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What the Snyder Cut means for the future of subscription streaming platforms

After a troubled history, and a concerted fan campaign, 2017’s Justice League is getting re-cut for HBO Max. The story of the fabled ‘Snyder Cut’ shows that a director’s original vision for a release doesn’t need to stay in the can. However, how can other streaming platforms and filmmakers seize this opportunity to give hungry fans what they want?

By: Lydia Bird

Not every film takes the easiest path into the world. Hollywood history is rife with stories of troubled productions, creative differences, scenes lost, or scenes added on. From The Wizard of Oz – with its four directors and two Tin Men – through to a re-cut, failed The Exorcist 2, to Terry Gilliam’s still unreleased The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, the final cut isn’t always final.

Studios’ habits of making post-production changes to a release often leaves directors – and fans – feeling that the published work isn’t true to the original vision. In the past, directors’ cuts might have stayed in the archive, but the rise of home video has given publishers the chance to release them. This provided a way to satisfy fans, and extend the audience and revenue for a film that didn’t please everyone. However, relatively few films get the ‘Director’s Cut’ or ‘Special Edition’ home release treatment, which means that thousands more are potentially waiting in the archive, looking for a platform on which to shine.

From cutting room floor to HBO

More recently, social media has given the displeased an easier way to organise, complain and campaign. Hashtag warriors have called for everything from the J. J. Abrams cut of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, to the original theatrical releases of Star Wars episodes four, five and six. But while alternative releases often never happen – or were in the production plan all along – the Snyder Cut of 2017’s Justice League is creating a new precedent.

The Justice League underwent a troubled production. Originally planned as a darker and much longer film, it suffered multiple script changes. During post production, original director Zack Snyder stepped down. The released film, with numerous changes and added scenes (including the infamous digital removal of Superman actor Henry Cavil’s moustache, which was contractually-obliged to remain due to other filming commitments) disappointed many fans and underperformed at the box office. However, as fans discovered more about the original vision, interest grew in a ‘Snyder Cut’ that was truer to his interpretation of the DC Comics Extended Universe (DCEU).

The campaign to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut revealed some of the best and worst features of fandom. For genuine fans, it presented an opportunity to lobby for a conclusion to Snyder’s trilogy of DCEU films. Tactics included advertising, activism, and stunts, including the flying of banner adverts over the Warner Brothers lot. But the movement also attracted accusations of harassment after social media campaigns went too far. Notable events included the hounding of the former DC Entertainment president off Twitter, giving rise to concerns and discussion of ‘toxic’ fandom and entitlement.

snyders cut - delivery

A game of delivery, it pays to get it right!

Small fortunes are sunk in production costs for TV series, blockbuster films and glossy ads – and yet they are often circulated for review using DVDs, low cost or even free file transfer tools. The future of video distribution has begun, don’t get left behind.

The Snyder Cut finds a new home

Despite support from the cast, and from Snyder himself, the momentum of #ReleaseTheSnyderCut might have died out if it wasn’t for the fact that the material to create Snyder’s vision actually exists. While it’s estimated that reworking the discarded footage into a finished release might cost over $30 million, doing so is much more achievable than with other films, where missing scenes were never shot.

In May, after nearly three years of #ReleaseTheSnyderCut, Warner announced that the director’s vision would air in 2021 on its streaming service, HBO Max. The decision bears the hallmarks of a marketing masterstroke, leveraging the pent-up demand for a near-mythical cut to drive launch sign-ups for the service. At the same time, it highlights the potential for other streaming services and studios to identify, satisfy and benefit from fan demand.

Masters of redirection

While DVD and Blu-ray were the ideal vehicles for the director’s cut of yesterday, today’s home video market is driven by subscription streaming platforms like Disney+, Hulu and Netflix. Already, some offer alternative versions of content alongside each other. Amazon Prime, for example, lists premium movies like Moana with and without bonus features.

When it comes to distributing multiple cuts of a film, digital platforms enjoy key advantages over physical media. Streaming services don’t face the rapidly scaling costs of producing, distributing and stocking different SKUs. By operating in multiple territories, they can combine comparatively niche groups in each country into a viable global audience.

The focus needn’t be just on movie releases. Already active in content production, and with close links to major TV networks, streaming services increasingly have access to raw archive footage and valuable IP. The recent Friends revival illustrates that old shows can be resurfaced for new audiences. Where the original underperformed or underwhelmed, a new cut could be a cheaper, more imaginative or more authentic alternative to a reboot.

Making the cut

Identifying – or caving in to – fan demand or a director’s vision is one thing, but being able to satisfy it is another. Where old film or TV assets exist, they might be video tape, in film canisters, or even lost cinematic stock in the hands of private collectors. The first challenge is likely to be auditing what’s available, locating where it is, and assessing what kind of condition it’s in. The next challenge might be retrieving and digitising it.

Even with modern productions and their digital assets, there’s a need to catalogue everything and build a usable library. Having assets searchable by date, scene, take or other metadata provides editors and directors with the clearest view of what was shot, and the audio, effects and editing work necessary to produce an alternative take.

Importantly, the original production teams are unlikely to survive intact, and the workflows of any new edit or remake need to provide secure support for contributors and collaborators – wherever they’re based. With multiple collaborators working on multiple aspects of multiple scenes, filmmakers need a platform that supports versioning and reliable asset control, together with the ability to distribute to various centres of expertise.

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It’s here that having a digital asset management (DAM) platform like Imagen becomes essential. Cloud-based, secure and fast, a DAM provides the platform for a searchable library of all the material that survives an original theatrical or TV release. Smart features like automated transcription support the quick creation of searchable metadata, helping order what’s there and audit what’s missing.

Crucially, by incorporating powerful distribution features, Imagen also supports the secure sharing of large video and audio files to contributors worldwide. Versioning helps support smooth production and editing workflows, while granular permissions ensure contributors can access the content they need, without you losing control of priceless IP. With the ability to securely manage and easily distribute screeners, Imagen helps sales teams secure distribution and broadcast deals worldwide.

The clamour for the Snyder Cut shows that the cinematic release needn’t be the final word. With the right production platform, streaming services can lower the costs and increase the reach of versioned content, making it viable for smaller audiences, and generating additional return on investments in IP.

Imagen is the perfect platform for collaborative, multi-agency video content production. Ideal for managing, distributing and protecting the archive, Imagen securely unites media stakeholders in cloud-based, low-friction workflows. Discover intuitive media management

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