Defining the Fan Edit (or Fanedit)

A “fan edit” can be defined as an alternate version of a film made by a fan. Increasingly we find there are fan edits based on other media by creators of different backgrounds, so a fan edit could be generally understood as an unsanctioned alternate narrative made by enthusiasts or fans. Typically these are edits of feature films made by nonprofessionals.

Elsewhere on the web you may observe the term “fan edit” used to informally describe what is better known as a video mashup, a video with custom subtitles (fansub) or audio (fandub), a video game mod, or a song remix, among other types of transformative works. In fairness, misuse of the term “fan edit” is understandable because in each case, fans “edit” media. Many creative communities thrive due to the popularization of personal computers, the Internet, digital media formats, and the impulse to organize, collaborate, and share. A fan edit is a form of remix that often includes a mashup of sources which transform media similar to a video game mod, and in some cases even include new subtitles and audio dubbing.

Like many forms of fan labor there is an inconsistency in its spelling; just as you will see “fansub” and “fan sub” you will find that “fan edits” or “fanedits” are made by “fan editors” and “faneditors” alike. However, in each case they are engaged in the same kind of work. Regardless of its spelling or formatting, it’s interesting to consider the implications of “fan editor.”

Let’s review what I mean by a fan. Essentially, a fan is an aficionado or someone enthusiastic and dedicated to a product or aspect of culture. Like most contemporary audiences, fans are not merely spectators who simply consume media. Fans have a long tradition of participation with media, from making their own band t-shirts and custom movie posters, to writing their own stories based on characters from literature, film, and television (fan fiction), and producing fan films and music videos (fanvids), and many other activities.

The “editor” in this mix refers to role of film editor, and because fans have always found ways to participate in culture and transform media we can argue that — technically — fan editors are equivocal to film editors. Fans emerge from various fields and bring to the table different blends of skill and experience; there are fan editors who are also professional film and television editors.

In particular, “fan editor” refers to the maker of a fan edit, which is an unofficial revision of a film or media text. Industry-sanctioned recuts of films have a long history and are made for various reasons, such as censorship or for facilitating distribution in different cultures or to comply with the technicalities of venues. For example, films broadcasted on television and distributed on home video in the pre-widescreen era were typically “modified” for content, running time, or to fit the aspect ratio of the TV screen. Other studio-ordered revisions to films, like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), were sometimes made because of creative differences or legal disputes. Such revisions, which were made against the wishes of the filmmakers, complicate notions of authorship and the terminology of “unauthorized” and “unsanctioned.”

Filmmakers such as George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, and Oliver Stone have released high-profile revisions of their films, and since the commercialization of the DVD format there has been an increased market for “director’s cuts” or “extended” and “unrated” film versions. On the contrary, fan edits are noncommercial by design. From legal and theoretical perspectives they are as problematic as they are fascinating. Fan edits engage with contemporary issues of copyright and authorship as well media creation and distribution.

In forthcoming posts I will describe the types of fan edits, fan editing communities, and the methods of production.

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