Sony Pictures Home Entertainment recently announced a plan to offer "clean" variations of some of their films for rent or purchase. These versions would remove "some scenes of graphic violence, offensive language, sexual innuendo and other adult content." This "allows viewing for a wider audience, giving people the chance to watch their favorite films together." Offered alongside the original movies, these clean versions would be available on iTunes, Vudu and FandangoNow.
What Are 'Clean' Versions?
After there is a final, approved cut of a movie, an airline or safe-for-television copy of the movie is produced. This version cuts the violence, offensive language, sexual content and other adult content (like drinking or drug use). Even movies Rated PG can have edits made to them to make them Rated G.
Sony thought that since there is a market for these films, why not sell them? Some directors (depending on their contracts) have already approved these edits. It'll open the movie up to a new audience. It all makes financial sense.
The Filmmakers' Reactions
After Sony's announcement, there was an immediate reaction from filmmakers and Director's Guild of America. To say some were unhappy is a bit of an understatement.
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. Throughout the years, the DGA has achieved hard-fought creative rights gains protecting our members from such practices.
The DGA's negative reaction has caused Sony to take down the website and put out a statement. Man Jit Singh, President of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, said:
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.
What's The Difference Between Watching It On A Plane Or Watching It On iTunes?
Before airlines started shifting toward personal viewing, the screens were seen by everyone on the plane. They needed to make sure there was nothing in the movie that would offend or upset anyone. Everyone on the plane understood what they were seeing was not the filmmaker's intention; it was a compromise for the sake of allowing passengers to view new movies on long flights.
However, in this context, the movie and the filmmakers involved are judged on this version. When you see a movie in your own home, you will naturally compare it to other movies that are not edited for illicit content. If sections of plot or character development are removed, it may make the movie less effective and even less enjoyable. You won't know the difference between what was cut out for content and what was never there to begin with.
What Is The Problem If Director-Approved 'Clean' Versions Already Exist?
If you are paying for a family-friendly movie, whose criteria or set of rules are you going to use? The rules are pretty tight already for the airline copy and have a "G" rating for "General Audiences."
In 2013, United Airlines had to divert a plane because a family found a movie, Alex Cross, to be too "horrific" for their kids. They asked to have the screens turned off, but when they couldn't, the plane had to land "after the crew reported a disturbance involving a passenger."
What if the criteria changes? Sesame Street has been a children's television show since 1969. In 2008, they released the first season on DVD. It came with this warning: "These early Sesame Street episodes are intended for grownups and may not suit the needs of today's preschool child."
Customers who are paying for these movies are going to want to make sure they are safe to view with the whole family. Yet people have different standards for what is offensive. The family on the flight thought that that movie wasn't general enough, and what was once OK for preschool age children is now adult content.
How Do You Make Everyone Happy?
You can't. It is impossible. What is the solution? The same as it has always been: You make different movies for different people and hope that the audience you are trying to reach likes your work.
Sony was trying to make an extra few dollars off of movies that were already edited. It seemed perfectly reasonable from their perspective. However, when you factor in all the other angles, it will turn out to be more effort than it is worth. It could end up damaging the brand of some of their top money makers. They may have to spend more money to make different editions that accommodate different groups. Or, worse yet, deal with negative reviews, angry parents and refund demands because audiences were unsatisfied with the edits made.
Sony and any other studios considering this move are best served by continuing to do what they do best: Let the filmmakers make their movies and let the audience decide which ones they want to see.
What do you think? Is it worth it to find a way to accommodate everyone or should things stay the same?