‘Charade: 5 Minute Version’ and the 90to5 Editing Challenge

The “90to5 Editing Challenge” is an annual film editing competition in which participants must recut a feature length film (90 minute runtime as a generalization) down to approximately 5 minutes while maintaining the essence of the original film. In this post I will discuss some of the implications of the 90to5 Editing Challenge and share details about my own entry, a concise version of Stanley Donen’s Charade (1963) which I called Charade: 5 Minute Version.

Welcome to the Public Domain

Although there is an abundance of filmmaking contests and competitive festivals available today, 90to5 represents a response to the contemporary trend of remixing. One major distinction between a 90to5 edit and the myriad of fanedits, mashups, and recuts on the Web is the rule that source films for 90t05 reside in the public domain. This requirement limits the range of films that a 90to5 editor could revise for the competition but it serves as an simple solution to the questionable legality of remixed media which is often based on copyrighted content. Films enter the public domain for various reasons, but in most cases it is because the film is old enough for its copyright to have expired and its original authors did not pursue an extension of copyright.

Most of the fanedits and recuts available on the Internet are based on copyrighted films, and while the ostensible “challenge” in the 90to5 competition is to compress a feature film to five minutes, it is also an interesting challenge for the editors whose previous transformative works may have been entirely based on copyrighted media. Therefore, the concept of the public domain may seem alien to some because its antithesis — under copyright — is generally disregarded when recuts and remixes are made. The venues for those works are YouTube, Vimeo, and the expansive network of web forums, torrents, and newsgroups. Into that frontier, recuts and remixes are shared for the love of it, for laughs, for experimentation, and art as its own reward.

On the contrary, 90to5 offers participants the opportunity to showcase their editing skills in a centralized website and to win cash prizes and video production products. The only catch is that a typical 90to5 entry would be a five minute version of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) or a pre-1960s B-movie and not an abridged version of James Cameron’s Avatar (2009).

2012 Challenge

There were forty-two submissions in the 90to5 Editing Challenge for 2012 and were based on some of the most popular public domain films that comprise film noir, horror, and science fiction genres. In some cases there were two entries based on the same film, and it was interesting to compare the choices made by different editors. However, Night of the Living Dead was far and away the most popular source film with six versions submitted to 90to5. Romero’s cult zombie film is one of the most well known public domain films and therefore it was a predictable and somewhat uninspired selection for 90to5 editors to make. A version of Night of the Living Dead was eventually determined to be the winner of 90to5 in 2012, but unfortunately it was not very distinguishable from the other five versions of that film. More interesting to see were the entries that compressed more complex narratives such as Hiroshima mon amour (Alain Resnais, 1959).

As a fascinating byproduct of the creative culture that 90to5 harnessed, some participants shared details about their process of adapting a film for the competition. Pablo Hernández blogged about his work on two entries, Hiroshima mon amour1 and Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945),2 providing insightful commentary and presenting before-and-after screen captures and video excerpts. His five minute cut of Hiroshima mon amour won the 90to5 Editor’s Choice award, which was voted on by all participating editors in the 2012 competition.

Perhaps it is comparable to close reading of a text with scissors in hand, but the deconstruction and reconstruction of media such as a fanedit or other remix may sometimes reveal secrets buried in the original material. By digging into the content of Detour during his re-editing, Hernández discovered a deft use of jump cuts in the original version of the film that he believed was nearly undetectable in traditional screenings.3

Charade: 5 Minute Version

My 90to5 entry for 2012 was based on Stanley Donen’s Charade (1963), which has been popularly labeled as “the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made.” I selected Charade for 90to5 because liked the challenge its complicated plot and host of characters provided, and also because of its controversial public domain status.

Prior to 1978, films in the United States were required to include the word “Copyright” or the “©” symbol in all prints of the film in order to be protected under copyright laws.4 However, the British film laboratory responsible for making the prints of Charade merely printed the phrase, “MCMLXII BY UNIVERSAL PICTURES COMPANY, INC AND STANLEY DONEN FILMS, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED,” and, due to the limitations of copyright at that time and what would seem to be neglect or disinterest on the part of Universal Pictures to correct this error, Charade was released in December of 1963 and immediately entered the public domain. Although The Unsuspecting Wife, the story by Peter Stone and Marc Behm which provided the basis for the screenplay, and the original musical score by Henry Mancini may have retained copyright, Charade has been available from numerous distributors and generally marketed as a public domain film.5

Early into my work on Charade I contacted the organizers of 90to5 to confirm that my entry would not be disqualified on the basis of its pubic domain status. Despite its commercial history, the status of Charade remains somewhat disputed. For example, the Internet Archive freely distributes Charade as a public domain film but the visitor comments on its Internet Archive listing page are contentious. Some argue that due to the original story and musical score remaining under copyright, the film in which the music appears must also be copyrighted by default. However, others disagree with that logic and cite the wide availability of Charade as a sign of a consensus on its public domain status, almost implying that in spite of its official status,Charade is irreversibly in the public domain due to popularity.6 As of this writing, the Internet Archive alone had facilitated over 30,000 downloads of Charade.

Because Charade has been distributed many times in prints and video transfers of varying quality, I sourced my edit from the restored Criterion Collection DVD release. Boiling down the narrative on Final Cut Pro, I was able to maintain the essence of the plot but it was entertaining to see that through compressing the plot certain character quirks such as Regina’s (Audrey Hepburn) constant hunger and all of the name changes for Cary Grant’s character appeared more frequently and became more pronounced. I noticed that by focusing on the most crucial plot points, a film that was originally a light romantic-mystery film ironically transformed into something more zany. With some tweaking, I was able to draw out those irreverent moments and still keep the essence of the story intact.

As chance would have it, there was another 90to5 edit of Charade in 2012. It was interesting to compare my work with another editor working with the same material and to see how differently we condensed the same plot points through editing.

Forward and Reverse

One of the most profound aspects of participating in the 90to5 Editing Challenge was the task of breaking down the film and memorizing its plot structure. This experience is shared with feature length fanediting, which also requires the new editor know the subject film forward and reverse and to think critically about each scene. In each case, the faneditor or 90to5 editor grows closer to the text than a more passive viewer.

90to5 recently announced the Editing Challenge will return in 2013. Hopefully, 90to5 will continue for many years. I believe this is a filmmaking competition that answers for some of the contemporary problems facing some fanedits and video remixes, especially the lack of venues to showcase their creative reinterpretations of cinema. It will be exciting to see the shape that the competition takes … and how many Night of the Living Dead edits will emerge.

  1. Hernández, Pablo. “Hiroshima mon amour (90to5 Editor’s Choice Award).” Editor Under Construction. September 20, 2012: http://editorunderconstruction.blogspot.com.es/2012/09/hiroshima-mon-amour-90-to-5-editing.html
  2. —. “Detour (90to5 Editing Challenge).” Editor Under Construction. September 20, 2012: http://editorunderconstruction.blogspot.com.es/2012/09/detour-90-to-5-editng-challenge.html
  3. Ibid.
  4. “Copyright Basics.” Washington, DC. U.S. Copyright Office, 2008: http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf.
  5. Pierce, David. “Forgotten Faces: Why Some of Our Cinema Heritage is Part of the Public Domain.” Film History, 19, no. 2: 130.
  6. Charade. The Internet Archive: http://archive.org/details/charade1963.