Dissertation Award Nomination

I’m pleased to share news that my completed dissertation, “Beyond The Phantom Edit: A Critical History and Practical Analysis of Fan Edits” has been nominated for the Argersinger Dissertation Award.

The award competition recognizes exceptional dissertations on the basis of their originality, quality of research, and significance the field, as well as well as to the wider community. Each year, academic departments at KU are permitted to nominate one dissertation for this award. To be eligible, the dissertation must have passed its final defense with honors.

My dissertation is the first from the KU Department of Film and Media Studies to be nominated for the award, so this amount of support is much appreciated.

Featured in University Daily Kansan

Happy to report that my research was recently featured in an article by Cameron McGough for the University Daily Kansan. Here are some excerpts from the interview:

“We, as a society, are starting to move toward a more transformative understanding of media, film and television,” Wille said. “We are becoming accustomed to the fact that there are remixes and modified versions all around us. With more and more fan editors willing to tackle different movies, it’s breaking out of the mold.” […] Wille said he knows just how hard it can be to get fan edits out to people. There are many legal and logistical hurdles the fan-editing community must overcome. “Fan edits are unfortunately compared to outright media piracy, and they are disparaged simply because they are modified versions of film — because they apparently violate a perceived sanctity of the filmmaker’s version,” Wille said. “It’s very important to understand that fan editors don’t make fan edits to replace the original. They make it as an alternative or a different perspective.” […] “We are getting to the point where we realize we don’t have to accept a movie, a song or a television show, the content of it, for what it is,” he said. “We don’t have to sit there and be passive spectators but rather active participants. Fan edits are works of art, and they should be recognized as works of art.”

The article also highlights my fan edits and their relationship to my research and teaching ambitions, including very nice comments from Prof. Andreas Stuhlmann about my approach to Watchmen: Midnight. Another fan editing project mentioned in the article is my reconstruction of Psycho: The Roger Ebert Cut, which led to further variations on the remixed digital material. I explored the mutative consequences of fan edit replication in a recent essay.

Publication Notes: ‘Dead Links, Vaporcuts, and Creativity in Fan Edit Replication’

“Dead Links, Vaporcuts, and Creativity in Fan Edit Replication” is my essay published in volume 20 of the journal Transformative Works and Cultures. Building on some of the groundwork in an earlier paper of mine, I examine some of the ongoing problems related to storing, sharing, and accessing fan edits online, followed by examples of how fan editors attempt to recreate intangible fan edits but inevitably produce variant works that reflect their own creative perspectives. Portions of this essay, such as my practical investigation into Psycho: The Roger Ebert Cut (Stomachworm 2009), were developed in an earlier blog entry.

In fact, the first research for “Dead Links, Vaporcuts, and Creativity in Fan Edit Replication” began in 2011 with an editing experiment with Psycho: The Roger Ebert Cut prior to making Watchmen: Midnight. Despite the torrent for Stomachworm’s original fan edit remaining indexed by The Pirate Bay, it was neglected, unseeded, and effectively dead. I was determined to see “Ebert’s version” of Psycho (1960), so I recut the film in the way Ebert suggested in his 1998 review. I realized I had not only created something to illustrate Ebert’s argument that Hitchcock’s psychiatrist was superfluous, but I had also recreated Stomachworm’s “lost” fan edit. An introductory portion of this new essay recounts that experience in more detail as a means of addressing the ephemeral and mutative tendencies of fan edits.

In the essay, I coin the term “vaporcut” in order to distinguish authentic fan edits from unsubstantiated projects such as Star Wars Episode III.5: The Editor Strikes Back, a putative fan edit by Topher Grace. “Vaporcut” is adapted from “vaporware,” a term used in the technology industry to describe products that generate discourse but never see public release, sometimes because they never actually existed. By describing Grace’s editing projects as vaporcuts, I do not mean to suggest they are hoaxes, but I refer to them in order to argue that a conscientious study of fan edits should not give credence to unsubstantiated works. Although there have been a reports that The Editor Strikes Back was screened privately in 2012, until there is a public release to authenticate the project, it should be treated as apocryphal — as a vaporcut.

Note: a vaporcut is fundamentally different from a genuine fan edit that was once available but subsequently became inaccessible. Although my term could potentially describe any unsubstantiated fan edit, I use “vaporcut” in the essay specifically to describe high-profile works, like Grace’s The Editor Strikes Back and Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Remix, which generate a remarkable amount of discourse despite any public release. Steven Soderbergh’s fan edits have also caused a stir, but he has consistently released his projects in full as embedded videos restricted to his web site. In the essay, I find that Soderbergh and Grace’s projects have been sources of inspiration for fans who attempt to reconstruct elusive works but inevitably create new fan edits that reflect their own creativity. Thus, I draw attention to several fan edits like Star Wars: Turn to the Dark Side (Double Digit 2014) and Star Wars: A Last Hope (Jared Kaplan 2014), which began as attempts to retrace narrative structure Grace’s The Editor Strikes Back but manifested as personal treatments of the same material.

Citation

Wille, Joshua. “Dead Links, Vaporcuts, and Creativity in Fan Edit Replication.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 20. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2015.0663.

Press

Christine Metz Howard, “Citing ‘Psycho’ as evidence, scholar argues for fan editors’ artistic freedom,” KU Today, October 27, 2015. (URL)

Director Joel Schumacher Thanks Fan Editor

In a recent Forbes article about the strengths, weaknesses, and mixed reception of Batman Forever (1995), Mark Hughes characterizes Scaperat’s 2007 fan edit, Batman Forever: Red Book Edition, as a glimpse at the quality of film that director Joel Schumacher intended to make:

The theatrical cut of Batman Forever is in fact missing a lot of what Schumacher was trying to create. There is an alternate version called Batman Forever: Red Book Edition, which is an unofficial, fantastic fan-edit containing all of the great deleted footage edited back into the movie (including a training sequence with Bruce and Dick, in which Bruce opens up about killing) while many of the campier lines are cut out and the neon coloring is toned down. You get a clearer sense Schumacher was attempting to craft a much more dramatic and complex approach to Batman’s psychology and characterization. In fact, there is a sequence about a childhood Bruce falling down the well and first encountering the bats that created his fear, and this concept ended up being revived in Batman Begins. With a freer hand to completely make the film he wanted (which would’ve looked much more like the Red Book Edition) Schumacher could’ve delivered a film that was highly regarded by all fans and that took the series in a different, sustainable direction.1

Hughes also includes a new interview with Schumacher, who expressed thanks for Scaperat’s creative efforts:

[Mark Hughes]: I’m wondering if you’ve seen something. There is an alternate version of the film, known as Batman Forever: Red Book Edition, where an editor with tremendous skills — nobody knows who, it was done anonymously — took the deleted scenes, and took the film and put it all back together and made a few little edits here and there to try to create the film that you’ve talked about wanting to have made over the years, something more serious and a little darker. It’s a tremendous accomplishment, and even many people who criticized the theatrical release saw this version and loved it. It won the film many new fans, in other words. Have you seen this unofficial fan-edited Red Book Edition?

[Joel Schumacher]: No… Can I see it? Is there any way I can thank the editor? You can certainly put a thank you from me, for loving it enough to do that and taking such care!2

Batman Forever: Red Book Edition (Scaperat, 2007) cut approximately 11 minutes from the original film, incorporated 10 minutes of previously deleted material, and included a new color grading scheme as well as additional music from Elliot Goldenthal’s scores for Alien 3 (1992) and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001). Download Link Container (.dlc) available at Fanedit.info.

Hollywood Bites Back?

It’s exciting when a film director responds to the work of fan editors, especially when that response is supportive and even appreciative. It demonstrates that there are creative professionals who recognize that a transformative work like a fan edit by its nature is not a threat to their artistry or revenue; a fan edit is a creative and critical work that can even complement the original text.

Thus, it is unfortunate that Marshall Herskowitz, former president of the Producer’s Guild of America, has called fan edits “a terrible thing,” and argued, “By changing the intended output of the author, that is an infringement on copyright […] It’s not about commercial exploitation. It’s about promulgation of a new work that is not the intention of the author.”3 However, Steven Soderbergh, who directed the Herskowitz production of Traffic (2000), apparently does not share the same draconian view; Soderbergh has been releasing his own fan edits on his personal website since 2014. As of this writing, he has re-edited Psycho (1960), Heaven’s Gate (1980), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

Contrary to Herskowitz’s interpretation of fan editing, projects like Batman Forever: Red Book Edition are made to elevate under-appreciated films or even reconstruct “lost” versions of films that may have been taken out of the hands of their directors by producers and studios. For example, when Tim Pope, director of The Crow: City of Angels (1996), discovered that a fan editor named DCP had created an approximation of Pope’s original vision of the film using subtitled animatics, he responded earnestly: “It was quite emotional seeing the film that might have been […] Thanks for putting this together and for your enormous efforts.”4

Ralph Winter, producer of several X-Men and Star Trek films, remarked, “As a film maker, I think it’s incredible that fans want to participate and delve a little further into the material.”5 Also, Derek Hoffman, who produced the Warner Bros. sanctioned reconstruction project Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006), said, “As a fan, which I am, I think [fan edits] are really interesting […] However, on the practical side, they’re recutting a film you made and using characters and telling stories that somebody else owns. Is that any different from kids getting together and playing with Star Wars action figures and creating their own stories and universes there? They’re just doing it in a more technological way.”6

Adding to this notion of playing and experimenting with media, George Lucas, who is often characterized as the anathema of Star Wars fans because of his revisionst tendencies, has actually demonstrated some support for fan editing. When asked about The Phantom Edit at the 2001 MTV Movie Awards, he replied, “The Internet is a new medium, it’s all about doing things like that. I haven’t seen it. I would like to.”7 The following year, in an interview for Film Comment, he explained, “Well, everybody wants to be a filmmaker. Part of what I was hoping for with making movies in the first place was to inspire people to be creative. The Phantom Edit was fine as long as they didn’t start selling it.”8 As a point of clarification, The Phantom Editor was never involved in any sales of The Phantom Edit, and the established fan editing communities strongly oppose selling their works.9

  1. Hughes, Mark. 2015. “Joel Schumacher Talks ‘Batman Forever’ Legacy In Exclusive Interview.” Forbes, June 26. http://www.forbes.com/sites/markhughes/2015/06/26/interview-joel-schumacher-talks-batman-forever-legacy/.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Fischer, Blair R. 2011. “Movie Mashups.” PenthouseMagazine.com, September 19. https://web.archive.org/web/20150523134515/http://penthousemagazine.com/features/movie-mashups/.
  4. Gaith. 2009. “Fan Editing: An Emerging Digital Art Form.” Fanedit.org forum, May 29. http://www.fanedit.org/content.php?174-In-the-Spotlight-Fan-Editing-An-Emerging-Digital-Art-Form.
  5. Fischer.
  6. Ibid.
  7.  Rodgers, Andrew. 2001. “‘Phantom Edit’ Deletes Jar Jar Binks.” Zap2it, June 4. http://web.archive.org/web/20071201232751/http://movies.zap2it.com/movies/news/story/0,1259,—6903,00.html.
  8. Lucas, George (interview by Gavin Smith). 2002. “The Genius of the System: George Lucas Talks to Gavin Smith about Painting by Numbers, Mind-Numbing Minutiae, and Final Cuts.” Film Comment, 38 (4):22-26.
  9. Wille, Joshua. 2014. “Fan Edits and the Legacy of The Phantom Edit.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 17: 3.14, 4.7. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2014.0575.

My Research Profiled in ‘KU Collegian’

Happy to report that the 2015 issue of the KU Collegian, the annual alumni magazine for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas, profiled my essay “Fan Edits and the Legacy of The Phantom Edit in its “College Research in Review” section. My work was listed among 14 fascinating research projects led by KU faculty and graduate students.

Excerpt from the KU Collegian:

FAN EDITORS ARE ARTISTS, NOT DISGRUNTLED VIEWERS When discussing the merits of film fan edits, the conversation needs to move beyond Jar Jar Binks, says Joshua Wille, a doctoral student in film and media studies. The creature was symbolic of the flaws critics saw in “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” so much that a fan editor re-edited the movie, removing many of Jar Jar Binks’ antics. The result, known as ‘The Phantom Edit,’ brought the concept of fan editing into the mainstream. In his essay, one of the first in-depth looks at fan editing, Wille argues ‘The Phantom Edit’ has been wrongly characterized as a reactionary work by a disgruntled fan. For Wille, fan edits are part of a creative process reshaping how audiences view films and are intended to complement, not replace, the original work. While some fan edits aim to improve the film, others are intended to cast the film in a new genre. Examples include turning ‘Jaws’ into a grindhouse movie, transforming ‘Scream’ to resemble the Italian horror genre, and creating a mashup of Darren Aronofsky’s films ‘The Wrestler’ and ‘Black Swan.’1

  1.  “Fan Editors Are Artists, Not Disgruntled Viewers.” KU Collegian, Spring 2015: 11. http://issuu.com/kucollegian/docs/ku_collegian2015_issuu.

Unused ‘Blade Runner’ Footage Mistaken for Fan Edit

A video posted in 2014 by YouTube user “Uchuu Daisakusen” has recently been described by some pop culture bloggers as short version of Blade Runner (1982) comprised entirely of deleted scenes and alternate takes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EeBPNQ4M-xM

It began with a tweet by Annapurna Pictures:

Later that day, Lauren Davis at io9 wrote a brief article about the video, adding:

There are already multiple official versions of Ridley Scott’s classic film Blade Runner, but YouTuber Uchuu Daisakusen managed to make a completely different cut using just the B-roll from the film and takes that ended up on the cutting room floor. Check out their 45-minute version of Rick Deckard’s journey.1

Other bloggers either recycled Davis’s writing or also mistook the work to be a fan edit. For example, John Wenz at Popular Mechanics called it a new cut of Blade Runner which “may not be official but it’s officially gorgeous,” while BAADASSSSS! at Geeks of Doom speculated about its origins:

The discarded footage Daisakusen employed to create this unique perspective of Scott’s futuristic film noir classic was likely taken from the voluminous supplements found on the 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray of Blade Runner, which is one of the best Blus currently on the market and thus is something you should absolutely own already.2

However, it was quickly revealed that the content of the video was actually Blade Runner: Deleted and Alternate Scenes (2007), a chronological assembly of unused material that was supervised by Charles de Lauzirika and originally included as a bonus on the comprehensive Blade Runner DVD set. Davis subsequently revised her article and explained:

Charles de Lauzirika wrote in to point out that this is the cut that he and his production team created eight years ago and that this cut has been available on home video releases from Warner Bros. I originally miscredited the cut, believing it was a new cut, and I apologize to the production team.3

Previously, the same video had been shared without attribution to de Lauzirika on YouTube (JohnnySRB Belgrade, 2013) and Vimeo (BladeRunner2, 2013), but those entries were apparently undiscovered or overlooked. Although a quick web search could have correctly identified the video, it’s intriguing that Davis and others assumed it was a fan edit and composed their articles without looking further. Frankly, at first glance, it’s an understandable mistake while fan edits continue to gain prominence. In past writing, I have argued that culture is moving toward greater acceptance of pluralistic forms in cinema and a wider understanding of films existing in multiple versions. Sanctioned film versions, including director’s cuts, extended cuts, and unrated cuts, as well as the emergence of unsanctioned versions such as fan edits, contribute to this evolution in the way people think of movies. This recent episode is evidence of that change; fan edits are increasingly accepted for what they are and now even sanctioned alternate works are mistaken for fan edits.

  1. Davis, Lauren. 2015. “This 45-Minute Blade Runner Cut Is Made Of Footage Not In The Final Film.” June 9, io9. http://io9.com/this-45-minute-blade-runner-cut-is-made-of-footage-not-1710199373.
  2. BAADASSSSS! 2015. “‘Blade Runner’: Watch This Alternate Cut Assembled From Deleted Scenes (Video).” June 10, Geeks of Doom. http://www.geeksofdoom.com/2015/06/10/blade-runner-alternate-cut.
  3. Davis, Lauren. 2015. “This 45-Minute Blade Runner Cut Is Made Of Footage Not In The Final Film (Updated).” June 9, io9. http://io9.com/this-45-minute-blade-runner-cut-is-made-of-footage-not-1710199373.

Gandalf at the Center of ‘The Battle of Dol Guldur’ Fan Edit

David Killstein is one of several fans involved in re-editing the Hobbit film series, many of whom are attempting to restructure the trilogy as a single movie in accordance with J.R.R. Tolkien’s original narrative. Thus, Gandalf’s cinematic subplot involving Dol Guldur and the Necromancer is inevitably cut away from many of those projects. However, LOTR: The Battle of Dol Guldur is a 43-minute fan edit that is mainly sourced from Gandalf’s subplot in The Hobbit film trilogy. Fan editor David Killstein explains:

This is the adventure of Gandalf the Grey. Fear strikes the great wizard as he realizes that evil may be on the rise after hundreds of years of peace. With rumors of a necromancer and increasing darkness at Mirkwood Forest, Gandalf attempts to seek help from Saruman the White. Turned down, he ventures off on his own to meet with Radagast the Brown and investigate the darkness of Dol Guldur. All footage is taken from The Hobbit trilogy (except for a short scene from The Fellowship). Unlike my 3-Hour Hobbit edit, which removes this plot entirely, this cut does precisely the opposite: it is a 100% Hobbit-free version of the Hobbit, it exclusively tells the story of Gandalf and his adventures that take place during Bilbo and Thorin’s journey to The Lonely Mountain.1

https://vimeo.com/122578580

The concept of this fan edit bears resemblance to a much longer but unreleased project that has been suggested by TolkienEditor:

As I’ve mentioned a few times, I will be releasing a follow-up fanedit, focusing primarily on Gandalf’s story and the investigation of Dol Guldor. The editing for the first two films is completed (clocking in at a feature-length 80 minutes already); however, I will be waiting until the extended edition of The Battle of the Five Armies is released, before I add it to the site. I think you’ll be surprised by how well Gandalf’s story works as a movie unto itself, albeit a much darker, creepier, more psychologically daunting movie than Bilbo’s adventure romp.2

Although many Hobbit trilogy-edits focus squarely on J.R.R. Tolkien’s original narrative, I’m excited to see alternative projects like these in the works because they demonstrate how resourceful fan editors can repurpose excised or seemingly superfluous material and essentially create new movies. Divested from the Hobbit films themselves, a paratexual Gandalf/Dol Guldur fan edit like LOTR: The Battle of Dol Guldur contributes to the cinematic Middle-earth much like Agent Carter (2013) and other One-Shots in the expansive Marvel cinematic universe. Likewise, Kerr’s The Lord of the Rings: Book VI – The End of the Third Age (2010) includes “The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen,” a 17-minute film composed of some material cut from Kerr’s book-inspired project. Presented as an appendix on Kerr’s custom DVD, “The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen” chronicles a romance that runs parallel to the primary narrative in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

  1. David Killstein. 2015. “LOTR: The Battle of Dol Guldur.” Vimeo.com, March 18. https://vimeo.com/122578580.”
  2. TolkienEditor. 2015. “Press Coverage for ‘The Tolkien Edit.'” The Hobbit: The Tolkien Edit, January 13. https://tolkieneditor.wordpress.com/2015/01/13/press-coverage-for-the-tolkien-edit/.

Fan Edit Database Scrapers for Plex and Kodi

Plex and Kodi (formerly XBMC) are popular software media players that can be enhanced with third-party add-ons, including web scrapers that retrieve metadata and cover art for films and television episodes from sites like the Internet Movie Database, themoviedb.org, thetvdb.com, and fanart.tv. There are also database scrapers for fan edits. For example, tomfin46’s Plex scraper (released January 2015) and Kodi scraper (released February 2015) serve users on both platforms with metadata from the Internet Fanedit Database (IFDb). There is also newt’s Kodi scraper (released June 2012), which provides users with metadata exclusively from Fanedits.com. It’s great to see these scrapers in action — they almost seamlessly integrate fan edits on the virtual shelf with collections of original films and television episodes, thereby blurring the lines between commercial content and transformative work. Hopefully development will continue on these projects as their respective databases evolve.

Screengrab from tomfin46’s IFDb scraper for Plex. Image: tomfin46

Screengrab from tomfin46’s IFDb scraper for Plex. Image: tomfin46

Screengrab from tomfin46’s IFDb scraper for Plex. Image: tomfin46