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Posted by Lynne Martin on Sunday, 03 March 2013

'Based On A True Story' is quickly becoming one of the most popular advertising ploys in the movie industry. Attach those five little words to any newly released title, and you're almost surely guaranteed a second look from the viewing public. And why wouldn't we give this kind of movie a chance – after all, it's based on a true story? Here are a few more examples that you might recognize from your local theatre.

1.       True story.

2.       Based on firsthand accounts of actual events.

3.       Inspired by true events.

4.       Ripped from the headlines.

We've all become accustomed to seeing these catch phrases attached to the movies we view. The three big Oscar winners: ARGO, LINCOLN, and ZERO DARK THIRTY all touted similar tag lines in 2013. So if the prestigious Academy didn't question the labels before handing out their golden statues – why should we care?

Simple – we pay to see our movies. Academy members are gifted with free copies for their viewing consideration.

I'm sure there must be some kind of governing body – you might argue back. Nobody is going to allow that 'Based on a True Story' label to be slapped on any new release unless there is some semblance of truth to their claim. Right?

Well here's the shocking truth. The MPAA (The Motion Picture Association of America) is comprised of the six major studios: Walt Disney, Sony Pictures, Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Universal Studios, and Warner Bros. These are the 'big players' in the game, and they are responsible for reviewing each piece of marketing for all releases that pass through the Classifications and Rating Administration before being assigned their personal rating (i.e. PG-13, R). The marketing reviewed includes everything from glossy movie posters, to T.V. commercials, all the way down to the advertising blurbs we read online. The MPAA reviews it all.

So again, you'd think there must be a certain percentage of truth necessary for the 'Based on a True Story' designation being attached to a movie. Well surprisingly – there is not!

The MPAA does not determine whether a film is designated to be 'Based on a True Story'. That
designation is solely left to the discretion of the producer or the distributor.

In other words, any movie can claim to be a true story. I'm not saying that all studios are trying to fool us – but without any controls in place, how are we supposed to know the difference?  Of the
last ten reviews I have published, three movies (THE POSSESSION, SNITCH, and THE MASTER) were all labeled as based on a true story. Knowing what I now know, this designation means little more to me than any other advertising I've read off the movie posters.

I will always love movies. I will just have to remember to view them as entertainment, not as national headlines ripped from the pages of The New York Times.

Lynne Martin

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