By Sam Haysom Every cinema release, every advert, every TV show and every DVD extra that's legally available to purchase in the UK goes through them first. They're the gatekeepers of what we watch. Here's what we learned. After a film-maker or distributor has paid a fee to submit their film or advert, or TV show, or whatever it is and the operations team have checked the technical elements, Caitlin is one of the BBFC's 10 or so examiners that the footage gets assigned to if it's a theatrical release two examiners will watch it together.
Shortly after I arrive in her office, she shows me her viewing schedule. When I ask her about that last one, she laughs. Going straight from a three-minute animated DVD extra to a hardcore porn feature might seem like an unusual concept to some, but for Caitlin it's just an average day.
Caitlin's day consists of working through the material she's been assigned around five or six hours' worth and writing a report for everything she watches. She types notes as she goes. On her desk are two identical TV remotes; the second is a back-up, as the buttons on the first are starting to wear out from the sheer amount of pausing and rewinding she does. Here's an archived copy of the BBFC's report for 'Die Hard' obviously things have changed quite a bit since then.
Surprisingly, the job hasn't sucked any of her enjoyment out of going to watch releases, though. When I ask Caitlin about the most difficult aspects of her work, she mentions two areas — both of which concern children's material.
For videos they can ask for a reconsideration which means Austin himself and several other senior BBFC members getting involved , and if they still don't agree with the outcome they can go through the Video Appeals Committee an independent body staffed by legal and child development experts.
The process is more unusual for theatrical releases. Another classic example is David Cronenberg's Crash — a drama about a group of people who are sexually aroused by car crashes. And I know that Shane Meadows went to Westminster and said we think this film has strong messages to teenagers about the dangers of gang culture and gang violence, so we think you should give it a The organisation walks a tightrope, with angry parents on the one side and frustrated film-makers on the other.
I ask him about the type of material he struggles the most with on a personal level. It isn't common, but it does happen. Over the past 10 years a total of 12 works have been banned although two of these — Human Centipede 2 — Full Sequence and a video game called Manhunt 2 — were subsequently passed 18 with cuts. And we took a look and ultimately decided to refuse to classify. It may also go through the appeals process. Essentially, that means there's a concern the material could adversely influence viewers if released.
Austin's response is firm: Does the BBFC ever feel pressure from big film companies to give blockbusters a lower rating? The BBFC try to meet expectations where they can, though. Often they'll work with film-makers to help them get the certificate they want by viewing the script or an early version of the film and advising them if anything needs to be changed to meet the guidelines for a certain rating. They even added extra wolves to the scene in which Cato is mauled to death, which blocked out some of the detail and helped the film meet 12A guidelines.
Some scenes in 'The Hunger Games' were digitally altered to get the film to a 12A. The BBFC regularly organises focus groups with film-makers, goes into schools to speak to younger viewers and — once every four years — meets with the public to get feedback on their more controversial decisions. I don't know what his point was to be honest," he says. We have to take account of UK law which is made by parliament. So I think the premise of a small bunch of people sitting in Soho Square is just plain wrong.
The point that piracy is obviously against the law is also raised, and that the BBFC can't take into account the illegal acts of a minority versus government laws — such as the Video Recordings Act — which tell them what they can and can't approve.
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