If when writing the script you knew you could only say it once and in a non-sexual context, you would write scenes in a way that didn’t demand it.”
There are figures telling us that producers make most money out of PG-13 movies. So there is need to fit it into this template, if it is close enough to begin with.
So what does PG-13 mean?
PG-13 is one of Motion Picture Association of America film rating ranks. It appeared the first time 1984 and means “Parents Strongly Cautioned, Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13”.
If Wikipedia is to be trusted, what is important for the rating is language, drugs and sex. Not a word about violence.
If sexual words are used, they must not be used (or little used) in a sexual meaning, and not too often.
If there is a reference to drugs the movie can never get the PG-rating (allowing younger children). Something Whale Rider experienced, where marijuana is used briefly and not in a positive way and where a child stand up to the grown-up and says it is not good for them. But it existed – PG-13. Just as an example Whale Rider was rated 7 in Sweden, meaning it is from 7-years-old.
From Wikipedia about the Swedish rating:
“Violence is seen as far more socially disruptive than consensual sexual acts, nudity or strong language, which is generally looked at more liberally than violence. This can have the effect that some PG or PG-13 rated films in USA are being rated "15 years" in Sweden for violence, while some films getting an R in USA for containing profanity or depictions of sexuality are rated at 7 or 11 years, or even for all audiences. (For example, The King's Speech was allowed for all audiences in Sweden and R-rated in the United States for profanity).”
From May 2007 smoking of cigarettes is also considered in the rating.
This page says about PG-13:
“These films may contain sex references, up to four uses of explicit language, drug innuendo, strong crude/suggestive humor, mature/political themes, moderately long horror moments and/or moderate action violence. There are usually no restrictions on non-sexual nudity. However, extreme bloodshed is rarely present.”
“There may be depictions of violence in a PG-13 movie, but generally not both realistic and extreme or persistent violence. A motion picture's single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, initially requires at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive requires an R rating, as must even one of those words used in a sexual context."
And about the “feared” higher R-rating MPAA states:
“An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously.”
When John August states that it is better to leave the f-words out to begin with, I can’t but agree. If foul language is there it should be there for a reason. As for everything else, for that matter.
Then comes the interesting thing about it: should I write to fit PG-13? Well, I guess it depends. I suppose a potential buyer is more interested if it is not something obviously R-rated, if PG-13 is what they strive for.
If a story could be told without curses, sex and violence, it should because there is no need to add things that doesn’t serve the story. But to polish the language, be prudent and hit each other with cotton swabs in a story where imprecates, nudity and weapons should have been better means to tell the story, then it comes as confusing as when the scene in Robin Hood where the hand is cut off was removed to get the movie 11-rated in Sweden – no one understood what was going on.