Josh Wille, a graduate student at KU, researches film fan edits.

As a child, Joshua Wille was always fascinated with movies and how they allowed him a peek into the lives of the characters onscreen. He would watch them over and over again, envisioning himself as an astronaut, a firefighter and even a spy.

He soon realized that a career in movies was the creative doorway he needed to pursue. Now, as a doctoral student in film and media studies at KU, Wille has honed a passion for movies into his academic study of fan edits.

Around 2008, he discovered the fan-editing community online, which began to take off at that time. “The Phantom Edit,” a fan edit of “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” brought fan-editing out of the shadows and garnered wide publicity for the craft.

Wille’s essay, “Fan Edits and the Legacy of ‘The Phantom Edit’,” was included in Transformative Works and Culture, a peer-reviewed journal that includes a variety of topics, including fan fiction, comic books, television and video games.

Before coming to Kansas, Wille competed his undergraduate studies at New York University and his master's at Northern Illinois University. His studies at Kansas focus on fan-editing and media revisionism, and he's taking note of the relationship between the fan-editing community and the mainstream media.

“We, as a society, are starting to move toward a more transformative understanding of media, film and television," Wille said. "We are becoming accustomed to the fact that there are remixes and modified versions all around us. With more and more fan editors willing to tackle different movies, it’s breaking out of the mold."

“Watchmen: Midnight," released in 2012, is Wille’s only feature-length fan edit. With this edit, he said he wanted to restore the narrative structure and spirit of the original comic books that was lost in the theatrical release of the film, “Watchmen.”

Andreas Stuhlmann, a professor at the University of Alberta, met Wille at the University of Hamburg in Germany while organizing a symposium on remix and remediation. The two have remained in contact through the years by exchanging a few emails each year and following each other’s work. Stuhlmann said he has great admiration for Wille’s work, namely his interpretation of “Watchmen.”

“What strikes me is the mixture of creativity and dedication that he brings to this ['Watchmen: Midnight'],” Stuhlmann said. "The dedication probably comes first — going to the source, in this case with 'Watchmen,' he indicates that the narrative should be more in tune with the arc of the comic. For him, this is more of a fundamental critique of the Hollywood studio system and all that, so it’s an important creative practice. We need these kinds of people for future generations of academics.” 

In addition to "Watchmen: Midnight," Wille's other fan-editing work includes an alternate ending to Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," implementing the famed critic Roger Ebert's suggestions for the film. Ebert believed Hitchcock's film was nearly perfect, but the ending was a misstep.

This alternate ending, titled "Psycho: The Roger Ebert Cut," was originally done by a different fan editor. Wille said he searched online for the video, but he could never find it. With the vision of Ebert and his own creative force, Wille constructed a unique ending to the Hitchcock classic.

Wille said he knows just how hard it can be to get fan edits out to people. There are many legal and logistical hurdles the fan-editing community must overcome.

"Fan edits are unfortunately compared to outright media piracy, and they are disparaged simply because they are modified versions of film — because they apparently violate a perceived sanctity of the filmmaker's version," Wille said. It's very important to understand that fan editors don't make fan edits to replace the original. They make it as an alternative or a different perspective."

With his time dedicated to academia, Wille said he has not had much time to create any more fan edits of his own, though he would love to. Wille said he would love to implement his passion for fan-editing in his future career as a film professor.

"In my teaching in the future, I want to bring in fan-editing," he said. "I think one of the best ways to learn how a story or a film is structured is to disassemble it and put it back together. Not only can you see if you can put it back the way it was before, but you can also see what you can do to tell the story a different way using the same material."

Wille is starting to gear up for his dissertation, and his education at Kansas will soon come to a close. Through the film and media studies department, he has focused his passion for fan-editing into something he wants to continue to share throughout his career. Wille said fan-editing is progressively becoming more accepted and that he hopes more and more artists will resist complacency and join this expanding art form.

"We are getting to the point where we realize we don’t have to accept a movie, a song or a television show, the content of it, for what it is," he said. "We don’t have to sit there and be passive spectators but rather active participants. Fan edits are works of art, and they should be recognized as works of art."

— Edited by G.J. Melia