The Cuddly Ninja sat down with Spence, veteran faneditor since 2004 and two-time Fanedit of the Month winner. Ninja’s words are in red.
Cuddly Ninja: Hey Spence, thanks for taking the time to chat. What’s your movie setup at home?
Spence: I’m not a tech snob, to be honest. I have a 720p projector that I watch everything on. To my eye it looks great but people tell me I need a newer one or 4K but I’m fine. It looks good to me. I just got surround sound, one of those Vizio sound bars with the speakers behind me. It’s functional surround sound therefore I like it. I don’t care if it’s Dolby Atmos or whatever. That stuff’s cool but I don’t need it.
Cool, I get that. In regard to editing, I love how much you focus on the pace. I feel like that’s an underrated and undervalued thing about movies.
If there’s any piece of advice I’d give to anyone doing fanedits, it’s re-examine how you look at pacing. It’s so important but people get so focused on what they’re going to remove and how clever the way they’re going to do it is and they don’t look at whether the whole thing works from a pace aspect. They sometimes focus on the story aspect but not on the flow.
You can do an edit like that but you’ll only be serving fans of the original. But if you really focus on how the story is told, you could make it work for anyone. That’s the magic to me. As somebody who’s done many great edits, what are some of your favorite edits by others?
One that always sticks out to me is a weird one. L8wrtr did an edit of Garden State called Large’s Ark. I don’t want you to censor this because it’s important that you keep these words: I fucking despise Garden State. I hate that movie.
You should because it’s bad.
But I really like his fanedit. I thought he did a great job of making that into something cool, interesting, funny and sweet. He did what they should have done in the first place and he made a really good edit out of something I dislike. So that one always sticks out to me. The Man Behind the Mask did a Kong edit that I really like. I’m a big King Kong guy. His edit was really good. From a purely entertainment perspective, there are four movies that are absolutely perfect. Raiders of the Lost Ark is one, so is Jaws.
Yeah, the first one. The original, A New Hope, or if you don’t want to be shitty about it, just ‘Star Wars.’ Everybody likes ‘Empire‘ better and I think Star Wars actually gets a little underrated. It’s a very good movie. And the other one, which is a weird one, is The Princess Bride. Those four movies that I mentioned, if you make a fanedit of them and you say that you made it better, I’m going to look at you very dubiously before I watch it. I don’t see anything wrong with those movies. I think people who want to fanedit should look at those. Story works, pacing works, acting works, there’s nothing extra. I don’t think any of those movies are longer than two hours. They just work exactly the way they’re supposed to.
With what program do you edit?
Sony Vegas [Pro]. For the beginners, I wanted to say that you can get Sony Movie Studio and it’s just as good.
So you have a film you’re trying to edit, what’s your process from blu-ray disc to edit?
ThrowgnCpr has a thread on the applications forum and I literally just do that. I skip the part where he turns it into a lossless avi because I don’t think it makes a difference but other than that, I literally just do that. I don’t deviate from what he said at all because it works. If you’re going to edit and your thing is a blu-ray, just do what he said.
What have you ever seen in another edit that made you think ‘wow, I can’t do that’?
The Man Behind the Mask did those Grindhouse Star Wars edits. There’s a gag he does in one that killed me for hours laughing about it. And I don’t know how he did it still. When they’re looking out over Mos Eisley, Obi-Wan and Luke, he says the famous “never will you find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy” and somehow he made it sound like right after he says “fucking shithole.” I just laughed for hours at that. I still have no idea how he did it because it sounds like Alec Guinness is saying it. It’s hilarious and 1) I never would have thought of that, 2) that’s brilliant and 3) I don’t know how he even did it. But it was so funny. He does tons of stuff like that. I don’t know if he has access to the Lucas vault, he does the most amazing edits. He does all the visual effects and stuff, I just watch and think that I could never do something like that.
Have you ever tried to do something or had an idea and found that it just wouldn’t work?
I was going to do a 3-in-1 for Star Wars. I came at that like four different ways and none of them worked so I dropped it. I was going to do one that was a two hour version that fit everything in. I was going to do one where I turned it black and white and I was going to have someone (or myself) do a narration by Anakin but that didn’t work. Also, originally I was going to cut Bard out of the Hobbit edit completely and just have them make their own way to Lake-town and wake the dragon up. Bard was just going to be some random dude who shoots the dragon and he wasn’t going to really have any character beyond that. That didn’t work because he needed to have some sort of backstory for you to care about him fighting the dragon. So it just didn’t work. Kind of like the Azog thing where I was going to cut him out but then there was no primary antagonist or reason for the fight to exist at the end. Rather than cut the fight, I would rather have it mean something so I put him back. Those were two of my original plans that were very specific. When I realized they didn’t work I had to do a lot of editing to get them back in.
I know from talking to you before that pace is king–
That’s the guiding theory of every edit I’ve ever done.
How much do you wish that people who made movies thought that?
Almost everything I see is at least 10-15 minutes too long.
Modern comedies, especially. They’re all 20 minutes too long. I guess the modern joke thing is ‘let me hit you with 10 jokes in 60 seconds and hope 6 of them land’ where the old style was to write five jokes a minute and try to have them all kill.
Are you a fan of Key & Peele?
I think they do that really well. Everything is very precise with them. Even if you don’t particularly like their brand of comedy, the way they do it is without a lot of fluff or improv; it’s very precise. I’ve always been a fan of that. Almost everything could do better with that. I find fanedits of comedy are the hardest thing to do and that’s why you don’t see very many of them. You can throw the whole thing off if you mess with the pacing too much. Even if you’re doing a good job of it. Editors of comedy movies have the hardest job because you have to pace not just the movie but the individual jokes.
Not only that, you get to visually tell the joke without having it seem like you’re visually telling a joke. Because if you do that, it’s heavy-handed. It is fascinating, though. When I discovered the world of fanedits, I expected a ton of Tarantino edits, Apatow edits, stuff like that. You get the edits you’d think you would except you don’t see the comedy edits.
I don’t think it works, honestly. There are people who have done it, though.
I’d love to make a 90 minute cut of Train Wreck but I don’t know if I’d love it enough to actually do it.
But by trimming it down, you’re playing with something that is very meticulously paced even if you don’t agree with the pace they used. It all goes back to pace. Not a single movie J.J. Abrams has made makes a lick of sense. Star Wars, Star Trek. But those are fantastic movies because they’re paced so well and they’re so enjoyable that you don’t really care that none of it makes sense. I don’t think that makes them bad movies or good movies; it just makes them entertaining which is really what it’s all about in the first place. That’s what I look at for fan edits. When I did the Hobbit, the reason that people pick holes in that movie is because it’s not all particularly engaging. The whole love triangle thing, nobody really cares about it so we complain about it. If that had worked and been good, no one would have complained about it being added. But because it wasn’t very good, everybody complained about it. When you take it out, suddenly the movie comes alive again.
Your Hobbit edit was a great example for me of illustrating how you don’t realize what you don’t need until it’s gone.
I really like the first movie on its own. There are things I don’t like about it but overall, I thought it was pretty good. Then the second one does nothing for me and the third one is just a big fight.
I’ve heard of people who will never watch anything they’ve edited because they’ve watched it 912 times by the time they’re done. Then I’ve heard of people of people who say they’ve made it to make the movie better so that’s what I’ll watch when I watch this film. That was the point. For me, I fall in the middle. It sorta depends on which edit. For you, do you have a pattern? Like, why the fuck would you ever watch the original Hobbits? Your 3-in-1 is better.
Whenever I do an edit, I’m never looking at making it better, I’m looking at making it different. I would never say that any of my fanedits are technically better than the movie I edited. Because it depends on the person. There are people who probably don’t like my Hobbit edit just because I cut so much out and it’s stuff they like from the books or stuff they responded to. They might like another edit better, they might prefer the originals. So I never look at it from the point of view of making it better, just making it different. And that frees you a little bit because you’re not constrained by the movie. It’s not ‘how do I improve it’ it’s ‘I could go in this direction, that could be interesting’ and you kind of free yourself. There are certain ones I’ll watch. If I felt like watching the Hobbit, I would probably watch my edit just because it’s such a slog to get through all 11 hours of it or whatever. I do personally think that my edit of Dune is better than the miniseries. But that might not be true for everybody so I would never say it’s better. But for me it works better and I’d rather watch that. But then Return of the Jedi, you can’t make it better. You can make it different but it’s a classic. You can’t make it better. You can do something different with it and it’ll be interesting. You might prefer it but you didn’t make the movie better. It’s one of the most beloved movies ever for a reason.
I sort of disagree with you at the end. But I come at it from a place where I don’t hold the OT as precious as some others do. And that’s fine. It’s because people care so much about these movies. That’s what started fanediting in the first place so I don’t mean that in a bad way. For me, I liked reading Lord of the Rings but I read the Hobbit and thought it was silly. Now that’s me being a hipster 12 year old but I never had the emotional attachment to the Hobbit book material. But that’s just me. It all depends on you, your experience and everything in your life leading up to that point. So I don’t really get into Lord of the Rings edits. I love them and I don’t see much that I would personally change. But the Hobbit on the other hand, I’ll watch edits because I’m just not precious about the source.
There’s more of a person’s personality in their fanedits than people realize, I think. A lot of the time there are reviews which say ‘this would have been perfect if this was cut’ or ‘you should have kept this’ and I think that the person editing it didn’t feel that way. I don’t want to be that guy and say ‘go do it yourself’ but yeah, go do it yourself. If you think it would be better to you, then do it. To you maybe it is, but the person editing it probably prefers it the way they did it. It’s interesting. People look at it as ‘make it better’ and I don’t think that’s what anybody’s doing even if they think that’s what they’re doing. They’re making a different version of it.
Okay, I’ve got to push back on this. You’ve never thought that a film has been improved by a fanedit?
No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying maybe I thought it was improved but someone else who saw it didn’t.
Fair enough. What’s the difference between your two Return of the Jedi cuts?
My first five or six edits are not great. When I first started doing this I was more interested in my idea than technically executing it. So I didn’t learn as much as I needed to technically do it well. My original Return of the Jedi idea was that I hate the Ewoks and I’m going to cut them out. Which is what I did.
I come from the same place as you. I’m about the same age as you and I’m just old enough to think Ewoks are annoying as shit.
What happened to me on that edit was actually quite interesting. Removing them I realized how important they are to the movie working. If you watch that edit, which I don’t even know where you’d find it –
If you don’t have it, I don’t know how to find it!
It doesn’t work without them. It needs them. I ended up gaining a little bit of an appreciation for them as far as their story use, not necessary the cute and cuddly part I’m not crazy about. But as far as how as how they function in the film I thought I kind of screwed the movie up by cutting them out.
Was that a big learning moment for you? I had a similar thing. The moment you realize that cutting something where the thing in the scene doesn’t actually matter is not always best. When you realize that scenes serve a great purpose so cutting them shouldn’t just be based on their factual information, but it should factor into the bigger equation of how the movie is structured.
Structure and pace! This is where I learned that lesson. When I did Return of the Jedi again it’s a completely different edit. I restructured some of the beginning, moved some things around, put them on a Star Destroyer instead of the Death Star because I thought that plan was stupid from the Empire’s perspective. I changed a lot of things and I kept the Ewoks. I trimmed them down but I ended up not trimming them down as much as I originally thought I was going to. I think it works a lot better. The other thing is I’ve always struggled with the technical side of stuff. None of my edits are 5.1 audio because I don’t have the setup to test it. To test it I’d have to render it every time and listen to it on my speakers and that doesn’t work for me. It’s too much of a hassle. Most people who watch this aren’t going to watch this with surround sound, anyway. Great if you’re good at that. If you’re good at that, definitely do it because it adds a lot to the edit for the people who have the functionality. I tried to do it on Return of the Jedi and it was a disaster so I don’t do it anymore. I learned a lot about technical stuff and pacing from doing those Jedi edits twice. I took a really big break from fanediting, then I came back and did Dune, jumped into the Hobbit and now I’m kind of searching for a project.
What do you look for in a project?
I actually am working on something right now; it’s The Revenant.
Dude, I’m an idiot. I posted on that thread earlier. You were actually the one who made me think ‘cool, I was going to do The Revenant. Now I’m going to do The Hateful Eight because Spence is going to kill The Revenant.
It’s turning out cool so far. It’s been fairly straightforward. It’s a pace edit. It’s getting the thing moving and getting it more exciting. They took a grindhouse revenge movie and turned it into a pretentious Oscar-bait movie in my opinion.
They did it well, though.
Yeah, and I think it works to an extent but I think it would have been more powerful the other way.
I think it’s a brilliant cinematic achievement that won all the awards, mostly warranted, but I wish it weren’t so on the nose with the religious bullshit.
Every time they get away from Glass, everything deflates for me. You have to cut away now and then because you have to know what the other characters are doing and account for time passing but it deflates it for me. You know how you watch Episode I of Star Wars and the Darth Maul fight’s happening. It’s amazing and then they cut away to other stuff and I just want to go back. That’s how I felt about The Revenant. I was watching it like ‘why the hell am I looking at Tom Hardy right now? I get he’s a bad guy, I get it. Go back to Glass; I want to see what happened with the horse.
The stuff with his wife is just too much.
I’m putting all of that into one dream sequence.
When he’s actually injured, when it makes sense, right?
Yeah, when the Native American guy puts him in the healing hut, I put it there.
I have an interesting thing I wanted to discuss because I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. Let’s say you put a lot of work into an edit. You’re very pleased with it and very proud of it. It gets like three reviews and not a lot of response. How do you feel about it? I struggle with how I feel about that. I’m really, really proud of my Dune edit. I think it’s the best edit I’ve ever done as far as execution of the idea that I was trying to do. It’s got like four reviews. I’m very proud of my Hobbit edit which has a lot of reviews but I think they’re both equally good works. So how do you decide on a project if you know maybe it’s not going to be a huge draw? One of the reasons I struggle with picking a project is because I wonder if I’m going to put all this work into it and no one’s going to care. For me, with my time being more limited now, do I want to put all this effort in if nobody really cares to see it.
Your first instinct is that you should just be doing it for you. And that’s wonderful but it’s not entirely true. That’s not actually how art works. When you put art in the world, you want to know how people are experiencing that art. It’s not the same as being a narcissist and needing to know what people think about what you did. It’s more like ‘I think I put an artistic change on this thing and the only way art actually exists is with feedback.’ That’s literally the point of art, to interpret. So you just want to know something about how somebody is feeling about the work.
Nobody’s ever handed back an Oscar because they thought it wasn’t that important.
I make something because I think it’s something I want the movie to be. But it’s good to know. I’m not going to play the game of ‘I’m an artist and I don’t care what anybody else thinks.’
You need the feedback, too! That’s how I got better at doing this. I got bad feedback on a couple things and some pointers. I learned some scenes that didn’t work the way I cut them so I didn’t cut a scene like that again. That’s how you improve.
People on the site who don’t actually edit seem to really downplay their importance or value. Like Nic or Tom H, they’ll say ‘I don’t edit but I’ll give you 17 points and thoughts on every clip you post.’ Those guys are much more valuable than an editor who will preview your edit sometimes! Because all you want to know is layman’s terms, did it work for you or did it not. And everybody has ideas which is great.
Yeah, because the other editor might put their spin on it.
Yeah or they might be too generous at times. Like ‘I realize you only had this shot and this shot so I know you can’t actually clean cut that.’ But I want this edit to go to somebody who has never heard of the concept and I want to edit it until they think it plain works.
That TV-to-Movie article you did, I think is really useful even if people aren’t doing that. Because you have to look so hard at what you’re cutting when you’re doing something with that much material. So it teaches you to look more closely at stuff that’s shorter when you’re editing. It makes you more cognizant of subplots that can go, something that might not jump out at you. But because you’ve had the experience of cutting nine hours into two and a half, you look at it differently. Like with The Revenant, the whole subplot with the chief looking for his daughter. I cut that out completely because at the end of the movie, the point is made. The girl he saved at the camp is with the chief. Clearly she means something to him. That whole point is made without having any of those 20 minutes of extra scenes which don’t mean anything. And that keeps the Arikara as more of an invisible threat, you don’t know why they’re chasing them. It makes them more like the shark from ‘Jaws’ but then at the end it’s saving the baby shark. That’s more interesting to me than knowing why they’re doing what they’re doing. I don’t feel like cutting that would have jumped out at me if I hadn’t cut entire subplots out of The Hobbit or Dune.
So what are you working on right now?
This is confusing. So my first edit released on the site (not the first I ever did, which is thankfully dead and buried because you learn so much that you should just bury it and edit another thing) was Natural Born Killers: The Tarantino Cut. I’m quite proud of it. It was ALL Tarantino music. The one piece of feedback I got a lot was that it would be cool if it didn’t have such iconic Tarantino songs which recall specific QT imagery. I thought that would be cool but I’m not a big music guy. So I figured if I could get pointed in the right direction with some music, I could find some great stuff. And Vultural did just that. Probably 20% of the final music was straight from him and the rest was searching similar stuff to a lot of it. Well, not final because I’ve only had two passes at it. It became a really fun challenge to pick stuff for me but that is in the Tarantino spirit.
One of the fun things about the community is that people share ideas. I’ve had editors say they’re doing their own version of this movie but they really liked the way I did X thing. Can they use it? I don’t know why they would even ask but yeah, sure, why not? I like the way that everybody shares. It does depend on the thing. Like on The Hobbit the hardest, coolest thing I did was in the battle, how Legolas gives the sword back to Thorin. I cut it so it looks like he throws it from a completely different place. I didn’t know if this will work but it’s like three different scenes combined and it’s my favorite cut. If somebody were to use that, I’d want them to say they got the idea from me. But if they say ‘I like how you removed this scene, can I do that, too? It’s like ‘whatever, it’s fine.’
Thank you so much for talking to me.
I’m glad to. It seems to me that the whole fanedit community has come a bit more alive lately as far as the articles and the podcasts. It’s really cool that it’s kind of become more than just a bunch of people bitching on a message board.
Well, we’re always good for that!
My last thought is that anybody who is into the fanedit website and likes watching them, I would really encourage to give it a shot. We’re nice, we’re not going to bite, do something and put it out. Try it out and see if you like it. You can buy Sony Movie Studio for $50, it’s really easy to use and we’ll teach you how if you have questions. Just go for it and see what you can make. I’m sure everybody who likes fanedits at some point as thought ‘wouldn’t it be cool if I could do this’ and just do it, man. Try it out.