By ERIC D. SNIDER
Because of objections from several major film companies, BYU’s Varsity Theatre will no longer edit films before showing them, Director of Media Communications Carri Jenkins announced Friday.
Instead, the theater will show only movies that, unedited, already meet BYU standards against profanity, nudity, excessive violence and sexual innuendo — mostly G-rated and older films, BYU officials said.
“Discussions with suppliers of films and film companies have made it clear that BYU will not be able to secure formal approval to continue editing films,” Jenkins said in a prepared statement. “BYU will discontinue editing movies for the Varsity Theatre … (and) will continue to exercise judgment and prudence in the choice of films that it shows on the BYU campus.”
The new policy takes effect today. The PG-13-rated “City of Angels” was scheduled to be shown this weekend; Wilkinson Center Department Director Jerry Bishop said in all likelihood, there won’t be time to book a movie in its place.
Student Life Vice President Alton Wade said, “BYU has never hidden the fact that we edit,” having had an “understanding” with the film distributor, Swank Motion Pictures, that the editing was OK. However, the individual film companies — from which Swank got its movies to pass on to BYU — may not have been aware of this arrangement.
Jack Lausk, president of Swank Motion Pictures, would neither confirm nor deny that an understanding existed, nor would he comment on whether the film companies were aware that Swank had allegedly given BYU permission to edit films.
Wade said in a Daily Universe interview in April that when Sony Pictures — the film company responsible for such Varsity money-makers as “Jerry Maguire” and “Air Force One” — found out in early 1998 that BYU was editing its movies, Sony told BYU to stop.
The Varsity Theatre immediately stopped showing Sony’s films altogether, even cancelling a scheduled week-long run of “Jerry Maguire” in March.
Sony’s objections prompted BYU officials to contact the other film companies to make sure they knew of the arrangement and didn’t mind their films being edited. Wade “talked personally with representatives” from the other 10 or so film companies, and the answer, universally, was no — they would not allow BYU to edit their films.
Wade said that in his conversations with the film companies, he asked, “Is it possible for us to edit your movies?”
“The issue of ‘are you doing it (already)’ never even came up,” he said, adding that he didn’t know if the film companies were aware of the editing, or whether his query was the first they had heard of it.
Wade declined to name any of the specific film companies involved; however, he did acknowledge that it was the “major” ones. (The information about Sony Pictures specifically, and about Swank Motion Pictures being the distributor, was obtained in April.)
Jenkins said the decision to stop editing films was not a “knee-jerk reaction” to the recent controversy in American Fork, where a theater that had been showing an edited version of “Titanic” was ordered by Paramount to stop. Jenkins said BYU has been reviewing the situation for several months; indeed, that was the major topic of the April interview with Wade — a few months after the Sony letter came and just as contacts with the other film companies were beginning.
“This wasn’t a three-day decision made because of American Fork,” Jenkins said. “BYU has spent many, many months working to make sure we do this right.”
The final decision was made within the last few weeks and has been approved by the Board of Trustees, Jenkins said; however, the change was not expected to be implemented until Fall Semester. With the controversy in American Fork, though, newspaper reporters began clamoring to find out whether BYU was still going to edit movies. Rather than telling them “yes” and then having to change the answer in September, Jenkins said it became necessary to implement the policy immediately.
Wade said BYU did everything it could to obtain permission to continue editing the films, even considering going to other, non-major film companies, but that turned out to be infeasible.
“It was made very clear to us as we went through this process that we were going to get the same answer (no matter which company we asked),” Wade said.
Movies edited for airlines are a possibility, but a slim one, Wade said.
“We could use the airline movies, and they wouldn’t be too expensive, but there are few, if any, that we wouldn’t have to edit to get to our standards,” he said. “I can’t really think of a film I’ve seen on a plane that we wouldn’t have to edit again.”
In any event, movies will no longer be edited by BYU. Previously, a team of faculty members took turns editing the films themselves.
“Without formal approval from the film companies, it would be inappropriate for us to edit the films,” Wade said.
As for what movies WILL be shown at the Varsity, and whether certain “small” things will be able to slide past — such as a minor profanity here and there — no official decision has been made yet.
The main issue, said Jenkins, is “no editing will go on. Whether that means, like in ‘Gone with the Wind,’ where there’s that one ‘Frankly my dear…’ line — that’s all under discussion.”
Wade said, “If we’re going to go back to those old classics, it seems like we’ve got to have some leeway there. But it’s still being discussed.”
In the past, all profanity, vulgarity, nudity, extreme sexual innuendo and excessive, graphic violence have been edited out. Finding films that have none of that may be a challenge.
“We’ll be bringing back some of the classics,” Wade said, indicating that “classic” means “either old, or highbrow.”
“We’re going to fill that void with quality, value-laden entertainment,” he said, adding that the Varsity Theatre will do “a major promotion” in the fall to “show the positive side of this.”
“I hope the students will recognize the opportunities here,” he said.