At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), we sat down with Robert Baehr, the CEO of Movieguide, which promotes faith, family, and traditional values in the entertainment industry.
Jan Jekielek: We’re here at CPAC 2021 with Bobby Baehr, newly the CEO of Movieguide, or MovieGuide.org. You do some pretty interesting and valuable work in Hollywood.
Robert Baehr: Yes, thank you so much. I love getting to be here and I appreciate that you’re having me on here.
Mr. Jekielek: Tell me about Movieguide. Movieguide sounds pretty generic. You think there’s a whole lot of movie guides out there, but you do something very specific.
Mr. Baehr: We’ve been around for quite a while actually. We started in 1978, our parent organization, and what we do basically is we review all films, but we review it for the faith and family market. We look at it based on 150 different criteria on how it affects kids at different stages of cognitive development. The process was developed by over 60 academics. We just love getting to that. Also, what we do is we work in Hollywood with the major studios, and we encourage them to make films that are more faith and family friendly.
Just like how Nike pushes for Nike shoes in content, or Microsoft might push for their computers and stuff, we push for faith content in films. The average film in Hollywood is $104 million to make. They scrutinize every scene that they make. So what we do is we try to get a scene in there of people praying, or going to church, or going to the Bible, or other things like that where we can insert that in a positive way in the films, and then also just encourage more family content.
Mr. Jekielek: Great. A big part of it also is to encourage traditional values.
Mr. Baehr: You’re exactly right, to just encourage traditional values. When we started, 82 percent of movies were R-rated, last year it was 30 percent. The big thing that’s so interesting is the whole line that sex sells is actually completely wrong. Sex doesn’t sell. What we found is that the less sex you put in a movie, the more money it makes; the less violence you put in, the more profitable it is. So we can actually determine how much every effort is going to cost you at the box office.
So what we do is we go to them and we say, “Really, do you want to lose this kind of money by adding an F-word into your film,” and obviously they don’t. So it helps us communicate from the business side of it, why they’re not going to do well to add this content that is explicit. So it’s a fight and a great dialogue constantly through all of these things.
Whenever I say that, people always [ask], “What about television?” We mostly focus on films and we’re just recently getting more into television, and it’s a whole different kind of animal [that we’re] delving into, but the principles are the same on the content that does well. The good does well, which is a great thing.
Mr. Jekielek: Very interesting. If I wanted to find films that I can watch with my kids, I would just go to Movieguide and I’ll see what’s the rating. You’re saying I can trust you.
Mr. Baehr: Exactly. The thing that we do too is, we don’t do thumbs up, thumbs down. [What] we do is we tell you what the content of the film is so you might be able to decide that it is actually completely safe for your daughter to see this film, but it might not be safe for your neighbor’s daughter to see the film. As the parent, you understand your child so much better than we understand your child. But what we want you to know is, these are the parameters, this is what’s in the film, so that you can understand what they’re susceptible to, so that you can make sure that they don’t fall into things that they’re susceptible to, that are bad, so they can be built up in the values that you want them to have.
Mr. Jekielek: This is really fascinating because you’re not telling people how they have to think. You’re saying, “I’m going to try to break this down so you don’t have to watch the film ahead of time, so you can actually make the judgment for yourself.”
Mr. Baehr: Exactly. We want families to be able to learn discernment themselves and to learn how to teach their kids discernment, so they’re going to be able to walk away knowing what content aligns with their values, so that they can keep their values. Cornell [University] had an interesting study that came out that said, “80 percent of kids are leaving the faith and values of their parents.” So our mission every day is to help parents turn that stat around so that parents get to keep their kids in the values and faith tradition that they have—the parents, the grandparents—and so we want to help them, and teach them, and give them the tools that they can use so that their kids want to choose the good and not the bad.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s very interesting because it reminds me of how The Epoch Times approaches the news, like we just try to give people the information. Here’s the reality, you make up your own mind what you want to think about it. I’m not talking about our opinion sections, I’m not talking about our columns, I’m talking about our news section. There are too few news sections out there and frankly, too few rating structures for films that do this sort of thing. I like what you’re telling me here.
Mr. Baehr: I think that’s true. Obviously, there’s no bias, but we believe we’re the best by far in this particular service. It’s interesting because things like the MPAA, [Motion Picture Association of America] are actually owned by the major studios. So the nature of that content can actually even be used as a weapon sometimes, for a tool against independence that they disagree with, or it can be just to help them push stuff that’s not necessarily the right kind of content. When you’ve been in a PG-13 film or something, you’re [thinking], “Wow! Why is that in there?” So we don’t want them to have that “Oh, man! Why is that in there” comment. We want them to know ahead of time, “Hey! This is in there”—be prepared so you can know is it worth you watching it in the first place.
Mr. Jekielek: MPAA is an industry product. How are you funded?
Mr. Baehr: We are a nonprofit, so we’re funded by individuals across the country, people who are just passionate about the work and care about it. We’re funded in that way and we are so appreciative of the awesome people who support us.
Mr. Jekielek: Wonderful. It’s such a pleasure to have you on.
Mr. Baehr: Great to be here.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.