ALEX CHADWICK, host:
OK, people are already talking about a movie out next week. It stars Seth Rogan and Elizabeth Banks, two down-on-their-luck roommates who, desperate for cash, decide to make an adult film. So, this is what people are talking about, a word in the title that's causing controversy. Day to Day's Alex Cohen reports.
ALEX COHEN: The five-letter word begins with the letter P and is synonymous with X-rated film. And if it's a word you'd rather not have your kids hear, now would be a really good time to turn the volume down.
OK, then. So, this story goes back to 1996. That's when writer Kevin Smith, known for "Chasing Amy" and "Clerks," first considered writing a script about something he calls an undeniable part of the great American Quilt, porn.
Mr. KEVIN SMITH (Writer and Director, "Zack and Miri make a Porno"): It answers the age-old question we all have about each other which is, like, what do they look like without their clothes on? Simple human curiosity fuels that industry.
COHEN: Smith was especially interested in the world of amateur pornography. In his script, Miri, played by Elizabeth Banks, and her long-time friend, Zack, played by Seth Rogan, find themselves unable to pay the rent.
(Soundbite of movie "Zack and Miri Make a Porno")
Ms. ELIZABETH BANKS: (As Miri) These are the exact circumstances people find themselves in right before they start having sex for money. What? You got an idea?
Mr. SETH ROGAN: (As Zack) We could make a porno.
Ms. BANKS: (As Miri) Not the idea I was looking for.
COHEN: Writer and director Kevin Smith says the straightforward title, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," was a funny way to say it all.
Mr. SMITH: Going in, I knew that, like, you put porno in the title, you're going to turn some people off, but I always assume that the people that will be turned off by the title were never coming to this movie to begin with.
COHEN: But then it came time to market the movie. The film's distributor submitted artwork for billboards and bus ads that featured fully clad, though somewhat risque, photos of the film stars. The Motion Picture Association said no way. So, they created a new ad campaign featuring stick-figure versions of the actors.
Mr. SMITH: And the poster says Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks made a movie so outrageous, we can only show you these drawings. I think that's a brilliant marketing campaign.
Ms. RINA CUTLER (Deputy Mayor, Transportation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania): Clever, but not going to happen. "Zack and Miri" cannot make a porno on my bus shelters.
COHEN: Rina Cutler is the deputy mayor of transportation in Philadelphia, where the film tried unsuccessfully to place ads at city bus stops.
Ms. CUTLER: I think there really is just a question of the appropriateness of the word porno in a public bus shelter, where I'm going to have parents and children waiting for school busses. And I don't think it's appropriate for me to have to explain to those children or have their parents explain what porno means.
COHEN: Rina Cutler wasn't alone. More than a dozen newspapers and several TV stations refused to carry ads for the film. But "Zack and Miri" posters did go up at bus stops in Massachusetts, and that troubles Diane Levin. Levin teaches college in Boston and is author of the book "So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids."
Dr. DIANE LEVIN (Education, Wheelock College; Author, "So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids"): My expertise is with young children. So, when I saw it, I thought, they are going to see the stick-figure drawings and they're going to think, gee, this must be a movie for me.
Mr. SMITH: My kid, she don't care about porno, because if it doesn't feature Hannah Montana and Zack and Cody, she don't care.
COHEN: Writer Kevin Smith argues that even if a child were to ask his or her parents about pornography, would it really be that awful?
Mr. SMITH: What responsible parent can't turn to their child and respond to that question? Like, honestly. Hey, man, porno is a movie that's not for you.
COHEN: "Zack and Miri" lead man Seth Rogen says he, too, was surprised by the backlash, especially considering that he'd never seen this sort of reaction before and almost his entire resume is filled with body comedies like "Knocked Up" and the ultraviolent "Pineapple Express."
Mr. ROGEN: I had done weed and alcohol and underage drinking and pregnancies. So, I mean, I was just going through every kind of bad thing you can get yourself into.
(Soundbite of laughter)
COHEN: Rogen says it seems like this country is more troubled by sex than violence. Just compare the ads for "Zack and Miri" to those for other current movies, like the horror flick "Saw V."
Mr. ROGEN: There are "Saw" ads all over the city, which literally have, like, a guy's face cut off and laid on another guy's face, and no one complains about that.
COHEN: Rogen says he's particularly bothered that people are criticizing the ad campaign without having seen the film. Writer Kevin Smith agrees. Yes, he says, the movie does feature nudity and sex scenes, but it's also funny.
(Soundbite of movie "Zack and Miri Make a Porno")
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. ROGEN: Is there soft-core gay porn? Like, just hugging and kissing and, you know, telling each other how cool the other guy is? You're a rad dude. Thanks, you, too. Let's play some ball.
Mr. SMITH: To me, it's all about tone, and our tone is clearly not, like, this is so titillating. Ours is comedy.
COHEN: To prove his point, Smith notes that the film originally received an NC-17 rating, but he was successfully able to lobby the ratings board to a much milder R rating. Alex Cohen, NPR News.
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