In 1980, just back from two years in Tonga on a religious mission for the Mormon church, Ray Lines took a date to see a Jack Lemmon movie. Midway through the film a female character doffed her top. Lines cringed. "It was a PG movie," he says. "I was totally embarrassed."
These days Lines, 43, is a pioneer in a growing movement that seeks to help salaciousness-shunning film fans avoid such moments. His two-year-old company, CleanFlicks, based in Pleasant Grove, Utah, reedits popular movies, snipping out sex, nudity, violence and profanity. "I'm editing films," says Lines, a father of seven, "so that families can watch the movies in their homes." Nationwide, customers at more than 70 video stores affiliated with CleanFlicks—the first company to market edited movies widely—can see a less gory Saving Private Ryan
, Monster's Ball
minus Halle Berry
's bare bod, even a flatulence-free Shrek
. Lines's wife, Sharon, 42, calls him "the kind of person who sees a need and wants to fix it. He's passionate and intense."
Hollywood, however, gives his methods two thumbs down. In September the Directors Guild of America asked a federal court to declare CleanFlicks and 12 similar companies in violation of copyright laws. Several movie studios joined the suit, and leading directors have denounced the sanitizers. "These companies don't own the films," says DGA spokeswoman Carol Stogsdill, "and they're creating versions that lack what made the films powerful in the first place."
CleanFlicks and its cohorts insist they're not doing anything unsavory. "We have the right to change a movie we buy," says Lines. "Saying we can't is like saying you can't buy a pair of Levis and make cutoff shorts." The legal showdown began when Korey Smitheram, 35, a co-owner of four former CleanFlicks franchises in Idaho and Colorado that now edit their videos independently, got wind the DGA was planning to challenge the practice and launched a preemptive claim asking a Denver federal court to declare his editing legal. "They want to restrict our right to view films the way we want to view them," Smitheram says. Robert Huntsman, 47, a lawyer advising Smitheram, points out that firms aren't making illegal copies: They buy videos or DVDs of the movies at stores and use computers to edit them. (Other companies targeted in the suit offer technology to block objectionable scenes automatically as viewers watch regular versions of DVDs.) Hearings in the case have not yet begun, but precedent favors Hollywood. "Under copyright law, the studio has exclusive right to edit the work," says University of Southern California law professor Daniel Klerman. "My question is, why don't the studios enter this market themselves?"
That would be fine with Lines. "People want to have an option to buy edited movies," he says. "Whether we provide it or Hollywood does doesn't matter." The son of a safety engineer and a homemaker, Lines has been a movie buff since his teen years in Provo, Utah, when he and two of his three older siblings would go to the drive-in theater every Friday. "There were good movies without blood squirting out of bodies," recalls the entrepreneur, whose favorite flick is It's a Wonderful Life
A Brigham Young University grad, Lines learned to use video editing equipment during his 10-year career as a TV sports broadcaster. After removing some profanities from Top Gun for a nephew in 1989, the Pleasant Grove, Utah, resident did more snipping for kids Rashelle, Tiffani, Elisse, Camille, Celeste, Savanna and Makenna, now aged 4 to 19. In 1999 he teamed up with a local store, Sunrise Family Video, that was removing Kate Winslet
's nude scene from Titanic
videos. "The staff would cut them with scissors," says Lines. "I told them I had a better way to edit."
The next year Lines opened CleanFlicks stores in his hometown and nearby Orem. Today the company "just breaks even," Lines says, with revenues of slightly under $1 million a year. "We're not costing Hollywood, we're making money for them," he says. "There's a need for what we do."
Carolyn Campbell in Pleasant Grove, Jason Bane in Boise and Lorenzo Benet in Los Angeles