The Knack: How to censor a film

THE DECIDING factor in whether or not to take the scissors to a particular scene is the effect that the scene would have on the audience. If you don't think it's going to be harmful, don't cut it. For example, some of the sex scenes in the controversial film Romance were judged to be so sensitively shot that they were left intact.

In Fight Club [see Anthony Quinn's review, page 11] there are two scenes in which the British Board of Film Classification judged that the violence was excessively sustained and in conflict with BBFC guidelines about taking pleasure in pain or sadism. In both scenes there was an indulgence in the excitement of beating a defenceless man's face into a pulp. The board required that cuts be made.

It can be difficult to separate your personal opinion from your regulatory role but you must develop a curious technique. Allow yourself to feel the film as an audience would, because that's crucial to arguments and considerations about its effects - but on the other hand, and simultaneously, keep your antennae clear for classification purposes. It's a bit like being a trained musician - you still thoroughly enjoy the concerts you go to, but you do notice technical things that other people wouldn't.

And make sure you're not reacting to what other people have said about a film when you view it. There's a danger that you will go into the film thinking, "Oh God, I've got to censor this movie." Conversely, because certain journalists make a living out of generating excitement about shock-horror movies, you might find yourself thinking, "Well, the one thing I'm not going to do is make cuts and satisfy that individual!"

Get used to being attacked for being too relaxed or too censorious. As long as both sides are attacking you, you're probably doing it right.

Robin Duval is director of the British Board of Film Classification