This piece chronicles Maculate Conception, my 2013 fan edit for Prometheus. This includes how the fan edit came about, its production process, and what's happened since it was made. This fan edit was largely focused on audio changes and editing changes, which are basically impossible to show in screencaps. Still, I do my best. Clips of the edit, and links to the full version, are available on my website.
Disclaimer: My work on this project is non-profit and falls under Fair Use; it's transformative, educational and a critique of the original source material. Even so, please support the original artists; don't download my fan edit unless you own the original theatrical version.
Fan-edits are a lot of work. I did my first (and only) fan-edit in 2013 when I decided to tackle Prometheus. I had zero editing experience, and only had Audacity and MAGIX (a buggy 3rd party software) to work with. Most fan edits want to add a scene, maybe clean up the overall image quality. I wanted to do all of that and more: I wanted remove the movie's original film score. No big deal.
I don't have the exact date the project started. However, the original unused opening was uploaded onto YouTube on February 12th, 2013. Working eight-hour days seven days a week, the project* would take me roughly nine months to finish.
*The entire changelog can be accessed on Fanedit.org.
Being a Prometheus and Covenant fan, I have endured my share of abuse from the greater fandom. Mostly ridicule and neglect. A part of me accepted it—enjoyed it, even. After all, Scott's palimpsest was Frankenstein, a novel about persecution and abuse from one's peers. Eventually I saw Alien: Covenant. Seeing David toil away in his laboratory reminded me of myself. So many nights and days spent in my family's basement.
Back then, I felt a bit like Victor Frankenstein. Victor came from a wealthy family and could afford to spend all his time pursuing the natural philosophies. He labored hard, but hated his work:
The work had drained him; to look upon on it nearly drove him mad. Did I respond in a similar fashion—breaking down in a fit, only to be nursed back to health over a period of months by my best friend while my creation roamed the countryside? Not quite.
Now that I'm able to share my fan edit, I wanted to detail the process that went into making it. To do that, we must start at the beginning. In December 2011, FOX debuted the first trailer for Prometheus. I thought it was perfect. The second trailer was even better. These trailers generated a lot of hype. Speculating was half the fun, and I spent a lot of time on forums imagining what Prometheus would ultimately become.
The first forum was called Prometheusforum.net (now defunct, the domain name used by someone else). Founded in 2011, the forum's original purpose was to discuss the Prometheus teaser. The original group totaled less than 50 members. Small, tight-knit, we had some good discussions. Eventually the ranks swelled to 3,000. Apart from some standard issue forum drama, the experience was actually pretty fun. In 2015, long after Maculate Conception was finished, the site owner stopped paying his upkeep and the site disappeared. Like tears in rain.
In the meantime, Prometheus came and went. Forum members reviewed the movie, and I did articles for the owner's blog (also now defunct). I encountered a lot of fans, but just as many detractors. The bigger the site, the bigger the discrepancy. It wasn't as noticeable on smaller forums, but on AvPGalaxy it was obvious. The larger site pulled huge traffic, its visitor numbers including many different fanbases. I haven't been on their forums in ages—in fact, I'm banned from them—but I imagine the movie is about as popular as it ever was. Maybe Covenant is the site's new punching bag (though I suspect Alien: Resurrection and AvP Requiem hold that dubious honor).
Being a socially awkward weirdo, I spent a lot of time on these forums. This included Fanedit.org. I honestly can't remember how I came across them. I think I'd stumbled across a Prometheus fan edit thread that linked back to them. In any case, the site was a great opportunity to learn about fan edits, and expose myself to the practice.
It was there that I learned about The Phantom Edit, perhaps the first fan edit ever shared online. Its genesis fascinated me: The editor had hated The Phantom Menace so much that he re-edited the entire film. The idea resonated with me; as much as I enjoyed Prometheus, the theatrical cut had let me down. The music was too uplifting ("Good bye, duck world," my brother says, explaining how H.G. Williams' "Life" theme reminds him of the "You're the Duckiest" from Howard the Duck—you're welcome); the action was too truncated; the ideas were compelling but didn't add up; the fucking dialogue had too many stilted, goofy lines ("I love rocks!" will forever be near and dear to my heart, however). Etc.
Unfortunately Prometheus was Ridley's baby. There wasn't going to be a director's cut. Even if there was, the old man is famous for making director's cuts the same length, or even shorter, than their theatrical versions. Maybe someone else would do a fan edit, I thought. There were some great fan edits out there. They didn't do everything I wanted, though. In my mind, a good movie was somewhere inside that beautiful mess, but it looked like I needed to produce it myself.
This motivated me to look more into fan editing. And by that I mean "buy a shitty movie editing software and start messing around with it." I literally went onto to Google, typed "movie editing software" and picked one at random. I went with MAGIX. I spent $50 on the software (they mailed a backup CD to my house) and got to work.
I knew jack shit about video software—codecs, framerates, volume levels; the fact that my computer had hardware encoding issues and MAGIX was too "user-friendly" to tell me about them; compression artifacts, and how they resulted from re-encoding video files. All of these things would lead to huge, unsolvable problems later in the project. For example, I accidently changed the framerate partway through the project—for the entire work file. Funnily enough, I had no idea this was even a problem. By the time I did, it was too late.
More on that in a bit.
Early on I had a dream, and wanted to make it work. The biggest hurdle was the music. I wanted to have certain scenes with music, and certain scenes without; the music also needed to be different from Marc Streitenfeld and H.G. Williams' original score. Even with the 5.1 surround sound file, there were bits of music in the various audio tracks, and music was in virtually every scene in the movie. I would have to go through the entire film, second by second, removing any music I found.
The basic solution was to use the isolated "vocal tracks." This removed a lot of sound effects right off the bat. So did the Audacity noise filter, which I applied to the remaining tracks. Any bit of music was scrubbed clean. This wasn't perfect—it made the actors' voices sound small and tinny at times—but the music was gone. The problem is, so were most of the movie's sound effects! I had to replace sound effects for virtually every scene in the movie. This included background noise, like engines and wind; but also gravel, water, metal, explosions and slime. I had to "dress" every onscreen image with new sounds: boots stepping on sand, people walking through water, cars driving across gravel; canvas backpacks dropped into leather seats. I found all of this for free online. I even added reverb and other sound effects.
God, it was exhausting. Worse, I learned as I went, and made a lot of mistakes. Sometimes the aforementioned framerate issues made the video files "shrink." The vanilla, scrubbed audio files had to be trimmed to match the work file's video footage. I honestly don't remember how I managed it, but it was a goddamn mess either way. And me, the genius that I was, thought all of this was completely normal!
I was only making the project harder for myself. But I made it work. The audio began to sync up to the video; I was making progress. All the while, my "studio" was in the basement, right next to the furnace. I had started in February so the basement was already freezing. Whenever it got too cold, which was often, the furnace would kick on (you can hear it in my response video to IGN's "review" of Alien: Isolation). I had head phones, but they weren't noise-canceling. Another time, a crow—yes, a fucking crow—squeezed through a hole in the wall and started hopping across the metal furnace pipes overhead. He did not say "Nevermore."
It was slow work to say the least.
I still hadn't settled on a musical theme. I wanted a type of music that would work well with the visuals. The first experiment used "A Night on Bald Mountain" during Fifield's attack on the ship (apparently I made this clip before I bought MAGIX. I used Windows Movie Maker, using the B&W filter to confuse the YouTube copyright censor. Unfortunately the clip was deleted. I should have privated my YouTube videos instead of deleting them because honestly they were all really cool. Now all of them are gone!
After I bought MAGIX, I used Beethoven's 5th during the landing scene, before swapping that out with Brad Fidel's "Future War." I settled on an instrumental by The Cars. For other scenes I tried heavy metal, using "The Mob Rules" during the sandstorm. When that didn't work, I used Vivaldi's "Summer" before deciding I didn't want that scene in the fan edit at all.
I think I had backup workprints. Even so, every time I used different music the scenes had to be trimmed to fit. I had to splice the cuts to make sure the audio didn't peak, and I made hundreds, if not thousands, of cuts. Over and over, back and forth. Eventually I decided on a theme: '70s and '80s horror movies. This made life easier. I stopped oscillating and the fan edit began to materialize.
From here, I had to decide what scenes I wanted to keep, and which I wanted to cut. I cut the intro and the sandstorm scenes. Mostly, though, I trimmed lines of dialogue. A lot of it felt redundant, as if the writers were trying to fill the silence with anything they could. Usually I found ways to trim a word or two and keep the scene. Sometimes, I had overlapping dialogue, or characters "speaking" from offscreen (after I'd cut the footage of them talking on camera). All of this was easy and fun; I knew what I wanted to cut, and had a good time making it work.
I won't go over every scene, but I can do one: the autopsy where the helmet is lifted, revealing a human-looking head before it quickly explodes. I hated the explosion, but wanted to keep everything else. So, I cut certain lines of dialogue; I had Vickers talk off camera at one point, and Shaw enthusiastically produce her syringe before saying "Let's take a look!" In the theatrical version, she says this before the explosion, the syringe being held by Katie Dickie's character, Ford. In my version, Shaw's announcement is heard by Ford and Vickers, who look scared; this is because their portrait shots are after the explosion, while Shaw's is from before. Fun stuff.
I edited the dialogue, but also added sound effects and background noise; then, the music. Oddly enough, the music I included usually fit my scenes perfectly. Then again, it is movie music, and movie scenes tend to be a certain length. So perhaps not so strange, then. All the same, there was an accidental quality to the way things were falling into the place.
Some scenes were harder. The crash sequence had almost no sound effects because of the original music. Every stray rock or piece of debris needed a sound effect. But the audio for Vickers and Shaw sounded dry and shrunk. This was actually a symptom of overcleaning the sound, but actually sounded kind of stuffy and claustrophobic, as if we were trapped inside those bubble-headed helmets while the survivors ran away from the crashing Juggernaut. As for the sound effects of the ship itself, I went with the slow drone of a WW2 bomber. It was fun trying to find the right sounds; when I felt excited by what I heard, I knew I was on the right track.
Another aspect I really enjoyed was creating silence, and emphasizing distance. During the pyramid scene, the explorers enter the temple; their helmets breathe noisily into the void. I'd gotten the idea from Alien, from the Derelict scene. I still had to add sound effects (mostly footsteps), but I didn't want to add too much sound. Conversely the landing scene had lots of different shots of the Prometheus. Sometimes it was close; other times, far. Some shots had it passing before the camera a particular way. I had to adjust the volume and the effects to match the distance and motion. Most of the dropship audio was borrowed from Aliens. It worked really well, I think.
The landing scene featured the same "Moving in Stereo" heard in House of the Devil. Other scenes included tracks from The Terminator, Alien, The Thing, Psycho and The Fly. There's even an Eddie Money track at the end (try and guess which one). The tracks weren't entirely consistent, but they weren't so different from each other as to feel wholly inchoate either.
As things progressed, I was able to show clips to friends on forums, and to my grandfather who loves old sci-fi movies like Plan 9 from Outer Space and Forbidden Planet. Their feedback helped me focus my efforts. Eventually the fan edit neared completion. I was actually gearing it towards "release" on Fanedit.org. They wouldn't feature the edit themselves, but I could read reviews about it... if they accepted it.
Key word, "if." Remember those framerate issues? Turns out, the video tracks were a few frames per second different that the DVD source files. Worse, the scrubbed audio had been tailor made to fit the video, so swapping out the video was no longer possible. I also had compression artifacts from re-encoding the video several times. So while the correspondent at Fanedit liked my edits, the technical mistakes were too numerous for them to ignore. I'd have to start from scratch.
Well, I wasn't about to spend another nine months redoing everything. I decided to sit on the project. I couldn't promote it anywhere, but I did show it to family and friends. One time, I showed it to a group of girls and accidently gave one them a panic attack (during the self-surgery scene). All the while, my forum experiences were getting worse and worse. Either the forums up and vanished, or I had arguments that, while following the rules, didn't jive with the site owners. I got banned from various sites, and was stuck with a fan edit I couldn't share with anyone.
This stint had occurred after a previous six-month venture world building for a fantasy novel I never wrote. Needless to say my social skills were somewhat lacking at this point. Around this time, I was working at Taco Bell and someone I knew pulled up to the window. She was with her boyfriend, and we chatted as my co-workers got her order ready. She gave me her card (she worked at a pet store) and told me to call her. Eventually I did, and left a message. Apparently it was a bit... incoherent, because she said she could barely understand me. Turns out, I'd just wanted to share my fan edit with her. With anyone really.
After that, I decided it was time to move on. I shelved the project, deleting the master work file but keeping the final prototype. I set it aside and worked on other things. I went back to school, got my bachelor's and went to England to study Gothic English literature. There, I met my ex, and made them watch my fan edit. And no, in case you're wondering, they're didn't become my ex from watching my fan edit!
Several years later, I met my partner Lindsay and showed them my fan edit, too (call it a rite of passage, I guess). Lindsay absolutely hates Prometheus, but apparently enjoyed the fan edit slightly more. Truth be told we've had several arguments about the movie since we've met. I'm actually glad we did, as our last "discussion" encouraged me to write about my past as a Prometheus fan. This lead me to document Maculate Conception. And even my master's thesis. Really lit a fire under my ass, truth be hold.
Suddenly motivated, I pulled out my fan edit and started to watch it again. Doing so, I suddenly remembered I had a website. I'd launched vanderWaardart.com on May 3rd 2020 as a place to promote my work—away from platforms with exploitable rules. It was meant for erotic art, so why not something as policed online as Prometheus footage? Here I could upload, if not the entire fan edit, then at least small clips of it. Also, I had recently watched Necropolis. I remembered how the editor shared his fan edit on Google Docs. I decided I would do the same. It's all Fair Use, after all.
It's liberating to be able to share my work, if only to document my editing skills. At least it can exist in the world as something to be acknowledged, not forgotten and repressed. Maybe I'm not the most original writer alive; my graphic novel stemmed from someone else's draft, my thesis is about Metroidvania (which riff on a lot of Gothic works, including Alien), and my fan edit needed Ridley Scott's original movie to exist. All the same, rewrites and fan edits are work, and work is something to be proud of.
Returning to my graphic novel in 2020, my co-author and I reached an agreement: I can keep the story and re-illustrate it myself. Now, my fan edit has a new home as well. My thesis isn't online, but several images of it, including the abstract, are available on my website. Hell, I even have a page about my unfinished books. This feels like closure, but also progression. Lindsay and I use Photoshop Premiere for our Gothic podcast. It works much better than MAGIX ever did. Maybe this, combined with my website, will encourage me to return to Maculate Conception someday. Or maybe I'll edit Terminator Dark Fate.
So here we are. My new graphic novel is in the works (and another book I want to publish), and my thesis and fan edit have a place to exist. "There is nothing in the desert, and no man needs nothing," David said, quoting Lawrence of Arabia. For me, I've found an oasis.
I'm an artist and a writer. If you're interested my work and are curious about illustrated or written commissions, please refer to my website for more information. If you want to contact me about a guest article, please use this contact form or reach out to me on Discord (vanderWaardart#5394)!
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