Why Filmmakers Should Always Watch the Director’s Cut
Director Cover.jpg

Take a look at famous Director's Cuts and what filmmakers can learn from watching movies the way they should be.

On a recent episode of his Team Deakins podcast, legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins spoke of his desire to revive a long-lost four-hour cut of Andrew Dominik's neo-Western The Assasination of Jesse James. He describes his praise for the film as well as his frustrations with how the film was reduced to 160 minutes. In the meantime, the "pure" version has been sent to the editing room – maybe never to be seen again.

And so goes one of the oldest stories in Hollywood. Great films by great directors, DPs and actors are edited to best reflect the vision of the artists involved, and then mercilessly constrained by studio interventions looking for a cheaper product to market and sell.

But what happens to the cuts these directors have made over the years? While some are being revived for reprints and limited edition DVDs, others seem to be fading into legend.

Let's take a look at these famous directors' cuts in history and examine why it is imperative that budding filmmakers study the films as they should be seen.

What is a Director & # 39; s Cut?

You have seen the term "Director's Cut" applied to DVD releases or limited edition Blu-rays over the years, but let's be specific about what the term actually means. For consumers, this term simply means – more or less – a longer version of a film that is closer to the overall vision of the director (or chief creative) of the project.

In the industry, however, a "Director's Cut" is a straightforward term for the person who receives the almighty "Final Cut Privilege" for final approval to edit and publish a movie. Historically, it is rare for a single director or artist to make this strong distinction, as the studios (and the investors behind a project) have long believed that the editing of a film receives many inputs, and ultimately the best Product should reflect in order to regain its cost.

The term flows from its cinematic origins into other forms of content and entertainment. It is not uncommon to see Director's Cut versions of popular television or episode programming, as well as music videos, commercial content, or even video games.

Famous Director & # 39; s Cut Examples

As the stories behind the films and the appeal of seeing different or more artistic versions of films became known, there were hundreds (if not thousands) of popular films that released famous Director's Cut versions – or that were lost went.

From the rumors and intrigues surrounding Citizen Kane (along with a controversial script litigation between Orson Welles and Herman "Mank" Mankiewicz) to this day, the studios have long fought for control. However, they also take the chance to republish films if the audience requests it.

In the video above, you can see a great example that showcases several versions of Ridley Scott's classic Blade Runner. Interestingly, Blade Runner has two separate famous versions with a "Director's Cut" and a "Final Cut" which is newer. Both are considered the true versions of the film.

The murder of Jesse James

Take Roger Deakin's work on the assassination of Jesse James and the longstanding rumors of a lost four-hour version. At least in Deakin's opinion, this is the true form of the film before studio managers cut it. To be fair, as Deakins admits in the interview above, this four-hour version was more of a reflection of how the film tried to stay true to its original source material.

He goes on to say that the "Director's Cut" version, which he hopes to include in a Criterion Collection release, could be three and a half hours or three and a half hours. Even Deakins thinks some cuts might be necessary.

However, for film buffs and aspiring filmmakers, it is very attractive to watch a much longer version of a film that gives a better insight into the original vision of a director and other creatives – such as DPs and editors. Not just what you can see and enjoy, but what you can learn and take with you.

Tips to watch and learn

If anything, watching a director of a movie can be a great case study of how a director's overall vision compares with what is probably the most commercial aspects of a project. Take Blade Runner, for example. The original theatrical version made many decisions based on clarity, including voice-over narration (VO). It also closed things off with a closed end as opposed to a challenging, open one.

Does that really make one version superior to the other? Or are they each reflections of different POVs in relation to the best movie to watch? When you listen to famous directors talk about their craft (in the video above), one theme remains consistent – the constant striving to improve and develop their craft. If you look at the cuts made by these directors, especially those that are retroactive to their original intentions, you can see how their sensibilities could change over the years.

Largest takeaways for Director & # 39; s Cuts

There will always be an online audience arguing over “real” versions of films and debating, for example, the merits of the Snyder Cut for Justice League. For the most part, however, a Director & # 39; s Cut is simply another lens to watch some of your favorite cinema classics.

There will always be power struggles and gossip behind the scenes. And if you are serious about going into big budget or indie Hollywood circles, you have to at least understand that these problems exist.

For those passionate about filmmaking and studying how filmmakers develop their craft over the years, director cuts are one of the best ways to peer into the heads of greats like Ridley Scott and Roger Deakins while using your own expertise build up.

For more tips and insights on filmmaking, see the articles below.

Cover photo via Warner Bros.

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