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Sony's "Clean Version" Scheme Infuriates Filmmakers

By Kristy Puchko | Film | June 14, 2017 |

By Kristy Puchko | Film | June 14, 2017 |

For nearly every raunchy, wild, unashamed comedy littered with curse words, spiked with violence or flaunting sexual shenanigans, there’s a “clean version” crudely cut for television and in-flight airings so that all audiences can sort of enjoy films like Big Daddy, Step Brothers, or Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Sometimes, these edits are laughable in their own right. Like who amongst us hasn’t chuckled at the Die Hard 2 line change of “Yippee kayee, Mister Falcon”? But have you ever wished you could own a copy of these sanitized versions? Us either. Still, Sony’s new “Clean Version” initiative is hoping to tap into the market of people who like their movies censored. And filmmakers are not happy.

News of the “Clean Version” initiative first broke last week. Yahoo reported a “clean” cut of certain movies (A.K.A. their edited for TV version) would be available as an “extra” when purchased on iTunes, VUDU, and FandangoNOW. Sony’s pilot rollout boasts 24 titles including Easy A, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Captain Phillips, every Spider-Man movie to date, Ghostbusters 1 & 2, and a string of Adam Sandler movies (50 First Dates, Big Daddy, and Grown Ups 1 & 2). But this announcement was quickly met with pushback from some of Sony’s big comedy stars. Seth Rogen, who’s made such bold and hard-R comedies as This Is The End, Sausage Party, and The Interview with Sony, tweeted:

While comedy king Judd Apatow tweeted:

Sony defends their plan, insisting that they’ve contacted the 18 directors whose films are on the first rollout of for-sale “Clean Versions.” However, a rep for Adam McKay claims the director was not informed that two of his films, the Apatow-produced Step Brothers and Talladega Nights, would be a part of this pilot program. And this is getting Sony in hot water with the Directors Guild of America, which has released a statement to THR:

Directors have the right to edit their feature films for every non-theatrical platform, plain and simple. Taking a director’s edit for one platform and then releasing it on another — without giving the director the opportunity to edit — violates our agreement. As creators of their films, directors often dedicate years of hard work to realize their full vision, and they rightfully have a vested interest in protecting that work. We are committed to vigorously defending against the unauthorized alteration of films.

Meanwhile, Sony is trying desperately to sell the “Clean Version” strategy as a family-friendly initiative rather than censorship, as is made clear in this cringe-inducing ad:

Editing more mature movies for broader appeal has long been accepted as a necessary evil in the film industry, as a means to make more money off television and airline airings. Still, some filmmakers seem to rebel with hilariously half-assed edit efforts that blatantly draw attention to the changes, like the The Big Lebowski’s willfully ludicrous overdub, “This is why you never find a stranger in the Alps!” But by selling these crudely censored versions of their films, Sony promotes bastardizations as if these are on par with the originals. Selling these movies directly to consumers gives these sanitized versions a sense of legitimacy, suggesting that viewers should be able to pick the edit they feel should be canon. So, it’s completely understandable that filmmakers would be furious over any effort to this emerging market. But how different is this option from studio’s offering “unrated” versions or director’s cuts of a movie?

Let me be clear: I hate the idea of a “clean version” of any film. I can’t stand to watch movies on television that feel mutilated as curse words are swallowed by silence, bleeped, or overdubbed with nonsense, or crucial frames are cut completely because they include violence or nudity. Even on a plane I cringe, because I’m given only the option to watch movies neutered in case a kid or conservative selects them.

Because of my detestation for such censorship, I want to insist that “Clean Versions” could pervert the legacy of films. But with TV/airline versions, we’ve already accepted that, even as we laugh over the sloppily added black bras added to the Showgirls TV version. These are the other side of the coin to unrated versions and director’s cuts. They aren’t the “official” version of the film, but they could be the one that some fan clings to and chooses as theirs. They could open up debates about the voice of a film being the director’s or the studio’s, or whether some movies needed to be so raunchy to be effective. Whether we like it or not, they could push “clean versions” to a level of respectability. And the only way Sony will be stopped is if it hurts their bottom line. If audiences don’t buy censored versions of beloved movies, or if big talent (including members of the DGA) refuses to work with a studio that’ll peddle the censored versions as if it’s a fun special feature as opposed to a brutal bastardization.

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Kristy Puchko is the managing editor of Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter.