When Burleson church set out to make a feature-length movie, it never planned on an R rating

BURLESON—Pastor Chuck Kitchens of Retta Baptist Church in Burleson has been surprised by a number of things associated with his church’s recently produced film, “My Son,” which was screened for 400 invited guests in Burleson on Aug. 16.

After all, a church of 300 non-Hollywood types produced a full-length, watchable movie with novice actors, an untried crew, and a budget of only $25,000, and still received praise from critics.

But most surprising—shocking really—to Kitchens, the film’s executive director, director Jarod O’Flaherty and all those involved with the movie, was the film’s R rating handed by down by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

News of the rating reached Kitchens and O’Flaherty just before the screening. Kitchens debated making a statement before the screening, then decided to let the audience see the movie before announcing its rating.

“When people have seen the film, they are shocked by the rating,” Kitchens said.

Response to news of the MPAA rating at the screening came close to an “uproar,” said Kitchens, who finally asked audience members to email their opinions to him. So far, more than two-thirds of the respondents have recommended keeping the movie’s content as is.

In a statement posted on the organization’s website, Joan Graves, MPAA senior vice president and chairman of the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA), explains the process of rating a film.

Filmmakers pay a submission fee to obtain an MPAA rating. The film is then screened “in context” before an independent group of parents who fill out rating cards. Discussion follows. The film receives its rating.

Filmmakers who wish to achieve a different rating may edit their films and resubmit to CARA, and the process begins again, Graves said. Filmmakers who disagree with the MPAA rating and do not wish to alter their films have another option.

“They can go to an appeals board which is a different board made up of industry people, distributors and exhibitors,” she added.

Kitchens and crew are examining their alternatives. As of now, they intend to go ahead with the movie’s scheduled premiere at Burleson Cinemas on the weekend of Sept. 20-21, despite the R rating.

Simply tweaking the film is not easy, Kitchens explained. The MPAA will not specify which scenes need to be changed or cut in order for the film to earn a PG-13 rating. The movie features some violence and drug use, yet these scenes are neither gratuitous nor excessive and are essential to the plot, Kitchens said.

“One scene features marijuana use by a couple of characters, but this is the reason why the main female character loses custody of her child,” said Kitchens, who noted that the film’s plot hinges on this event and that the film would lose realism and indeed would “not make sense” were the scene to be deleted.

And that scene may not even be the problem. Kitchens fears the process of editing and resubmitting the film could take so long that its premiere would be delayed.

Editing a film presents special complications for a volunteer crew operating on a shoestring budget. For example, each edit necessitates adjustment of the musical score, and the soundtrack’s composer, a college student, is already back in school and has no time for repeated edits.

Kitchens said he believes the process of submitting and resubmitting the film to the MPAA could “go on forever.”

“We are concerned about producing the first Christian film with an R rating. But we have no choice right now. We will go on with the R rating and hope for the best,” Kitchens said. “It is to the point where we either gut the movie or nickel and dime it to death.”

Most viewers have told the filmmakers to leave the movie alone. Many have suggested that the R rating is what God wants, that the rating may make the film even more appealing to the unchurched, Kitchens noted.

Ironically, some who objected to the release of the film with an R rating had “no problem” with the film and its content until they heard it was rated R, Kitchens said. Pastors have indicated they are reluctant to recommend any R movie to their congregations.

Kitchens said he understands this, but he also knows that the distribution of the film to theaters nationally through the Web platform company Tugg depends in large part on the presale of tickets. Filmmakers are depending upon church support to help get “My Son” into theaters.

Kitchens even wonders if there is an anti-Christian bias at the MPAA, noting the fact that the MPAA gave the Sherwood Pictures film “Facing the Giants” a PG rating because of “proselytizing.”

Regardless, Kitchens and O’Flaherty now have a feature film with a controversial rating. Responses from audiences and critics have been positive. “The film is way beyond what we should have been able to do,” Kitchens said.

And the R rating is way beyond what they ever expected.

“We were hoping for just the right ‘God moment’ [at the August screening],” said Kitchens, indicating his desire that a journalist or movie distributor in attendance might become interested in promoting the film and “run with it.”

The current rating is not what he had in mind, but the controversy generated is likely to draw attention to the film in the most unanticipated of ways.

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