Just two days after Warren Beatty won a decision that requires ABC-TV to air all 200 minutes of his film "Reds" when it debuts on network TV, the director chastised the networks for "slaughtering films" when they air on TV.
"They are arbitrarily slicing into these films like sausages," Beatty said at a press conference at the Directors Guild of America Wednesday morning.
Beatty charged that the networks regularly speed up the films and "do other things" that viewers are unaware of to ensure that the movies don't cut into the start of local newscasts. "They flash a small card at the start of the movie that says, 'Edited for television,' but in my opinion the public feels that means the dirty stuff has been taken out," Beatty said. "In fact, edited for television now means that the film can be completely mutilated."
Beatty and the Directors Guild of America took the "Reds" case to arbitration when Beatty learned that the network intended to cut about 16 minutes from the original length of the 1981 Oscar-winning film. "Reds" was scheduled to air in two parts on April 28 and 29, but ABC-TV has announced that the movie will not be broadcast as planned. The network agreed to pay $6.5 million for the rights to the film for 4 1/2 years, but the contract provided that the first payment would not be made until 10 days after its first network airing.
Beatty's contract with Paramount Pictures specifically gave the director the coveted "final cut" and allowed for trims on television only for "network continuity broadcast standards."
Beatty said he had no objection to cuts for censorship reasons (i.e., nudity and language), but that did not apply to "Reds," the saga of American journalist John Reed's ("Ten Days That Shook the World") coverage of the Russian Revolution of 1917. "They (the networks) have to end every movie at 11 o'clock because their affiliates insist on it," Beatty said. "They will cut any film regardless of its quality to fit that slot. This is just another instance of something potentially valuable being completely dominated by commercial considerations."
With the advent of subscription TV, where features are shown intact, the networks have broadcast fewer theatrical releases and increased their own made-for-TV movies. According to ABC-TV's research department, the three networks aired a total of 74 theatrical releases last season compared with only 51 this year. Theatrical movies, which averaged a 15.7 rating last season, slipped to an average of 14.8 this year. (Each rating point is worth an estimated $1 million in revenue to the network.) "Reds" first aired on cable in 1983, about a year and a half after its theatrical release.
Beatty acknowledged that as a film maker he would have preferred that his movie enjoy the widest possible exposure, but that in this case the principle was of greater concern. "The picture could reach more people if it ran on network TV," Beatty said. "None of us is happy to see those films interrupted by commercials but then sometimes you reach people you would not ordinarily reach."
Dressed in a crisply pressed khaki-colored cotton suit and skin-toned lace-up shoes, Beatty argued that even if the public doesn't notice the cuts, censorship for commerce cannot be justified. "Very often the public can recognize the presence of, forgive me, art but they cannot recognize the absence of it," the director said.
DGA President Gilbert Cates announced that in its next round of negotiations with producers, the guild will attempt to guarantee all directors the right to have their films played in their entirety. Cates also announced that Beatty has been appointed to the guild's creative rights committee.
Unless another network strikes a deal with Paramount to show "Reds," Beatty's decision could be a costly one. "It would be ridiculous to say money is not a factor in the making of films," Beatty said. "But I really think we have to think of something other than money sometimes."
ABC-TV continued its no-comment posture. For the moment, Beatty appeared to have the last word on the final cut.