Fan Film, Fan Films

Gray Areas: The Alternate World of Fan Edits

Gray Area Boilerplate“The public is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything at all.”—-Mark Twain

That assessment still rings true today, and whether you’re a fan filmmaker or a professional director, few things sting more than learning that the world thinks your movie reeks like a diaper full of Doors albums. Of course, while the old cliché says that people vote with their pocketbooks, the viewing public tends to have little other power over the movies that are released. As a result, to paraphrase, everyone complains about the movies, but no one does anything about them—until now.

Enter the Fan Editors. They’re a semi-secretive clan of movie nuts, armed with video editing software, massive hard drives, a few truckloads of Mountain Dew and the most precious resource of all: Oodles of free time.

No matter what a movie was like when it was released, there’s some fan out there who wants to cut out the boring stuff, rearrange a few scenes and create his own version of the flick. Conversely, there’s also amateur editors who want to put all those (rightfully) deleted scenes in a DVD’s bonus features section back into the movie, in order to create the ultimate extended version. Most of the time, however, these knife-weilding fans want to do something with an inkling of merit, like cutting Peter Jackson’s King Kong down to a size where you can watch it without having to take three bathroom breaks.

To qualify as a candidate for a fan edit, a movie has to be truly awful. Or nearly perfect. Or just exist. Pretty much everything’s fair game, as proven by a simple browse of the premiere fan edit site, the appropriately titled For instance, there’s homemade edits that condense The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions into one flick. Unsurprisingly, there’s dozens of Star Wars, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace reworkings that remove Jar Jar Binks, poopy jokes and other general banality in an attempt to make it a watchable movie. More surprisingly, however, there’s also fan versions of industrial-strength chick flicks like Love Actually and 13 Going On 30. I mean, whaaaaa?

The irony is that most fan edits are performed on movies that are simply crap, reviled by critics and the public alike. There’s also a slew of popular movies that get snipped as well, but either way, the amateur editors lose: No one wants to see a movie they love get radically altered (Memo to George Lucas….), but they also don’t want to watch a movie they didn’t see the first time around either.

Still, movies aren’t alone when it comes to fans taking Play-Doh approach to enjoying entertainment; in music fandom, people have made their own remixes of hits for decades—-a move that led to the foundations of hip-hop in the mid-’70s, when DJs would take the best hook of a song and replay it, back to back to back, on two turntables. More recently, there’s CDs that come with songs ready to be remixed on specialized hobbyist software, and Nine Inch Nails released a few songs from its last album in Garageband and Pro Tools formats so that fans could go to town with them. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before we start to see that open-source attitude happen with movies.

STDVD-faneditSometimes, there’s an interesting conceit at play: Star Trek Phase II: In Thy Image slashes the disastrous William Shatner-directed Star Trek V from 107 minutes to just over an hour, and attempts to refashion it as a pilot episode for a Trek series that was actually proposed in the late ’70s but scuttled in favor of the movie series.

Or take Cast Away Remixed By Jorge, whose editor calls the original film “A brave attempt by Tom Hanks/Robert Zemeckis that is only marred in its authenticity by the need to bring a second character on the island—-Wilson the ball—-so I remove Wilson and ALL the talking on the island.” Instantly, the 2-hour, 23-minute original loses nearly 40 minutes. If he could make people lose extra weight like that, Jorge would be a regular on Oprah.

But are fan edits any good? Beats me—I haven’t seen any of them. You see, all these altered movies are available for free off the net, and the site—-like other fan-edit sites squirreled away around the web—-makes token warnings that you should only grab flicks that you already own. That might save the webmasters’ butts from a legal showdown, but probably not the downloader, because let’s face it: If an army of well-funded lawyers wants to sue you, it will, technicalities (and you) be damned.

I saw Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow in the theaters, bought the DVD on its release day, and I’m curious to see if the site’s version, which clocks in at barely an hour, is any better. Frankly, I doubt it; it may have been a plodding movie in places, but no editor—-pro or amateur—-can fix that film’s main problem: the fact that Gwynth Paltrow doesn’t phone in her performance; she uses a carrier pidgeon. With all the radically altered images in the special effects, someone should have taken a few minutes to wipe the perpetual look of disinterest off her face. I haven’t seen a face that bored since I looked around the audience at a Coldplay concert (…and suddenly the penny drops).

While I’d love to check out that sliced-and-diced version, I have no interest in risking studio lawyers suing me just to make an example of someone. Hell, it’s bad enough that any DVD I watch admonishes me before the previews that pirating movies is evil (“Wait a second…I did the right thing and paid money to rent this DVD, so why am I being told off like I’m a complete idiot? Sure, I rented Justin Long’s Accepted, but still….”).

Get in touch with your inner conspiracy theorist and you can run wild with this scenario: See, the lawyers let enough people download one of these films, then swoop down and sue everybody. Suddenly, you no longer have a failed, expensive Hollywood picture; you have a movie that makes a profit via “alternative revenue streams.” Feel free to swim in them if you like; I’m gonna watch a fan film instead.

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