Eli Roth Diaries: Why I Respect The MPAA

Eli Roth has been documenting the making of “Hostel: Part II” with a series of diary entries for MTV. Yesterday he discussed the music of his forthcoming film. Today Roth writes about his battles and unlikely friendship with the MPAA.

Contractually, for theatrical release I have to get an R-rating. This is not always easy, especially as the climate of the culture changes and parents groups get more and more upset about violence in films and on television. “Hostel Part II” is a more violent and scary film than the first “Hostel,” and a lot of that has to do with the fact that this time it’s happening to girls. It’s just more horrific.

I was careful about how I used the violence, and really wanted to create an overall more terrifying film experience, and not just make a gore-fest. You can always make a film more gory by adding more tools and more bodies, but what I really wanted to do was create classic horror movie moments and make the entire film scary from start to finish. The problem is if your film’s too intense, the MPAA will rate your film NC-17, which means that the studio won’t release your film in theaters, except maybe a few art house cinemas. I cut the film for what would ultimately be an unrated DVD, but I was hoping to get as much of that violence as possible through the ratings board.

I should explain a few things about the MPAA. Firstly, I am one of the filmmakers who believes in the MPAA. I think it’s a great system. Now, my films are very violent, and if I made films with a lot of sexuality I might feel differently, but I’ve always felt they dealt with me extremely fairly. It’s not a censorship board. They don’t tell you what to cut. What happens is you submit your film, and then you talk with them if they feel it’s NC-17, and you discuss certain areas that may need to be toned down in order to get an R.

In other countries, like England, the government watches your movie and then tells you exactly what to cut. That’s it. You have no say whatsoever. The MPAA is an organization hired by the studios to self-police, specifically so that we will not have government involvement in rating films. The MPAA exists so that we don’t have censorship, and they understand what I do, and what my fans want to see. That said, they also represent the parents of America and have to be the referee and decide how much is too much. We may disagree at times, but we have lengthy discussions about why I feel the violence is important, and usually come to a compromise that both sides are happy with.

I slipped through the system with “Cabin Fever” and even “Hostel” fairly unnoticed, but with the attention on the first “Hostel,” this one was viewed under the microscope. I had to resubmit the film several times, toning down the graphic violence in some scenes, but in a way that I truly do not think hurts the scene. They really helped me protect what makes the scenes terrifying, while at the same time doing their job as the voice of the parents of America, and from start to finish it was a very friendly and positive experience. I usually get on the phone with them and say “So, did I ruin lunch again?” and they laugh and say “Well, yeah, that scene was pretty gruesome.” But then again, if they weren’t horrified, it means I haven’t done my job, and they know that.

At the end of the day I am really, really happy with the final cut of the film. The film made it through the ratings board with the most horrifying moments still extremely horrifying, and there were enough gore moments left on the cutting room floor that we’ll have a really juicy unrated DVD. But people are going to be really disturbed when they see this film in theaters, and I fully expect a number of walkouts during the screenings. In other countries like Germany, the government will watch the film and cut whatever they want if they feel it’s too violent. And that’s it. So people may complain about the system, but I think it’s great that we get a chance to have a discussion about the film, and have an opportunity to work with them and keep what the fans are paying for intact.

Missed any of his daily entries? Click here for the “Eli Roth Diaries” archive.