This section of the Student Guide provides an overview of the age ratings process and more detail on each of the issues that must be taken into consideration by Examiners when viewing works submitted for age rating. There are also sections on Cuts, Controversial Decisions and Rejects and Appeals.
How a film or DVD is rated
The Board’s age ratings decisions are reached by consensus, with the Director, the President and the two Vice-Presidents taking ultimate responsibility.
The Examiners' daily viewing programme consists of a combination of film and DVD material. Until July 2012, some Examiners also specialised in video games, as rating an interactive game could be a very different experience to rating a film or DVD.
Examiners normally view DVD submissions on their own – called solo viewing. A large proportion of works suitable for solo viewing include episodes from TV series or works aimed at young children that have already been broadcast on television. Films for cinema release are rated in teams of two. Controversial works, such as extreme reality material, will also be programmed for team work and often seen by more than one team in order to gather diverse opinions.
Examiners watch films for cinema release in the BBFC's cinema, in order to accurately reproduce the effect that sound levels and special effects will have on the cinema audience. DVDs are viewed in the BBFC's viewing rooms on plasma screens, to recreate the 'home viewing' experience.
Many films and DVDs are submitted in foreign languages (notably Hindi and other South Asian languages) and Examiners with linguistic skills are programmed to view these works. Where the work is in a language not spoken by any of the Examiners and there are no subtitles, the BBFC will use an interpreter who will sit alongside the Examiner or team.
With each work, Examiners log details of what they watch, including:
- general context - plot, characters, outline of individual scenes
- timings of key moments, including camera angles, type of shots, on- and off-screen moments
- bad language, sex and drug references and so on
Reports include a brief synopsis of the work, details of the issues and an argument in support of the recommended age rating. Most decisions are straightforward and are based on the BBFC's published Guidelines, which were last revised in 2014. The distributor can request a specific age rating, which the solo Examiner or team will take into consideration, but such a request does not determine the final decision. If necessary and appropriate, cuts may be suggested to meet the category request, and the decision will be ultimately made by the distributor.
A work is referred for further viewing by a team if an Examiner is unsure about an issue or theme.
Sometimes a work will fall between two categories. This second team could include a Senior Examiner or an Examiner with expertise in the particular subject, as well as the Director and the Head of Policy.
Difficult or controversial material can also be referred to the weekly Examiners’ Meeting, where they can be debated further to obtain a wide range of valuable opinions. Ultimately, the work will be referred to Senior Management.
If a work contains material which is illegal or unacceptable under the BBFC's Guidelines, Examiners will draw up a list of cuts which will be sent to the distributor. If a work as a whole is unacceptable, it can be rejected, but this happens only on rare occasions. The Presidential Team will be consulted on difficult works, especially those which may be refused a certificate altogether or which raise serious policy issues.