Racer Trash is a radical editing collective offering the next level of entertainment. What started as a joke in a group chat during the COVID-19 quarantine has bloomed into a completely new way to watch films every month, live on Twitch.
They take a movie and divide it into segments of about 20 or so among editors. Then, each editor re-edits, recontextualizes, and remixes their segment into something new.
Then they screen these exquisite movies on Twitch for a growing fanbase, creating a fuzzy and warm feeling of watching a movie with friends while laughing and yelling at the screen. The best way to watch films (1).
They have re-edited over ten feature movies in 2020 and have no plan of putting them off in 2021 and beyond.
Let’s read on to know more about the radical editing collective unlearning what they know about cinema.
The Emergence of Racer Trash
As reported by The Verge (2), last May, Alex Jacobs (3) and Ariel Gardner (4), while in a group chat for moviemakers, mainly friends in the LA industry circles, talked about the communal streaming hearth to watch films pandemic. At that time, Jacobs suggested a vaporwave cut of Speed Racer.
Jacob, at that time, believed it would never happen; however, his idea quickly struck a chord with the group. A member suggested dividing up the movie and assigning segments, or “segs” in racer-speak to different people.
Several friends previously worked on the Our Robocop Remake (5), a 2014 movie, where dozens of filmmakers recreated parts of the original movie Robocop and assembled them into a single, hysterical feature.
So, a new film collective was born, driven by a distinctly punk ethos: to attack and dethrone cinema. One can also describe it as “movie graffiti.”
However, depending on who you ask, Racer Trash is a powerful “bug off” to capitalism. It is also a nourishing refuge from everyday editing work. Notably, there is only one way to watch Racer Trash movies. Live on Twitch.
The Punk Element
In a TalkHouse (6) report, Jeff Baena, a writer-director known for his found-footage anthology series, Cinema Toast, talked about his friendship with Harrison Atkins. They used to hang out all the time during the pandemic when they both tested for coronavirus. They used to make music together at the time with Teenage Engineering OP-1 and OP-Z and watch movies.
At that time, Baena found that Atkins and other directors and editors, including Adam Wingard, a director known for Godzilla vs. Kong, are part of Racer Trash’s collective. Together, they select a movie each month, break it down into different pieces, and all collective members make their selections. They process it, put filters on it, add other media, footage from other TV shows and movies and do everything with it as long as it tracks for the same amount of time as that movie.
The outcome comes with a very strong vaporwave esthetic and pretty stoney. The collective has a version of Eyes Wide Shut, renamed Vibes Wide Shut, and a Jazzass version of Jackass, where the collective took the movie and added jazz to it. Then, they changed how it looked via data moshing, some peculiar overlays, and polarized it. In short, they went wild with it.
Of course, none of it is legal, considering the copyright law, and hence they could not show these anywhere. So, they started streaming them on Twitch, usually once each month.
For 4/20, the collective had a full day of streaming. For example, when the collective selected a Japanese horror movie, House, and marked it completely with Beach House songs. It is pretty stream-of-consciousness absurd, super tripped-out, yet incredible.
The collective also took The Babadook and made it Abbadook, using Abba songs as the mark. Some of their editors and directors also made an alt version of Showgirls. Take 45 minutes of fillers and replace them with music from David Lynch movies, such as Rammstein or Angelo Badalamenti.
Fans of Showgirls will be amazed by the cut they made, says Baena.
He further talks about one of his favorite scenes where Nomi is eating a hamburger and looking out at the Vegas lights and had the ominous mark from Mulholland Drive, and how it hit him on such a deep level.
Baena and Atkins made the music for the opening and the initial seven minutes on It’s Band Time, alt of Time Bandits, with all the directors and editors creating their mark for their selections. It was a song that the pair wrote while jamming. Moreover, Atkins created the opening title sequence for every episode of Baena’s Cinema Toast. At the same time, another creator of Racer Trash, Ellie Pritts, processed and edited the trailer for it, later released by Showtime.
As per Baena, Racer Trash is one of the best things that has happened during the coronavirus pandemic. He believes that the collective is on to something so fun and cool.
The Striking Aspects of Racer Trash
Today, there are more than 50 members, and about half of them are “core.” However, it is always changing. Some work on every film, whereas others contribute to one and move on.
“We are very excited about it,” said Gardner, about Speed Vapor’s two-day turnaround. “The next day, we already had another film planned, we already had a Discord, we were already discussing all the things it can be and establishing a name for us and our collective.”
Within a year, the collective has recreated and screened Hausu, Super Mario Bros, Spice World, Jumanji, Vertigo, Hackers, Heat, Romeo and Juliet, Alien, and Dracula, to name a few.
Racer Trash has also moved from its vaporwave inspirations into its distinct entity. Its chaotic films are interwoven with forgotten joke tweets, TV commercials, 3D computer graphics, Pokémon, watermarked assets, and cartoons. There are also short intermission snippets between feature movie streams, like the reinterpretation of “Hot Knife” by Fiona Apple (7).
Many Racer Trash members believe their films are the densest media form globally, considering that movies are made up of art, music, and theater.
Editors of Racer Trash refer to themselves as wavers or racers, all professionals from the innumerable worlds of filmdom. Director Adam Wingard, artist and designer Starline Hodge (8), filmmaker D’arby Rose (9), director and comedian Jess Lane (10) are among a few names of its surging ranks of editors, animators, sound engineers, digital artists, and producers.
In its early days, the dozen-or-so collective members decided on movies with the democratic voting system. Today, they are working on multiple projects at any given moment. Each of them is helmed by a captain, who assigns segments with a random system named “the hat.”
As more members keep on getting drawn via friends or word of mouth, it is becoming easier for captains to have a roster that is ready to go.
The process is similar to the exquisite movie concept. Each racer works on its segments individually. Each thing is assembled, and everyone watches the finished future, apart from the stream. The racers hold an internal screening for themselves.
One of their most recent movies, Suprogman, with a cameo of the cult Nintendo 64 flop Superman 64, was slightly different. It was captained by the founding racer, Gardener. Racers passed around the move, and each racer had a few days to play with it, similar to the COVID-era long-form jamming session. Consequently, there is a noticeable cohesion, something that was not present in previous works of Racer Trash.
There was a textural difference in how the movie flows, mirroring a Yes cosmic vibes (11) and scoring the collective evolution as a group editing organization.
One of the most notable aspects of Racer Trash is how it lets filmmakers push their craft beyond the realism constraints — often dictating most of the commercial editing work.
According to D’arby Rose, being an “unfiltered weirdo and artist” is the essence of Racer Trash. For her, it’s a healing outlet during the pandemic.
Chloe Brett is a trailer editor for The Royal Cinema (12). She randomly came in contact with the Racer Trash collective at an online Adam Sandler marathon. Brett, who is a self-taught filmmaker, was anxious about her lack of visual effects skills. However, she soon learned that everyone is happy to share.
Maris DeMarini (13), another racer, uses time displacement (isolating parts of an image to reflect different time representations) in her r+j segment. But, it was something new for others. So, she ended up writing a tutorial email for the collective.
Founding racer Ellie Pritts (14) explained we teach each other everything. Pritts had helped to color-grade initial segments, shaping a core part of the Racer Trash aesthetic.
“It is a sparse thing to hit on, especially in the professional creative realm where people are very guarded about their techniques and what sets them apart. I believe all of us have become really good editors over the past year because of it. Hence, it often feels like school.”
DeMarini also agrees with Pritts, comparing their mutual support system to the proverb “iron sharpens iron.”
Racer Trash also has its language, ranging from mysterious acronyms to technical slang. According to Jacobs, everyone in the collective is Extremely Online and is tuned to the birth of new phrases.
“I cannot pinpoint when we started using “wave” as a verb for “edit,” but we do it,” says Pritts.
Ted Marsden (15), who did the opener for Racer Trash’s version of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, created a meme, “LMBIH,” Li Mu Bai is here (referring to the character of Chow Yun Fat). “The night it launched, the chat blew up, repeating the phrase, and it became an instant meme,” says Marsden. “It was not my purpose to make a catchphrase; it was only a funny idea to take the throwaway line and make it as much epic as possible.”
Twitch, Racer Trash and the Community
Twitch chat is undoubtedly a big part of the Racer Trash experience. It is a shockingly positive place full of wholehearted and sincere enthusiasm for each wave. It also means that often viewers pop up to request links to full movies, which is a big no-no for a few reasons.
According to Ariel Garden, the live stream-only format is a substitute for appointment viewing, where everyone gathers weekly to watch a cherished program.
According to Jacobs, it is about replicating the experience of catching something weird on late-night TV, which he once tried to do with 3 Am screenings of Racer Trash’s Eyes Wide Shut. “There is appointment viewing, and there is “I had this weird experience,” and when you find anyone else who had a similar incident, it builds bonds.”
Peter Kuplowskly, a Toronto International Film Festival programmer, is one of those individuals in the industry who misses the connection one gets from a theatre vibrating rabid cinema fans (16).
As the curator of TIFF’s Midnight Madness program, Kuplowskly believes in bringing the weirdest, finest, and most amazing shocking movies to the audience. How, with cinemas closed, programmers like Kuplowskly are moving to Twitch, an online platform built to share video game content.
Programmers, who work with independent theatres like the Royal Cinema, Toronto, and the Spectacle Theater in NYC, set a certain date and time, spread the word on social media platforms like Twitter, and then hit the play button.
Even though a cult movie night may only draw a few dozen fans in the past, according to Kuplowskly, the online screenings have been surprisingly thriving.
Most of them are free, and organizers only ask for donations for their hard work or charity. Kuplowsky further adds that what audiences get in return is a feeling of community.
“The reason why I have always enjoyed showing these films with an audience is that I love the shared aspect of an audience reacting to a film together; whether that is the applause, laughter, or shock,” says Kuplowskly.
While Kuplowskly has weekends when many scary watch parties are planned, the event that he anticipates the most is the latest double bill from Racer Trash, a collective of editors and directors based in LA, which takes movie remixes them into warped neon nightmares, anesthetic called vaporware (17).
According to Kuplowsky, it is best when the rowdy ambiance in the chat rebuilds the spirit of a flesh-and-blood film screening.
“There is a visceral rush of everyone doing something together, the support of the movie, and the shared passion. It is pretty infectious and can bring us back to everyone at Midnight Madness,” says Kuplowsky.
Overcoming the Copyright Law
“When people ask us for links, the canned response we give is “Racer Trash is a live experience,” says Pritts. Further adding that she felt buoyed by an off-the-record talk with a Hollywood studio lawyer about the transformative nature of the Racer Trash movies.
Since there are no profits involved, as the Twitch stream is free, it isn’t easy to find a legal angle. “In” The Simpsons,” there is an episode where they explain that Mr. Burn is sick, and he has so many conditions that they all cross each other out, and he turns healthy like they all can not fit through the door at the same time (18).”
“Hence, this is where we are legally. We are doing so much that it will cancel each other out,” explains Gardner to The Verge.
Most racers are enthusiastic about the punk elements of the Racer Trash. They believe their work is “slicing through the forces of dark capital,” talking about how movies are made to turn profits.
There is also a bold sense of triumph among them over the mere realization that such sort of cinematic subversion is possible.
“No one can cut us short from making these movies,” says Casey Donahue (19) when asked about getting sacked from Twitch. “And if at any point they stop us, it doesn’t mean that we did not make this and that we won’t keep making this.”
In a way, Racer Trash has become an artistic gift for several racers who needed something, like a breaking or a multidimensional lightbulb.
“It is thrilling for both as an editor and media consumers to live in a time where a collective such as Racer Trash exists,” says Lola Gonzalez (20), one of the newest racers, who worked on Spice Wave captained by D’arby Rose.
“The fact that Racer Trash is born out of the human requirement to build something during an extremely difficult time, in a year that we are still grieving worldwise, and process, the collective has turned into the epitome of pure, ephemeral self-expression,” says Gonzalez.
We have never seen anyone remix movies like Racer Trash or grow into such an unanticipated creative force. It is an absolute subversion of our conventional reverence for larger-than-life blockbusters merely by their prestige and value. They are often pretty expensive, exclusionary bits of media starring untouchable celebrities that live in a world beyond the average audience.
As the conventional moviegoing experience is becoming endangered, the group of filmmakers who have broken an undone taboo to reinvigorate their craft and garnered a loyal following of the audience in the process.
Racer Trash is a radical act of creators’ freedom when the coronavirus pandemic has brought new priorities and perspectives.
“Copyright law, who gives a damn? Money is out of the window; I have traded grapes for toilet paper,” says Jacobs recalling a personal apocalypse he had experienced last year, which instilled him with what best described as YOLO strength.
“It feels like an exciting new thing which we can do. Of course, we could always remix movies if we wanted to; I just never believed that we could do something like that.”