Posted: Thurs., Mar. 29, 2007, 4:55pm PT

Lights out for After Dark ads

MPAA halts 'Captivity' ratings process

Genre banner After Dark Films was slapped with an unprecedented sanction by the Motion Picture Assn. of America on Thursday for posting explicit ads publicizing its horror pic "Captivity." The MPAA had previously ruled the ads as inappropriate.

As a result, the MPAA has suspended the ratings process for "Captivity" and is requiring the horror specialist to clear with the org all further promo materials as well as locations and venues of ad buys.

MPAA has never before required a film company to clear locations and venues of ad buys, and the 30-day suspension of the ratings process casts doubt over whether "Captivity" will receive a rating before its planned May 18 release.

Indie companies that aren't MPAA signatories seek a rating from the org voluntarily, but once they submit for a rating they are bound by the MPAA's rules requiring review and approval of all promo materials.

After Dark is free to release "Captivity" without a rating, but pic's chances of being booked in theaters would go down if unrated.

The earliest the MPAA will even allow After Dark to resubmit "Captivity" would be the first week in May, and the movie would fall into a queue of others waiting for a rating.

Directed by Roland Joffe, pic stars Elisha Cuthbert and Daniel Gillies as a couple who wake in a torturer's basement.

To promote "Captivity," After Dark submitted ads showing explicit images of a woman's torture and death. MPAA "summarily rejected" the ads, according to Marilyn Gordon, the org's senior VP for advertising. But After Dark used the ads anyway, posting them prominently on billboards in highly trafficked areas of Los Angeles as well as in Gotham taxis.

"The sanctions in this case are severe because this was an unacceptable and flagrant violation of MPAA rules and procedures," Gordon said in a statement.

Public reaction to the billboards was strong, as MPAA switchboards lit up with complaints as well as questions about what to do, an org official said. When MPAA ordered After Dark to remove the ads, the company responded slowly, eventually complying but replacing the original ads with a sign reading "Captivity was here," as if to have the last word. Ads at bus shelters in L.A. were still displayed Thursday.

Sanction comes in response to After Dark's "prominent display in both Los Angeles and New York of advertising that the MPAA had explicitly disapproved as inappropriate for general public viewing," the org said Thursday in a statement.

The most onerous condition of the sanction is the clearing of locations and venues of media buys, which will likely prove time-consuming.

"MPAA reviews tens of thousands of promotional materials each year," Gordon said. "The good news is that -- as disturbing as this case has been -- it marks a rare instance where a company has acted in such a clear and direct violation of our rules. The overwhelming majority of companies and filmmakers understand, support and abide by MPAA rules and procedures. It is now up to After Dark Films to restore good faith with the MPAA."

Pic is being co-released with Lionsgate via a multiyear production and distribution deal between the two companies. Lionsgate said that the indie studio was not involved with the "Captivity" marketing campaign, which After Dark is overseeing autonomously.

"If the violations by After Dark were as flagrant as alleged," said a Lionsgate spokesman, "then the MPAA's response is appropriate. However, we believe that the MPAA will rate the film itself on its own merits."

Gritty pic is the latest in the vein of Lionsgate's "Saw" and "Hostel" franchises in which people find themselves trapped and terrified by abductors.

Lionsgate has so far handled homevid on the After Dark titles "An American Haunting" and "8 Films to Die For," which Freestyle Releasing rolled out in theaters.


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