Michigan Public Radio: November 7, 2007 – “Michigan Meets Hollywood”

A look at West Michigan’s direct link to Hollywood.
by Jennifer Guerra

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(2006-11-2) When you think of the silver screen, chances are the Great Lakes state doesn’t come to mind immediately. But as Michigan Radio’s Jennifer Guerra reports, Michigan’s ties to Hollywood are closer than you might think:

If you’re like Dick Rolfe and a handful of other fathers from Grand Rapids, chances are you’ve complained more than once about the lack of family-friendly films at your local movie theatre:

“We were frustrated because we felt inadequate to preview movies and to make selections on behalf of our children without going to the films themselves. And we didn’t trust the Motion Picture ratings; the G, PG, PG-13 and R.”

So Rolfe and some other parents started reviewing and assigning their own ratings to films. At first they just made a sort of laundry list of movies they liked and handed it out to friends, family and church members. According to Rolfe, the list was such a hit that he decided to expand the idea and created an entire non-profit dedicated to reviewing family films. It’s called the Dove Foundation and it’s based in Grand Rapids.

The reviews read like scorecards and are based on five criteria: sex, language, violence, nudity and the occult. So let’s say a character say a certain swear word five times throughout the movie. Then that swear word would be marked down on the scorecard with the number five next to it. While none of the studios would confirm it, Rolfe claims almost every major Hollywood studio sends their G, PG and PG-13 films to Dove for exactly that kind of review:

“Because we’re seeing these in advance, we’re seeing them in rough cut,” says Rolfe. “That means that there are still opportunities for the studio to go back and make changes and tweaks. On a couple of occasions we have made recommendations or observations for things we thought might offend the family audience. Studios went back, adjusted the films, cleaned them up a little bit, and we were able to give them an unqualified endorsement.”

Which essentially translates into the “Good Housekeeping” seal for family entertainment…especially considering the Dove website gets over 1.9 million hits a month – mostly by parents like Vickie Vermeer. She logs onto Dove-dot-org for guidance when it comes to choosing which movies her kids can see. Ten times out of ten she says she’ll trust Dove’s scorecard review over one written by a film critic in the Grand Rapids Press, say, or the New York Times:

“Usually when we read it in the Press or in the Times, the reviewers are coming from a different perspective,” says Vermeer. “They’re looking more at the quality or artistic-ness of the film. They may have a little more tolerance for the violence or language or sexual content for the movie and they may rate it as not having a lot of language or violence. Whereas the Dove Foundation, their guidelines are more strict. So we know if they say there’s not a lot of language in it, there isn’t.”

For Tom Long, it’s not that simple. As a film critic for the Detroit News, Long has written many a family-movie review. He’s all for letting parents know if there’s bad language in a film, but…

“To take something out and said they said this swear word ten times…well if it’s the bad guy saying the swear word, then you get the idea that bad people swear. So that’s teaching people not to swear. So no – just breaking things down into little parts and saying that that adds up to whether the film is good or bad is too simplistic for me.”

And while the website’s scorecard reviews are what Dove’s probably best known for, the Foundation’s Dick Rolfe is making waves behind the scenes, too:

“We’re much more interested in the fact that over the last 15 years, Hollywood produced 12 times more R rated movies than G. And yet, during that same period of time, we commissioned a study that proves the average G rated film was 11 times more profitable than its R rated component.”

Rolfe sent a copy of the 2005 study to every major studio exec in Hollywood…to show them that yes, family movies can be profitable…and yes, there is a large family audience out there waiting to get back in the theatres.

I’m Jennifer Guerra, Michigan Radio News.

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