Thomas Jefferson once created “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” To do so, he took the New Testament and began excising passages. His intent was to remove the miracles and leave only the lessons Christ taught. It was this essentially blasphemous act that I use to justify fan edits of feature films. If a slave owner can edit the word of God, why can’t a fan edit a film that goes against the filmmakers’ vision? It’s an extreme example, but considering some fans’ idealization of movies, not an unfair one.
Director’s cuts, producer’s cuts, special editions; these are just some labels for film edits made within the industry. Fan edits have been a (fairly) underground movement for many, many years. With easy access to video editing software and digital versions of films, a community has formed. This community is an ever-growing movement and it has even attracted people within the industry. Actor Topher Grace once screened an edit of the Star Wars prequels that combined the three films into one. Feature film director Steven Soderbergh has created several fan edits himself for Heaven’s Gate, Psycho, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. It should come as no surprise that those who create films have opinions about other films.
Sometimes this community is toxic. Two that come to mind are fan edits of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Avengers: Endgame. Fans from the alt-right (or at least very far right) have made cuts that remove all female characters from both films. The result: two very ugly, short, and nonsensical movies. Upon perusing a popular forum for fan edits, I noticed descriptions of changes had small occurrences of general ick-that-is-not-okay content. I only mention this as a disclaimer- not just because I don’t want to ostracize readers who’ve heard of this, but also because I’m about to talk about my own edits.
A couple of years ago, my friend confessed he had never seen the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. His reasoning was that it was too long. I wouldn’t normally fault someone for that logic, but he was an aeronautical engineer and I found his disinterest appalling. Hypothetically, I asked him, what if the overall runtime was reduced- say ninety minutes? Hypothetically, he responded, he would watch it. And so, I began the creation of my fan edit, 2001: An Edited Odyssey.
At ninety minutes, my lazily named but enthusiastically created cut kept the structure of the film intact. I may have eliminated the hypnotic nature of the full film, but I had a faster paced experience. I screened the film for a handful of people to positive reactions. It wasn’t so much that the long runtime was a flaw, it was those average moviegoers wouldn’t be compelled to see it. More than a year later, I saw that Steven Soderbergh had created his own 2001 edit long before me. If could do it all over again, I would.
My point/thesis/end of rant is that fan edits can be useful. Some are to make a film more coherent, some are combinations of multiple films, and some are just so the editor can enjoy the film more. From a legal standpoint, fan edits are kind of a gray area- some consider them illegal (“piracy is not a victimless crime”) but if you own the film, why shouldn’t you be able to watch someone’s version of that?
My hope is that you, the reader, do not finish this editorial thinking that the fan edits are created by those who pirate movies and/or are toxic/petty. A movie such as Blade Runner has a ton of different cuts, so it’s no surprise that fans would like to take a shot at it. My experience is that it is a good way to understand what makes a “better” film, what makes a cohesive narrative, and what it means to have a well-paced film. I’ve edited two features and spliced a season of a television series into a two-hour feature. It’s a time-consuming process, but one that can be thoroughly satisfying.