By Indiewire | Indiewire August 20, 2001 at 2:0AM
DAILY NEWS: The Latest from DC; Winstar Gets New Film
by Eugenen Hernandez and Maud Kersnowski/indieWIRE
>> What's Going on in Washington? Universal Ratings, Marketing Restrictions and Cable Control
(indieWIRE/08.20.01) -- The battles between Hollywood and DC may seem a long
way from the independent world of tight budgets and film festivals, but when
politicians pass laws controlling the content and distribution of
entertainment, they don't make distinctions between studios and indies. This
fall, several of the bills in the Congress, a Supreme Court case, and a
report from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could directly
impact filmmakers; especially those not protected by major studios.
Indies do have a couple of guardian angels on Capital Hill. Senator Olympia
Snowe (R-Maine) and Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark) recently introduced a
bill creating a tax break for non-studio productions. The Independent
Television and Film Production Incentive Act gives producers a 25% tax
credit on the first $25,000 spent on wages and salaries and 35% of all costs
for films shot "low-income communities." "Unfortunately, too many
independent film producers are lured to other locations such as Canada
because of financial incentives. Our legislation will prevent these runaway
films through a series of tax credits to encourage local production," Snowe
explained to the Senate Finance Committee. The bill could be voted on later
Previews for other film-related events for the fall session aired live on
C-SPAN in late-July with Senator Joseph Lieberman's (D-Conn.) hearing on
universal ratings for film, television, music and video games. As the CEO's
of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording
Industry Association of America, Jack Valenti and Hilary Rosen faced the former Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Hollywood might well have
wondered if it spent close to $14 million in soft money contributions on the
wrong party. Rosen, Valenti and others contended that a single ratings code
was impractical and not helpful to parents, because it is impossible to use
the same criteria to analyze mediums as different as the visual, film, and
verbal, music. Indies, which rarely fare well under the present system,
could be hit hard by a one-size fits all code because in order to be
effective it might have to be extremely rigid.
The topic of legislating ratings will continue to get play on Capitol Hill,
unless the FTC grants all areas of entertainment straight A's in its fall
report on Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children, which is unlikely.
"Increased scrutiny of marketing is bound to focus attention on the ratings
system," Lieberman's spokesperson, Dan Gerstein, told indieWIRE.
This spring, Lieberman along with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY)
introduced the Media Marketing Accountability Act, which would legally
require a film's advertising to adhere to the same age restriction as its
rating. If ads for the R-rated "American Pie 2" targeted an audience under
17, for example, the FTC would impose daily fines until the advertisements
were pulled. Earlier this year, a House bill would have injected the federal
government even further into film ratings by legislating a universal ratings
system and making it illegal to distribute unrated material. Currently,
there are no laws requiring a film to be rated.
Regulating advertising creates a hairline fracture in free speech, even for
filmmakers without marketing budgets. "Every step down the path [of
regulation] starts eroding the degree of authorship that an independent has
over their work. It makes a narrower band of freedom for filmmakers and
distribution companies," Executive Director of the Association of
Independent Video and Filmmakers Elizabeth Peters said. "It sets a precedent
of not just condemning certain types of expression, but making them
"Senator Lieberman feels strongly that the best solution [for all ratings
issues] is self regulation because of the freedom of speech issues, but if
the industry is not going to act [on lawmakers concerns] then the FTC needs
to," Gerstein explained. "The first amendment does not guarantee you the
right of distribution for your film, it guarantees you the right to make
While many of the positions Lieberman voices are antithetical to those held
by the majority of the independent community there is at least one area
where the Senator and most indie filmmakers agree. "One of the biggest
failures of the ratings system is the NC-17 rating," Gerstein said.
Hollywood's avoidance of using NC-17 for studio films has diluted the
meaning of the R label. Too many films are stamped Restricted. The rating
offers little help to parents the system is designed to guide. "The R rating
lumps 'Billy Elliot' with films containing graphic sex and violence,"
according to Gerstein.
In addition to tighter content controls, decisions in DC later this year may
affect the number of possible distribution outlets. A pending Supreme Court
case, Media Access Project vs. Time Warner, challenges a lower court ruling, which set aside the FCC regulations limiting any single company from owning
over 30% of US cable systems and restricting cable providers from
controlling more than 40% of the channels they distribute. The original
decision acknowledged that some ownership limits need to be set, but it did
not suggest what these might be.
Allowing companies to own a larger bite of the cable system will decrease
the amount of program diversity and particularly impact newer cable options
distributing edgier content, like IFC and the Sundance Channel, according to Media Access Project President Andrew Jay Schwartzman. Eliminating the FCC
regulations will allow large media companies to become the single purchasers
controlling the markets for cable content. "Having more cable competition
keeps [any one company] from imposing their tastes or standards which would
have a direct impact on independent film," he said. "This also sets the tone
of the FCC towards diversity of distribution, in general."
"It's massing more power in fewer hands which makes it harder to be somebody
working outside of that system," Elizabeth Peters observed. "It's ironic
that at the same moment the FTC and FCC's mandate seems to be to undo as
much legislation as possible [concerning distribution] that [politicians]
are stepping forward and talking about regulation of content." [Maud
>> Winstar Nabs Tsai Ming-Liang's "What Time is It There?"
(indieWIRE/08.20.01) -- Winstar has announced its acquisition of Tsai
Ming-Liang's new film, "What Time is It There?" The movie, which debuted in
Cannes this year, will also screen at the Toronto International Film Festival next month.
Last week, Winstar confirmed that it will release the film theatrically in the United States and English-speaking Canada this fall.
"Tsai is a wonderfully entertaining filmmaker and 'What Time is it There?'
represents his most mature film to date," Winstar Cinema's Sr. VP of
Acquisition Krysanne Katsoolis told indieWIRE in a prepared statement.
"Ming-Liang is at his best and our release will be a great follow up to the
recent retrospective of Liang's work."
Winstar Cinema has also released Tsai Ming-Liang's "The Hole" and "Viva
L'Amour." [Eugene Hernandez]