Comstock Films Hits a Nerve

A nice mention by Steve Erickson on Nerve’s indie film blog, Screengrab,about our recent experience with the MPAA’s advertising department. Writes Erik:

“…He recently decided to get an MPAA rating for his film Marie and Jack: A Hardcore Love Story. As expected, he got an NC-17 (not so dreaded, in his case), but the real twist came when he discovered that the MPAA now had to approve his DVD artwork… While many mainstream filmmakers start foaming at the mouth when the MPAA’s name is mentioned, Comstock describes his experiences with a surprising level of respect.”

I can understand why a producer could feel vexed about their dealings with MPAA.

Never-minding the effect of an R vs PG-13 on a film’s earning potential, these days marketing budgets often make up as much as 40% of the total cost of producing and selling a movie, and if you want to sit at the MPAA’s table, you are effectively giving the MPAA veto power over nearly every aspect of how you market your film.

That’s a lot of control to hand over to a body that is looking out for the best interests (as it understands them) of the entire film industry, and those interests may not always align with the best interests of a particular producer on a particular film.

I can afford to be more sanguine. We’ve done well enough without the MPAA. Sure, we don’t have the kind of budgets that people who play the MPAA game have, but even within those constraints I’ve managed to make films I’m proud of, and thanks to the people who buy them, we manage to live a life that more or less resembles middle class.

As a result, so long as I’m content to drive an old Volvo instead of a new Mercedes, and willing to work within the sorts of budgets that are dictated by addressing subject matter that doesn’t have theatrical or broadcast potential, I can pretty much make whatever kind of film I want to, so long as I satisfy myself and satisfy the people who like what we do.

Maybe someday I’ll rub up against those limitations and start to chafe, but for the time being, it’s a degree of artistic freedom and creative satisfaction that I never would have dared to dream back when I was an assistant, sitting in a darkroom, loading magazines, and wondering if I’d ever be the guy calling the shots.

But it’s not just a sense of contentment about our circumstances that makes dealing with the MPAA relatively low-stress. It’s a sense of scale that comes from actually dealing with real censorship. Not I-didn’t-get-the-rating-I-wanted censorship, but honest to goodness you-can’t-show-pictures-like-that-if-you-do-we-will-take-your-house-take-your-money-and-put-you-in-jail censorship.

About once a month, Peggy and I take some time to talk about the possible consequences of what we do. Not the “what will the neighbors think?” consequences; not “what rating will we get from the MPAA?” consequences; but the “what will a district attorney in Mississippi, or Tennessee, or Utah think?” consequences.

We talk about whether or not it’s worth it financially. We talk about whether or not what these films put into the world is worth the risk. We talk about the films we’d like to make, and when and if we’ll be in a position we feel strong enough to tackle them. We talk about what we’ll do if it all goes to shit – who will look after our kids, how we’ll start over.

This is the simple reality of making the films we make, and against this reality, whether or not the MPAA is down with the word “orgasm” really isn’t that big a deal.

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  1. Lynnette
    Posted August 8, 2007 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    You and Peggy are building a legacy. When you continue driving this dream, you are inspiring others and at the same time, teaching your children a most valuable lesson. They too will think outside the box and try to use a passion in their lives to earn a living.

    This world (and in particular the United States) needs a fresh and awe inspiring vision of lovemaking and you two are leading the charge. Charge on and have faith that there are those of us out here who believe in your dream.

    My partner and I would love to share our lives with others just like the other couples you have chosen…it would make a mark of honest passion on this world. What greater legacy could we build than to teach our children the importance of finding (and becoming) the greatest love story ever?

  2. tony
    Posted August 9, 2007 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    Lynnette: Thank you for your kind words. Most of the time it does feel like we’re doing something special, and the thought that we could be the subject of prosecution seems absurd in the extreme. But the simple fact is that such prosecutions do happen, especially against those who don’t have the financial depth to fight back.

    It’s also a simple fact that there are films I’d like to make, films about people having deeply connected (if somewhat exotic) sex that would be regarded as prosecution bait. Were we to produce such films and find ourselves in trouble, I’m sure that for each person who was outraged, there’d be two who’d think, “They should have known better.”

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