Fan-Made Movie Edits: Another Cultural Loss At The Hands Of Copyright

from the a-loss-to-society dept

I missed this when it was in the news a few months back, but actor Topher Grace (That 70s Show and a bunch of other stuff) apparently decided he wanted to learn how film editing works, and rather than make his own film and edit it, he decided to take some other films that he knew well, and see what would happen if he edited them (massively). His first project was taking Episodes I, II and III of Star Wars -- a total of approximately seven hours of footage -- and editing them down to a tight 85-minute film that focuses almost exclusively on the story of how Anakin becomes Darth Vader, completely wiping out lots of other stuff, but (according to some of the very small number of people who saw it) creating a really compelling storyline in the process.

In a recent interview, he expanded a bit on the reason he did this and what his thinking was. Basically, he said that it's similar to when a director takes acting lessons to better understand actors (but with no desire to be one). He's not planning to do video editing professionally, but he believes editing is the key part of how a video story is told, and he wanted to understand it more. As he said:
There's this expression that [a movie is] written three times: during the script, when you're filming it and when you're editing it. And I believe that's wrong. I think it's written once, in editing -- and everything is clay for that. And I wanted to learn about it -- I thought it would be neat. It's like learning to play the piano and I need a lot of clay. And I thought if I did one movie out of these three ...
But, here's the thing. You and I and everyone else -- other than the small group of folks Grace invited to his screening -- will never see this movie. He's promised never to show it, because he doesn't want to upset Lucasfilm or violate their copyrights. Of course, Lucasfilm has actually been pretty cool about allowing such fan edits, but others in the industry, led by the MPAA, have not. And, of course, it seems that even just the one screening that Grace had for his friends in the industry and some reporters almost certainly violated Lucasfilm's copyrights on the work.

And Grace isn't stopping there either. He plans to do more of these, starting with an edit from the various versions of Close Encounters -- but again, none of us will ever get to see it:
I think, for people who like to edit, this is a cool way to do it. And it's just a great community thing. But they'll never be on YouTube, or any of that stuff.
And that, to me, sounds like a pretty big loss. Fan edits and remixes of music are pretty popular and widely encouraged by artists these days. But, for whatever reason, the same viewpoint doesn't seem to extend much to movies (again, Lucasfilm is a slight, but not complete, exception). And, for the most part, it seems that not just allowing but encouraging the making and sharing of fan edits would be a great way to not just have fans even more engaged in the films, but also to introduce new audiences to films, and to give people more reasons to watch the originals again, just to compare them to some fan edits.

So here's a situation where we have someone doing something incredibly cool and creating a bit of culture that those who have seen it seem to have enjoyed thoroughly. And the rest of the world will never experience it, even though it wouldn't do any harm to the original films. That seems like a huge loss to the collective culture.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    Rikuo (profile), Jun 5th, 2012 @ 8:14am

    Crime of the F*cking Century - A film that shows Anakin's descent to the dark side with none of the bullsh*t that Lucas was insane enough to think his story needed (Jar Jar, Jedi acting as warriors, etc) can't be shown?
    No, I am not being sarcastic. It is a crime that this movie can't be shown! Copyright law in the US Constitution says it is for the progress of arts...how can there be progression of arts when you STOP the progression?

     

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      :Lobo Santo (profile), Jun 5th, 2012 @ 8:29am

      Re: Kaching

      "progress of art *of making money*"
      The "of making money" portion is silent, so most people don't know it's there. Once you do know, the rest makes alot more sense.

       

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        rubberpants, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 8:33am

        Re: Re: Kaching

        You can laugh, but if it wasn't for the drive to make money, Episodes I-III would never have been made. Is that what you want? DO YOU?!

         

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          :Lobo Santo (profile), Jun 5th, 2012 @ 8:49am

          Re: Re: Re: Kaching

          ...can't say I'd be all that bothered if they'd never been made.

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 8:51am

          Re: Re: Re: Kaching

          "...if it wasn't for the drive to make money, Episodes I-III would never have been made."

          Greed really is an ugly thing, isn't it?

           

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          JEDIDIAH, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 11:37am

          Re: Re: Re: Kaching

          That's probably why they stink.

          Lucas is the LAST guy on the planet that needs to worry about a film making money. He's so rich from the originals that he can fund them for CASH.

          He very much has the luxury of not being crass.

          In the intervening years he simply lost sight of the reason he became an artist.

           

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    Brent (profile), Jun 5th, 2012 @ 8:30am

    Being a Star Wars fan, I would love to see his version and doing so would certainly benefit Lucasfilm b/c i would obviously need to watch the last 3 movies immediately afterwards (and eventually i would would the first 3 again, probably followed by the last 3, again). I've been itching for a reason to get the Blu-ray versions of the series..this would put me over the top. But alas, we'll never see it and i still won't be buying those expensive HD versions.. Another demonstration of how copyright makes studios more money - no wait, its just the opposite.

     

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    Woadan (profile), Jun 5th, 2012 @ 8:32am

    Well, if Lucas ever sees it, maybe this will see the light of day as an extra on yet ANOTHER Bluray release of the 3 movies...

     

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    Mesonoxian Eve (profile), Jun 5th, 2012 @ 8:35am

    Lucas won't sue you for editing his movies, but rue anyone should those edits contain a lightsaber.

     

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    S. Ikan Tyr'd, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 8:39am

    Repeal Copyright

    Copyright as it exists these days is simply a mechanism that businesses (many of them obsolete) use in attempts to maintain and even expand their wealth through abuse and enslavement of the masses via the "farce" of law.

    Never mind what it was "supposed" to be and if that's all you've got to say, just keep it to your naive selves because you have nothing of value to say.

    Copyright as it exists these days is abusive of the masses, evil and fatal to progress.

    Rollback is a joke. Repeal Copyright for the sake of the future. If need be, replace it with something that fulfills the original intent.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 8:55am

    If Topher is allowed to show his fan edit to the public, people would just take his scenes, re-edit them back into the full movie (with pirate clips from Big YouTube no doubt!) and then watch THAT instead of spending more movie on tickets to watch Star Wars!

     

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    DanZee (profile), Jun 5th, 2012 @ 9:09am

    New Copyright System

    I've been thinking of this for some time, but I would love to see a "collaborators" section in the copyright law that would allow people to alter a work, clearly label it as a mash-up or some such term so it would not be confused with the original, and then have something like 90% of any income derived from it go to the original copyright holders and 10% go to the remixer. Maybe you could license it through the Copyright Clearance Center. The 10% would be just enough of a financial incentive to get people working on such projects and it would allow these projects to be legally exhibited. As Brent pointed out, a re-edit of a work might drive people to buy the original, resulting in even more revenue for everyone involved. The whole point of public domain was to enable people to do this after a reasonable amount of time. But where the US felt that 20 years was a long enough time in the 1800s, and 56 years in the 1900s, now we have 95-150 year time periods in the 2000s, which is not a reasonable amount of time. This kind of addition to the copyright law might bring the spirit of public domain back to the law, but at the same time assuring that copyright holders would still make money for 95+ years!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 9:12am

    Cultural loss? Are you kidding?

    All he did was take someone else's work, and show you how HE saw it. It's not some great new work, it's just someone else's work with his fingers on it. Nothing more and nothing less.

    This isn't a problem of copyright - this is a problem of common sense. The guy knew from the get go that nothing would come of this. Why cry now?

    Sorry, but this isn't anything other that someone hoping that a copyright holder would ignore them because they are somewhat famous or whatever. It fails, and it always will. Culture doesn't lose anything.

     

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      Dave Miller (profile), Jun 5th, 2012 @ 9:34am

      Re:

      "it's just someone else's work with his fingers on it."

      Isn't that all art?

       

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      Nina Paley (profile), Jun 5th, 2012 @ 9:34am

      Re:

      Cultural loss? Are you kidding?

      All he did was take someone else's work, and show you how HE saw it. It's not some great new work, it's just someone else's work with his fingers on it. Nothing more and nothing less.

      This isn't a problem of copyright - this is a problem of common sense. The guy knew from the get go that nothing would come of this. Why cry now?

      Don't be so hard on George Lucas. We all know his last 3 Star Wars movies are a lame and uninspired mess. It's true we can't blame copyright for that - it was more a lack of common sense, like you say. The point of this post is that fans like Topher Grace can fix those mistakes, and we could all benefit.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 9:39am

        Re: Re:

        Do we really benefit at all though? Is it not more a case of someone coming back to re-mow the lawn that was just mowed moments before? Are we not wasting out time in a sort of cultural "I know better than you" that adds so little? Would it have not been better if he had donated his time to some starving film artist looking for someone to edit his works? WOuld we not be better off with something totally new, rather than a collection of the existing through his eyes?

        Culturally, this is a dead end. If the original movies are lame and uninspired, then ignore them and move on, making movies that are neither. Re-editing his work because you don't happen to like it doesn't really add much to anything.

        It's rather lame and uninspired, if you ask me.

         

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          Jay (profile), Jun 5th, 2012 @ 9:58am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Compared to how Lucas stole from Akira Kurosaw?

           

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          Dave Xanatos, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 10:08am

          Re: Re: Re:

          You seem to miss the point. He did not 'mow the same lawn'. Ah, now I see the problem. A lawn mowing metaphor? Really? I've mowed the same lawn a hundred times and it never seems pointless. Metaphor fail.

          Anyway, the point is taking pieces from one thing and creating something new. This is the foundation of all art and culture. All. Art. And. Culture.

          Speaking of TV Tropes, it's a great site to go to if you want to be disabused of the notion that a movie/tv show/book is completely original.

           

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        Chosen Reject (profile), Jun 5th, 2012 @ 10:09am

        Re: Re:

        I was going to say something similar, but I was going to refer to A New Hope. All Lucas did was take someone else's work (Joseph Campbell, Akira Kurosawa, et al) and showed us how he saw it. Or is this similar to the quote, "If you steal from one author it's plagiarism; if you steal from many it's research." If Topher Grace had mixed in some Spielberg and some Hitchcock works then it'd be A-OK?

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 9:34am

      Re:

      spoken like a true cultural gatekeeper! get out of the way.

       

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      JEDIDIAH, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 11:40am

      Whooosh...

      > All he did was take someone else's work, and show you how HE saw it.

      In your town, there are a bunch of rich old farts in fancy clothes all sitting around being pretentious about how high minded and culturally educated they are. They are all doing it while watching to or listening to the kind of performance you're describing.

       

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    jupiterkansas (profile), Jun 5th, 2012 @ 9:28am

    I'm sorry, but the only people who are allowed to create these days are the people who have been given permission from on high. Everyone else must merely consume.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 10:04am

      Re:

      horse crap. You can create anything you like - just create something, don't just piddle around with someone else's work.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 10:23am

        Re: Re:

        The raw material for new culture is old culture.

         

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        E. Zachary Knight (profile), Jun 5th, 2012 @ 10:28am

        Re: Re:

        Yeah. How dare Led Zepplin become rich and famous! They should be sued out of existence. Don't get me started on Bob Dylan. Oh and that Justin Beiber kid should be thrown in jail too.

        And these modern movie companies. Man. Why can't they create their own stories rather than stealing the hard work from writers and other creators?

         

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        The Groove Tiger (profile), Jun 5th, 2012 @ 11:30am

        Re: Re:

        "horse crap. You can create anything you like - just create something, don't just piddle around with someone else's work."

        Wait... we're talking about Disney now? I thought this was about Star Wars and Topher Grace.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 11:36am

        Re: Re:

        Hmm. Maybe you're comments are being aimed at the wrong people. By all means please address them to the likes of Disney (well known for piddling around with someone else's work... ala Aesop's fables and many others) and Hollywood in general (lest we forget the plethora of remakes we've seen the past few years... remakes of previously made movies and tv shows). Otherwise, you are being a bit of a hypocrite. Why? Because you overlook the copy and piddling around done by those who are big companies just to rail against those who are individuals (like Topher Grace and the rest of us here).

        You should probably also go rail at anyone who even remotely plays anything that could be considered "blues". Bunch of b@stards, playing riffs created decades ago and just adding a little chord change here or there to make them "different".

         

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        rubberpants, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 12:37pm

        Re: Re:

        "don't just piddle around with someone else's work."

        You can't be serious. Have you ever been involved in a creative endeavor that didn't "piddle" around with something that's gone before on some level?

         

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        jupiterkansas (profile), Jun 5th, 2012 @ 2:04pm

        Re: Re:

        Yep, how dare Walt Disney be inspired by Buster Keaton.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 3:30pm

        Re: Re:

        None of the words you have used in your comment are original. Please refrain from using words that are the result of other people's work.

         

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    steve, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 9:44am

    I've always wondered if any Lost fans have taken a shot at trimming some fat off of the series.

     

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    Ruud (profile), Jun 5th, 2012 @ 10:07am

    I think there should not be any copyright issue when he just released a script listing the begin/end time stamps of his cuts.

    Somebody could then write a program that reads the script and apply them to the source material, showing the parts in the scripted order.

    That would also allow other fans to alter the script and build upon the work by the original editor.

    Just a thought...

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 10:30am

      Re:

      Is probably completely correct, but I do not know of any way to see it like that outside of grey area computer-stored DVDs. To be honest the availability of such a service could be a moneycow for the industry if it is done right, alas it will never happen and the person uttering such travesty will get on the "to sue"-list they keep at the MPAA.

       

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    Trish, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 10:36am

    "Culturally, this is a dead end. If the original movies are lame and uninspired, then ignore them and move on, making movies that are neither. Re-editing his work because you don't happen to like it doesn't really add much to anything.

    It's rather lame and uninspired, if you ask me."
    It is good that you have an opinion on this cultural artifact and decided to share it. That only proves that it is in fact culture.
    Remember that music video that everyone links to as a joke/ internet meme? That video's pretty lame and horrible right? and yet the video is a pretty big part of our culture and has been for quite some time...

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 11:15am

      Re:

      Pointing at something and calling it "culture" doesn't make it so. I cannot see how, as a people, we are advanced enough by someones reedit of a lucas film as to merit tossing copyright out of the window to permit it.

      If it's culture, it's mold.

       

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        E. Zachary Knight (profile), Jun 5th, 2012 @ 11:32am

        Re: Re:

        If it's culture, it's mold.

        I am not sure how to interpret this line. Very odd.

        Pointing at something and calling it "culture" doesn't make it so. I cannot see how, as a people, we are advanced enough by someones reedit of a lucas film as to merit tossing copyright out of the window to permit it.

        You are right. However, the oposite can also be true. "Pointing at something and saying it is not culture doesn't make it so."

        The problem is that you do not have a clue what culture is. Culture is the collective rise of art, intellect, speech etc. Star Wars is part of modern culture regardless of what you or George Lucas want people to believe. If you have ever seen a staged lightsabre dual video or a bounty hunter cosplay, you would know this. Creating fan edits and mashups of cultural works is part of the spread of such culture.

        By placing such long and lopsided copyrights on culture, it is like trying to build a dam after a flood.

        We are often asked by certain ACs here (who knows, it might actually be used) that if the lengths of copyright were the problem, why is it only new works that get pirated. The answer is that the new works are part of the internet age's collective culture. The older works that should be in the public domain if not for term extensions are not part of the internet age's collective culture.

        Those people were robbed of their culture. They wer denied the right to promulgate and expand on their culture. The current internet age will not stand by and let that happen.

        Does this suck for dinosaurs that do not get it and want to fight it? Sure. But they will come to terms with it and take advantage of it, or else they will die off and be replaced by those that do.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 2:06pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Those people were robbed of their culture. "

          No they were not. If they were robbed of their culture, they wouldn't have it. Clearly, it wouldn't be culture if they didn't.

          Stop talking in circles, you are only showing that your logic is very, very light.

           

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            drew (profile), Jun 5th, 2012 @ 2:28pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "No they were not. If they were robbed of their culture, they wouldn't have it. Clearly, it wouldn't be culture if they didn't."
            If we had it we'd be able to play around with it however the hell we wanted. But we can't because it's still stuck in the vice of a government monopoly.
            But you know that's exactly what he meant and you're just trolling. Really I should know better than to feed you.

             

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        rubberpants, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 12:41pm

        Re: Re:

        Society, as a collective, decides what's culture and what isn't.

        Society has decided that Star Wars is a part of it's culture, despite your objections.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 6:03pm

        Re: Re:

        "I don't like it; therefore, you cannot have it." Clearly your logic is logic at its finest.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 10:48am

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 5th, 2012 @ 10:58pm

    And it would be SUCH a shame if his works where somehow "leaked" online on TPB where it couldn't be removed by any DMCA, in a way that couldn't be traced back to him...

     

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    zeitgeyser, Jun 6th, 2012 @ 8:44am

    Fan media & copyright

    Mike Masnik wrote: Fan edits and remixes of music are pretty popular and widely encouraged by artists these days. But, FOR WHATEVER REASON,(zeitgeyser's emphasis) the same viewpoint doesn't seem to extend much to movies (again, Lucasfilm is a slight, but not complete, exception).

    Well first there IS a specific reason, to wit: Usually the artists don't wn their own copyights - particularly in arenas like music and movies - they sell those rights to huge media MANUFACTURERS (hold that thought it's important...) thus making them the equivalent of share croppers on their own cultural land. Even though they are (relatively) well paid they must give up their copyrights inorder to get their art in front of a mass audience. This is because until the internet mass media ALWAYS involved mass, 19-century industrial revolution style manufacturing which entailed large capital investments to build and run the factories. What the media conglomerate have forgotten/confused is that people don't buy books, CDs, DVDs, whatever because they want the artifact. They buy it because they want the content. They are protecting a dead business model. This is like a food retailer thinking that people go to the grocery story and buy canned green beans so they can have the f***ing can the beans came in.

    In addition to this huge mistake, because they were focused on manufacturing, they also have missed the fact that cultural production has a COMPLETELY different economic imperative. They're protecting the wrong thing! But I don't have time to talk about that right now so until the next time one of these blog posts makes me foam at the mouth...

     

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