British Board of Film Classification

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Student FAQs

Here are some of the questions we're asked most often about our work and our resources for students.

  1. May I interview an Examiner for my project/essay/dissertation?
  2. I can’t travel down for a seminar but I would like to find out more?
  3. Why did some video games have PEGI ratings and BBFC ratings?
  4. What is the legal position of a teacher who wants to show pupils a film or video at a higher category than their age?
  5. How do you become a Film & Video Examiner?
  6. What is it like being a Film & Video Examiner?
  7. What sort of person becomes an Examiner?
  8. What is a typical day like for an Examiner?
  9. Do Examiners watch films/DVDs on their own or in a big group?
  10. Do Examiners have to agree on a decision about a film or video?
  11. What is the worst stuff you have to watch?
  12. Do Examiners also have to classify pornography?
  13. Do you treat film trailers differently from full length features?
  14. Do you classify films in all languages?
  15. How do you classify Bollywood films?
  16. Do you treat DVD extras or additional production material, like commentaries or blooper reels differently?
  17. Why do some works get different ratings on DVD or Blu-ray, compared to the cinema?
  18. Do examiners ever go to the cinema or watch DVDs in their own time?
  19. What is the BBFC's attitude to gay sex in Films or DVDs?
  20. Who signs the black card I see displayed before a film is shown at the cinema?
  21. I'm 14 but parents think I'm old enough to see a 15, so why can't I?
  22. I am 16, how can I prove I am old enough to go to see a 15?

 

May I interview an Examiner for my project/essay/dissertation?

We understand some students, especially those doing degrees or further study, are keen to interview members of BBFC staff to learn more about our work and history. When possible we try to accommodate this, though we may refer you back to the student information and Case Studies on this website if the answers to your enquiries are already there. If students are studying specific films, sometimes it is more appropriate for them to request a file from our archives. You can do this here.

Please check this website before you email in - this includes listening to the podcasts and reading the Student Guide- and have your question(s) ready in advance.

Interviews usually take place by phone or email. Very occasionally it is possible to film an interview with a BBFC Examiner or a member of the education team, though as we have limited resources we must prioritise enquiries from professional filmmakers and journalists first for this sort of access. If you plan to publish your documentary or piece on a public forum or website like YouTube you must get permission from our Press & PR Department here.

Occasionally students send their essay questions to us - we can't write assignments for students.

Sometimes teachers and lecturers chose to study our work and ask whole classes to contact us. We cannot field multiple similar requests from one group. However, if you do want your class to study our work please contact the education department here in the first instance and consider arranging a visit to one of our seminars, a video conference or a Skype call.

To request an interview with an Examiner or ask us a question for your studies please fill in the form here.

I can’t travel down for a seminar but I would like to find out more?

There is a great deal of information available on this site including Case Studies, information from our vast archive and extensive information and BBFCinsight on films released in the UK. The site also includes several podcasts in which Examiners and other members of staff discuss classification in depth. It is also worth checking our Events Calendar in case there is a public event in an area near you soon.

Why do some video games have PEGI ratings and BBFC ratings?

From 30 July 2012, and with a few exceptions, the responsibility for age rating video games moved to the Video Standards Council (VSC), applying the PEGI system. The BBFC will continue to age rate all games featuring strong pornographic (R18 level) content and ancillary games attached to a wider, primarily linear submission. The BBFC will also continue to age rate all non-game linear content on a game disc, such as trailers and featurettes. Video games eligible for age rating by the BBFC are considered under the same Guidelines as films or DVDs.

Before July 2012:

Under the Video Recordings Act, most video games are exempt from BBFC age ratings. However, they may lose this exemption - and therefore require a formal BBFC age rating - if they depict, to any significant extent, gross violence against humans or animals, human sexual activity, human urinary or excretory functions or genital organs, or techniques likely to be useful in the commission of offences.

In the early days of video games, the quality of graphics was so low that, even when 'human' or 'animal' characters were depicted, they were unlikely to be realistic enough to be covered by the Act. However, the increasing sophistication of computer graphics means that now a number of games require classification, usually because they contain violence against realistic human figures. In some cases, games may also need to be submitted to the BBFC because they contain non-interactive video elements (eg trailers or film clips) that do not enjoy the same exemption as interactive games.

Games that retain their exemption - for example because they do not feature violence or sex involving realistic human figures - are classified under the PEGI system, a voluntary pan-European rating system.  In the UK the system is administered by the Video Standards Council, who also advises publishers on whether or not their game requires a formal BBFC classification.


What is the legal position of a teacher who wants to show pupils a film or video at a higher category than their age?

The BBFC's cinema age ratings only apply legally to licensed cinemas, so it is not illegal for schools to show BBFC-rated videos or DVDs to its pupils of any age. Merely showing an age restricted film to underaged persons - or allowing them to see one - is not in itself an offence. We would, however, strongly discourage such a practice unless (a) the children in question are only a year or so below the age stated on the certificate, and (b) there is some kind of serious educational purpose to showing the recording (eg showing a 15 rated 'Macbeth' to 14 year old GCSE English students). Even in those cases, we always recommend that the school should obtain permission from parents or guardians.

How do you become a Film & Video Examiner?

To be an examiner, you do not need 'qualifications' as such. We do require experience in relevant areas such as media regulation, law, the film or related industries, and child development - and many examiners over the years have had backgrounds in teaching, law, social work, the film industry and journalism. Once hired, examiners receive detailed and extensive training. Some examiners have linguistic skills (especially languages such as Hindi and Tamil) which is particularly valuable as we regularly receive works in these languages. Examiner positions are advertised in the national newspapers.

What is it like being a Film & Video Examiner?

Examiners are full-time. They watch between five and six hours of film and video material a day, making recommendations based on the BBFC Guidelines, age ratings, relevant legislation and policies. Some examiners focus on develping BBFC policies and publications, whilst others visit primary and secondary schools, universities and other organisations to give presentations about our work. There are many research projects that we work on, including maintaining this website.

What sort of person becomes an Examiner?

Examiners at the BBFC come from a wide variety of backgrounds. They tend to be graduates but this is not always the case. Recent examining team members have included teachers, academics, doctors, lawyers, a video games designer, journalists, published authors, social workers, an actor, a cinema manager, a diplomat and several people who have worked in film, television and video. Like most of the people who work at the BBFC, they have a strong knowledge of contemporary and historical film and a passion for the film, video and games industries.

What is a typical day like for an Examiner?

Examiners watch around five or six hours of material a day, but there is not really a typical day as what we watch completely depends on what is submitted by distributors. Our work is allocated randomly so we could be viewing anything from the latest blockbuster to episodes of 1960s or 1970s TV series due for DVD release.

Once we have finished watching the day’s viewing we will log their views, and recommend a category (after re-watching or discussing any more contentious moments) in a concise reports highlighting the key issues. We also write BBFCinsight, a concise line of information which gives the public a clear idea of the reason a work has received a particular rating and for cinema works a more detailed explanation of the decision designed to help people, especially parents, make an informed decision about what they view.

Do Examiners watch films/DVDs on their own or in a big group?

That depends on the material. Cinema films, more contentious works and some adult material are all viewed in pairs - all other works are viewed alone. However, many works are viewed more than once internally, with additional teams or more senior members of staff viewing them before a final decision on the age rating is reached.

Do Examiners have to agree on a decision about a film or video?

Usually a team will agree on the rating because we base all recommendations on the BBFC’s published guidelines. However, if a team disagrees, or believes a film would benefit from additional consideration, it is sent to another team (of two or three depending on the issue raised). Sometimes key scenes or shorter works are are brought to the weekly examining meeting for further discussion or sent to the BBFC’s Director or Presidential team. Really contentious works, like former 'Video Nasties' which are having cuts reinstated, or cinema releases likely to provoke comment, will often be seen again even if the first team agrees on a decision.

What is the worst stuff you have to watch?

That depends - all individual examiners have their own foibles and things that they find difficult to watch, and this can be affected by a huge number of variables such as what is happening in an examiner's personal life, or even what he or she has watched earlier that day or that week. Some of the strongest stuff we watch is what we would term 'extreme reality' products, which are works that show things like real life death or injury.

Do Examiners also have to classify pornography?

Yes. Pornography accounts for less than 10 per cent of what examiners watch, but when it is aggressive or violent it can be upsetting. The BBFC is very strict with material that is in contravention of the law so we cut elements like underage references and abusive sex (under the Video Recordings Act 1984) and material which is likely to be prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act 1959.

Do you treat film trailers differently from full length features?

Yes and no. When classifying trailers, examiners use the same Classification Guidelines, as they do when viewing full length feature films. These Guidelines, clearly lay out what is acceptable at each category for issues such as theme, sex, violence, drugs etc and help the examiners make an informed decision on the right category for each trailer.

However, the BBFC also pays special attention to film and video trailers on the basis that these works come 'unbidden' to the audience. While that audience may have chosen to watch a particular full length feature they have no choice about the accompanying trailers or advertisements which may be very different in tone and content to the film and the BBFC is aware that the potential for these trailers to cause offence is higher. So any images or dialogue that have a high potential for giving offence or causing concern to parents and guardians are unlikely to be acceptable in the lower categories (ie U, PG or 12/12A).

Do you classify films in all languages?

The Board receives submissions in 52 different languages, from Afghan Pashtu to Yoruba. When an unsubtitled film or DVD is received in a language that is not spoken by one of the examiners, outside interpreters are employed. However, because of the high number of submissions in certain languages, the Board attempts to maintain a reasonable level of linguistic skills in-house, mostly French, German and some Asian languages, such as Hindi, Urdu, Cantonese and Mandarin.

How do you classify Bollywood films?

In the case of South Asian films (which, in 2008, constituted approximately 20 per cent of our film submissions), we try to meet the specific sensibilities of South Asian audiences by ensuring that every Bollywood film classification team includes at least one examiner with a thorough understanding of South Asian culture and cinema. This is to achieve not merely language interpretation, but also to assess receptivity of the audiences the film is intended for. Additionally, all examiners are trained in the history and issues specific to South Asian cinema. For more information about Bollywood films click here.

Do you treat DVD extras or additional production material, like commentaries or blooper reels, differently?

No, these items are viewed by solo examiners who bear in mind that material such as DVD trailers and moving menus sometimes come to viewers unbidden.

Why do some works get different ratings on DVD or Blu-ray, compared to the cinema?

There are two reasons. Sometimes the extras can affect a classification, so a 12A feature may be pushed to 15 on DVD if, for example, the blooper reel or commentary contains strong language. This is because the DVD rating is based on the highest rating of any extra included with it .

Additional deleted scenes sometimes contain issues like strong violence which were absent from the original release (for example if the distributor chose to cut a film to achieve a lower category but is happy to release it uncut on DVD), and of course longer cuts of a film or director's cuts may be longer and contain stronger issues or new material.

Very occasionally though, the same work can receive a different category. This is because when examiners classify a work for video they have to incorporate the Video Recordings Act 1984 which requires them to bear in mind the possibility of younger children getting hold of material or watching films again and again. It also requires them to pay special attention to the issue of potential harm, portrayals of criminal activity and illegal drug use and dangerous imitative techniques.

Occasionally, the BBFC has moved works up a category or cut them for video/DVD on these grounds, for example removing methods of drug preparation or details of suicide which experts have assured us are not well known.

Do examiners ever go to the cinema or watch DVDs in their own time?

Yes! Naturally there are days when an examiner or any other employees at the BBFC who watch films all the time do not fancy it, but most people here still love going to the pictures, watching DVDs and playing games. What is more, it is an important part of the job, as it is the best way of keeping up to date with recent decisions and gauging audience responses to films.

What is the BBFC's attitude to gay sex in films or DVDs?

The Board is committed to a policy of equality. Sex scenes are afforded the same treatment whatever the sexual orientation of those taking part. The same standards are applied whether sex involves heterosexual or homosexual individuals.

Who signs the black card I see displayed before a film is shown at the cinema?

The BBFC Director and the BBFC President's signatures are seen on the certificate which is projected before a film. Also known as the black card, this is an official document and each card is unique, carrying the film's registration number and the rating it has been given

I'm 14 but parents think I'm old enough to see a 15, so why can't I?

When the BBFC awards a film a 15 classification this means no one younger can see the film in a cinema, even if accompanied by an adult or with parental permission. The cinema will be violating the terms of its license (issued by the local authority) if it admits under-aged children to age-restricted films.

I am 16, how can I prove I am old enough to go to see a 15?

Box office staff are within their rights to request proof of age of customers if they believe a child to be under age. Likewise, they can refuse to admit a customer if age cannot be proven, or ID is unsatisfactory. Cinemas can refuse to admit a 15 year old (or over) for 15-rated films without proof of age, despite reassurances from accompanying parents or guardians. Such caution is necessary as cinemas and their staff risk heavy fines or even loss of license if caught in breach of these conditions.

The responsibility for complying with license conditions rests solely with the cinema. It is outside the remit of the BBFC to advise on how these age restrictions are enforced by cinemas. They will be a matter of company policy, or made in accordance with license conditions or the requirements of the local authority. However, all cinemas will have terms of admittance, and parents and teenage viewers are advised to consult these initially.

Often these terms will identify what forms of ID are acceptable. They can be found on cinema websites, or should be available from the box office staff. Some cinemas and chains operate their own ID card system for teenagers and students. Some local authorities offer 'proof of age' cards for public transport which may be acceptable. Some cinemas operate teenage 'film clubs'. Again, information will be available at the cinema.

 

 

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