Sony's Sanitized Movie Initiative Faces Growing Opposition

Step Brothers Still Will Ferrel _John C Reilly H 2016

Adam McKay says he didn't agree to let airline and broadcast TV versions of 'Step Brothers' and 'Talladega Nights' be purchased by the public at large, while the DGA is looking into whether the Sony program violates contractual agreements.

“Holy shit,” Seth Rogen tweeted last week, “please don’t do this to our movies.” The comedian is one of many artists who have jumped into the fray as studios and streaming services try out “cleaned up” versions of their pictures for consumers.

Days after Sony announced a plan to offer sanitized editions of its films — the versions shown on airlines and broadcast TV but not otherwise available — the DGA is voicing displeasure.

“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,” the guild tells The Hollywood Reporter. “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.”

The guild says it is looking into Sony’s plan, and the studio insists that it consulted the 18 directors whose watered-down features are part of its new “Clean Version” initiative, designed to lure family audiences that might otherwise avoid them. (Rogen’s Sony movies notably aren’t included.)

But it is news to Adam McKay that his films Step Brothers (2008) and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) are on the list. "The Clean Version initiative is news to Adam McKay. He would not have agreed to this," says a rep for the filmmaker.

Sony Home Entertainment president Man Jit Singh counters in a statement: "We discussed this program, and the use of these pre-existing versions, with each director or their representatives.

"This is a pilot program, developed in response to specific consumer feedback, that offers viewers the option of watching an airline or TV version of certain movies when they purchase the original version," the Sony executive says.

Clean Version titles can be bought on several digital services, including iTunes. The airline and broadcast TV editions are bundled with the original rated film. The Clean Version of Adam McKay’s Step Brothers excludes 152 instances of bad language, 91 instances of sexual content and 22 instances of violence. Other bowdlerized titles include the Spider-Man series, Captain Phillips and even Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

So far, no other studio has moved forward with its own “clean” initiative, even as conservatives insist there’s a lucrative market for it. “I would think you are looking at a doubling of potential revenue streams,” argues Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, though he offers no substantial evidence to back that claim.

In response to this article, filmmaker Judd Apatow, who doesn't have a film on the list, blasted Sony in a tweet: "This is absolute bullshit and @sony and @SonyPictures is gonna get hell for F—ING with our movies. Shove the clean versions up your asses!"

Meanwhile, other studios are fighting a starting company’s attempts to offer unlicensed filtered content. After Fox, Disney and Warner Bros. sued VidAngel for copyright infringement, the firm tells THR that it will comply with their concerns — sort of. It still will provide filtered content (or, in this case, content to which consumers can apply filters for sex, language, etc.) but only through Netflix, Amazon or HBO, all of which pay the studios a license fee. Money, it seems, matters even more than modesty.

June 13, 6:30 p.m. Story updated with Apatow's tweet.

A version of this story first appeared in the June 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.