< The Cleaning Agent


Friday, July 14, 2006

BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.

BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. Let's say your taste in Hollywood movies runs along the lines of the chaste and non-violent and yet you still don't want to be excluded from the cultural zeitgeist that is "Die-Hard 2: Die Harder." Or say you're under 10 and want to hold off adulthood for a few years and still enjoy the visual delights of "Kill Bill: Volume 1." Your options are limited – or at least they were until seven years ago, when Ray Line created Clean Flicks, a film-sanitizing service that edits Hollywood films of, quote, "sex, nudity, profanity and gory violence." What does "clean" sound like, exactly? Lines brought us the film "Training Day," starring Denzel Washington as a crooked L.A. cop, a violent film riddled with obscenity. Here's the original finale. [FILM CLIP] [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

MAN: You think you could do this to me? You mother-[BLEEP]s will be playing basketball in Pelican Bay when I get finished with you! Shoe program, [BLEEP]. Twenty-three-hour lockdown. I'm the man up in this piece. You'll never see the light of day. Who the [BLEEP] you think you [BLEEP]in' with? I'm the police! I run [BLEEP]! You just live here! [END FILM CLIP]

BOB GARFIELD: That was the original version. Here's the cleaned-up one. [FILM CLIP][MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

MAN: You think you could do this to me? Shoe program, [BLEEP]. Twenty-three hour lockdown. I'm the man up in this piece. You'll never see the light of day. I'm the police! I run - it. You just live here!

BOB GARFIELD: Not every word escaped the sanitizing. We decided that the N word in this context was gratuitous and bleeped it out ourselves. Lines didn't. We asked him why the racial slur made the cut.

RAY LINES: The reason that we would leave in the N word in "Training Day" is, first of all, you've got a black actor saying it. Our customers were the ones that told us what to take out. So, you know, an F word had to go, a dated reference had to go -- S words, B words, damns and hells, that kind of thing. We've never had a customer send us an e-mail and respond and say, you've got to take out the N word. And so we would leave it in.

BOB GARFIELD: Lines' work won him a national audience and a legion of imitators – that is, until last week, when Clean Flicks and its competitors lost a four-year fight with the Director's Guild of America in the U.S. District Court and were ordered to shut down for copyright violation. Lines will comply with the order - there is a slight chance he'll appeal – but it's likely the end of a mini-industry that began when Lines was asked by a neighbor in Salt Lake City to remove the brief nudity in "Titanic."

RAY LINES: I did that, and then it was "Braveheart" and "Jerry McGuire" and "Saving Private Ryan," and the list just grew and grew and grew, and it snowballed into a very big snowball.

BOB GARFIELD: "Saving Private Ryan." Now, that is a film that is just absolutely laced with profanity, with violent death. How in the world do you sanitize it?

RAY LINES: It's a very good question. That movie is almost three hours long. How many minutes do you think we edited out of that film?

BOB GARFIELD: I'd say 30.

RAY LINES: [LAUGHS] Less than seven minutes is what we took out of that film. And everybody says to that response, oh, that probably came out of the first 25 minutes of that film when all the violence was happening. And I said, no, we took out less than two minutes out of that first battle sequence. If you look at the way we would edit a film, we would go out of our way not to ruin the plot, to ruin the story. It's much like you'd see on the airlines, much like you'd see on network television. And there have been titles – for example, "Basic Instinct" or "Pulp Fiction" – I believe "Pulp Fiction" had 350 F words in it – that we couldn't do, because after we got through doing it, there was no movie left, or the movie didn't make any sense. You know, a lot of people wanted me to edit "Caddyshack" all these years, and every time we tried to edit "Caddyshack," the final product just did not work at all. It wasn't funny. It wasn't "Caddyshack." And so we always backed away from that one.

BOB GARFIELD: Now, your legal argument in all of this was based on fair use. That is the ability to excerpt stuff that's out there in the popular culture much as you would quote from a film or show a clip on TV. But the court said, oh, not so fast.

RAY LINES: Yeah. We argued two points to fair use. The first point is that it's for the good of the people, and we believe that our customers, it's for the good of them. And then the other point of fair use was there's no economic impact because every movie that we edit, you have to buy the original. And so it's not like some guy in a back room somewhere just copying movies like in a black market situation. You had to have the original movie for us to edit it for you, and the ones that we rented out from Clean Flicks, we bought originals for every single one of those, so we kept it with a one-to-one ratio. And we just feel that if you purchase a movie, you should have the right, as a consumer, to bring it to a company like Clean Flicks and have it altered so that you can watch it in the privacy of your own home.

BOB GARFIELD: In a statement following the decision, Director's Guild of America president Michael Apted, himself a director, said, among other things, that audiences can now be assured that the films they buy or rent are the vision of the filmmakers who made them and not the arbitrary choices of a third party editor. But my understanding is that your customers explicitly want the choices [LAUGHS] of a third party editor, and that it's actually impossible for them to accidentally get the sanitized version.

RAY LINES: People that buy Clean Flicks movies or bring their movies in and get them edited know exactly what they're getting, know exactly what they want. But when I first started doing this, for example, I left in words like damn and hell. You know, well, it wasn't too long after that that my customers said, you've got to take it out. You've got to take it all out. And so we had to change and evolve, as we did this, what we did.

BOB GARFIELD: How big was the market for this kind of sanitized product? Were you making a living doing this?

RAY LINES: Yeah, we were making a living doing it. I wouldn't say that we were making a big living. It's kind of funny, you know, when Hollywood's talking about money in this deal, because we haven't [LAUGHS] made a lot of money. We've incurred a lot of debt. If we decide to shut our doors and fold up our tent, you know, I'm going to end up with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. But to me, it was worth it. I always said to a lot of Hollywood producers that we used to debate on [LAUGHS] radio and TV, would you be okay if I didn't charge money to do this? Would it be okay then? I'd be willing to find a way to do that. And they said, oh, well, even though it's not about the money, we still don't want you to do it.

BOB GARFIELD: One explanation for Hollywood's reaction could be, I guess, if you were suspicious enough - like me - that actually the studios want to have this business of sanitizing all to themselves. They're already in the cleaning-up business for airliners and for television. Maybe they see this as a market niche that they can themselves exploit. Do you have any suspicions like that, or do you really think this was an act of principle by the Director's Guild?

RAY LINES: The short answer is I think it was an act of principle. The long answer is I would love it. Put me out of business. I'd welcome it, because my goal when I started this was to have a Clean Flicks in every town in America. And we were able to accomplish that with our website. But if the Hollywood studios and the directors now will make their titles available in four versions – a cleaned-up version, a director's [LAUGHS] cut, a normal cut and the airline version – then I'm totally happy and I've reached my goal.

BOB GARFIELD: All right, Ray. Well, thank you so much.

RAY LINES: You bet. My pleasure.

BOB GARFIELD: Ray Lines is the founder and CEO of Clean Flicks.