Three or so years ago in a borough of Manhattan, then Vimeo programmer (and since Boxee developer and VHX co-founder) Casey Pugh conceived of an idea to slice Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope into its 473 15-second components and solicit fans of the flick and amateur filmmakers from around the around the globe to claim a component or two and shoot, swede, animate or otherwise visually display in moving picture form their best reenactment of whatever quarter-minute scene they claimed.
Pugh called the idea Star Wars Uncut and then called on friends Jamie Wilkinson (the other VHX co-founder) and Annelise Pruitt and family member Chad Pugh to help him develop a website where he could collect and display a rotating array of the user-submitted scenes. The website Wilkinson, Pruitt, and Pugh developed allowed for each 15-second component to be claimed for reenactment three times. Each individual reenactment was then be voted on by viewers. The most liked reenactment of the three at any given time was automagically inserted into a playlist, which, when viewed from beginning to end, constituted the whole of A New Hope.
Pugh called the project a “user-directed broadcast” and it won him, Wilkinston, Pruitt, and the other Pugh each a 2010 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Creative Achievement In Interactive Media – Fiction.
Star Wars Uncut is an amazing project and Pugh and company deserve all the awards and praise they received and more, but there was one problem with the whole endeavor. You couldn’t actually watch Star Wars Uncut it a way that resembled your regular movie watching experience. You could catch all the clips in order on the Star Wars Uncut website, but viewing was a cumbersome “discontinuous” endeavor because you had to wait for every individual clip to load. Pugh knew this wasn’t ideal. And that’s why he just released the Director’s Cut of Star Wars Uncut.
With the help of the sound design and mixing talents of another family member Bryan Pugh and the video editing skills of Aaron Valdez, Pugh hand-picked scenes to create a seamlessly edited together Star Wars Uncut, complete with the John Williams score.
I caught up with Pugh over e-mail to ask him why he decided to release the Director’s Cut now and if we’re going to see future Uncut chapters from the Star Wars catalogue anytime in the near future.
Tubefilter: It’s been a while since you collected all the scenes for Star Wars Uncut. Why are you releasing the Director’s Cut now?
Casey Pugh: With a feature-length film in my hands, I explored possibilities of distributing Star Wars Uncut in more official capacities. Unfortunately, we were never able to come to a conclusion, therefore extremely delaying the release of the film. We’re releasing the film now because Star Wars Uncut is unfinished without it.
TF: Tell me more about the distribution possibilities you explored. Were there any hurdles or hoops you had to jump through with Lucas and the rights holders?
CP: Lucasfilm has been a big supporter of Star Wars Uncut from the beginning, which enabled us to start on the right foot. We had many conversations with Lucasfilm and other big-time indie film producers about distributing Star Wars Uncut to theaters, festivals, and even on DVD. In order to accomplish any of that we would have to legally clear all the content.
The problems we faced was the fact that we never had anyone sign any sort of release before uploading to StarWarsUncut.com. Secondly, any content that had any sort of 3rd party brands outside of the Star Wars universe would have caused issues (e.g. Coke cans appearing in scenes).
We would have had to retroactively gone back through all the 473 scenes we wanted to use, get the owners to sign a release, and get more people to make new scenes to replace the old scenes with copyrights issues. The work would’ve been tedious but very doable. I had gathered a pretty great team together to make it happen, but Lucasfilm went radio silent on us. We got the hint they were no longer interested. We assume the cost, time and legal risk of Star Wars Uncut wasn’t worth it for them.
With lessons learned, an Emmy-winning project collecting dust, and a little anti-SOPA inspiration, we’re excited to release the Director’s Cut.
TF: Is there any way I can watch this side by side with the original (aside from this way)?
CP: Not yet, but a great idea.
TF: Any chance we’re going to see an Empire Strikes Back Uncut?
CP: It’s something we’d like to do with the next chapters, but no plans for it any time soon.