Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Be aware of the rating

Just a quick tip today - when writing your screenplay, it might help to keep in mind the rating of the movie when working on your dialogue. Certain words will automatically get you a certain rating.

For instance: you can say "hell," "damn," "ass" and "shit," in a PG film, but "Son of a Bitch" will usually get you PG-13.

In PG-13, you can say every swear word but "fuck." You're allowed one instance of "fuck," usually, but as long as it's not in a sexual context. In other words, a character can say, "Fuck you!" in anger, but he can't leer at a girl and say, "I want to fuck you." I have to admit, I'm not sure what the rules are on "the C word," but that seems to earn a film an R as well.

Graphic sex will earn you an R faster than graphic violence, so be especially careful when writing scenes that make heavy use of anal and/or oral sex. I see these a lot in script that seem like they'd be aimed at a teen audience - which means that PG-13 would be the desired rating. Yes, occasionally there'll be a successful R-rated teen sex comedy, and the success of The Hangover earlier this year (to say nothing of Judd Apatow's oeuvre) means that R-rated comedies in general might be on their way back in - but for a long time, studios were aiming for that PG-13 sweet spot. If the primary audience for your film is teenagers, you should aim there too.

So don't over use "fuck," and a word to the wise - anal sex scenes are never as edgy and clever as most writers seem to think they are. There was one week where it seemed like every other script I read had a particularly gratuitous example of such a scene. Without them, the scripts would have been soft PG-13, easily. Because of that, not only did the scene feel like a writer's indulgence, but it stuck out like a sore thumb.

So know the audience you're writing for, and don't step over certain lines just for the sake of doing so. Yes, language can always be cut back, but if the word "fuck" appears more often in your script than the word "the," it might be time to do some trimming.


  1. "The Goonies" had the word SHIT in it, but it's rated PG!!! But that was in the 1980s and how, oh time have changed.

  2. I started a blog for people with scripts looking to get feedback.

  3. Hi, I had to respond to this. New poster and all.

    Wait, why the hell would anyone put anal sex in a mainstream movie when vaginal sex will be close enough to R?

    No wonder Hwood is making PG branded properties. I personally don't like smoking or drinking in my films unless we have to have a scene in a bar or one of those "brandy snifter" scenes where they swish more than drink.

    I'm not really sure why writers think that kids are watching porn and even moreso why they would think sex sells means the ACT of sex rather than the FACT of sex.

    And they complain about gay guys....?

  4. Tron had the word "shit" in it, but it was really quick. :)

    With the high school comedy I am writing right now, I worked in one "F" word, but the way I did did it was perfect for the scene.

    Otherwise I'm taking the "Johnny Dangerously" route of curse word substitution. "You corksucking bastage, I'm going to have your bells in a sling, Icehole." lol.

  5. I believe anything over 4 FUCKs qualifies for an R-rating, so long as it's not sexually explicit... There have been cases, too, of films over the 4-FUCK rule that petitioned to be PG-13 and won... could be wrong, but check it out...