When Sony Pictures announced its "Clean Version" initiative last week, some filmmakers took to Twitter to voice their concerns.
Actor and filmmaker Seth Rogen released a tweet that said it all:
Though Rogen has no films currently included in the movies with clean versions already available, he has worked with Sony on several projects including "Pineapple Express" and "Sausage Party."
The studio's initiative would allow consumers to receive a sanitized version of a movie, which has been edited for violence and adult content, when they purchase the original version on a digital service. These edited versions are often used for viewing on airlines or broadcast television.
The films with clean versions currently available for purchase on platforms like iTunes, Vudu and FandangoNOW include "Hancock" and "Easy A."
The move was a surprise to many in the film community, notably the directors, who often have a final say in editing different versions of their movies. The Director's Guild of America said in a statement on Tuesday that the initiative was in violation of the guild's basic agreement with the studios.
Dennis Dugan, director of the Adam Sandler vehicles "Grown Ups," "Grown Ups 2" and "Big Daddy," all originally included on Sony's "Clean Version" program, was surprised when he heard about the initiative just a few days ago.
I spoke with somebody at Sony and they said they were going to plan on releasing these clean versions of the films and I expressed my dismay about not having been contacted about it. And they said they were sorry but, that being said, would I agree to it? And I said, 'No, I wouldn't.' And they said, why? And I said, 'Because we make these movies the way we make them. They're works of art, and we don't feel like we want anybody editing them except Adam Sandler and myself.'
Dugan says he works with the studios on editing airline and television versions of his films. But for Sony to provide those edited versions to the public on a different platform is another story.
To just say Oh yeah, you know what, these are clean versions— which I object to completely— these are clean versions, so people have the choice of getting a clean version. Well here's the thing: I'm not a fan of horror movies. They scare me. So here's what I do. I don't watch them. So if somebody isn't a fan of a movie I make or if they feel that I make movies that are too dirty, then you know what they do? Just move on and watch something else.
It would be like [me saying] I want to go to Florence and see the statue of David, but I don't like my children seeing a naked man 25 feet high. So could they do me a favor and put pants on him when I come in? That would be ridiculous, correct? So it's ridiculous to say Why don't we make your movie into something that it isn't to make some people happy? Just go watch Cinderella.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, a rep for Adam McKay, director and co-writer of "Step Brothers" and "Talladega Nights," both included on the list of clean version films, said he was not aware of the initiative and that he would not have agreed to it.
Judd Apatow, a producer on "Talladega Nights," tweeted similar sentiments:
When Apatow spoke with The Frame, he explained how he first learned about Sony's initiative:
I think I learned about it on Twitter and my reaction was, That's crazy. It's certainly very offensive to all of the filmmakers. All you care about when you make your movie is that when you're done, nobody's going to screw with it. And it's the most basic agreement you have with the studios. So it was pretty shocking.
And I know how these things happen. I think that all studios are looking for every possible way to monetize these movies. But the versions of movies you see on airplanes or on television are bastardized versions of the movies. We hate that these versions exist. It's part of the business that existed before we entered it. But it's certainly not something we want mass distribution on. We want to send people to a platform where they can see the movie the way the director intended it.
Apatow explains that directors have a say in edits for broadcast and airline versions of their films. But the process to "clean up" a movie can be tricky, especially when the cuts are not part of the original vision for the film:
A lot of it has to do with how much time you want to put into it. They consult with the directors and, if you're organized and thoughtful about it, you could do a massive recut to your movie so it's not awful when it's seen on network television or somewhere where they need to edit it. Sometimes in my films, I'll go through the dailies and instead of just bleeping out words or doing bad word replacements I'll look through all the dailies and see if, Did we do any jokes that we can get approved and are clean enough? And on a few movies, I've done, you know, big recuts so that I wouldn't want to kill myself when these movies are on network TV. But they're still pretty far from your original intentions.
Apatow says editing a clean version of a film isn't all that bad. The filmmaking team just needs to be involved:
If the collaborative team that makes the movie thinks there's a clean version to be had, I think that's fine. But it really is about the director and the whole team wanting to release that version. You certainly can't do it without permission and that's really what this is about. You know, if Martin Scorsese wants to make a clean version of “Wolf of Wall Street” that's 17 minutes long and is intended for 9-year-olds he should be allowed to do that. But certainly the studios shouldn't decide to do that and not ask his permission.
In a response to the backlash, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment President Man Jit Singh released a statement on Wednesday: “Our directors are of paramount importance to us and we want to respect those relationships to the utmost. We believed we had obtained approvals from the filmmakers involved for use of their previously supervised television versions as a value added extra on sales of the full version. But if any of them are unhappy or have reconsidered, we will discontinue it for their films.”
In a statement to The Frame, the DGA said, "While we’re pleased that Sony is acknowledging its mistakes in this area, the DGA has notified Sony that it expects the immediate removal of all "clean" versions of the affected films from availability until Sony secures permission from each and every director, and provides them with an opportunity to edit a version for release in new media – consistent with the DGA Agreement and the directors’ individual contracts. These are hard-fought for rights that protect a director’s work and vision, and are at the very heart of our craft and a thriving film industry. As we have throughout our history, we are committed to fighting the unauthorized editing of films."
After all that has been said and tweeted, Apatow says there is a lesson to be learned here for the studios and artists alike:
I don't think that there are people who are looking to do something shady. You know, somewhere it got sloppy. Either sloppy follow-ups to get approvals or sloppy thinking that they didn't need the approvals. And, you know, that's fine, as long as they're responsive to everybody's outrage, there's no harm there.
But I think it's very important that whenever these situations happen that all the artists say, Wait a second, you can't touch this. Just like you can't hand over The Sopranos to somebody and cut out all the violence and make it, you know, great for a fourth-grade class. That's not the intention of the work. And even if you could make money on it, you shouldn't do it.
A list of clean version films is available on the website cleanversionmovies.com. Apatow and Dugan's films are no longer included.
To hear John Horn's conversation with Judd Apatow, click on the player above.