Copying isn't particularly creative work. Being inspired by someone else's idea to produce something new and different IS creative work.
Shia LaBeouf posted his new short film HowardCantour.com online on Monday, having first debuted the work at the May 2012 Cannes Film Festival. The piece stars Jim Gaffigan as an online film critic named Howard Cantour, and it is almost a direct adaptation of Justin M. Damiano, a 2007 comic written and drawn by famed artist Daniel Clowes.
Nowhere in the promotion for or credits of the film does LaBeouf mention the Clowes comic; Eric Reynolds, longtime editor of Clowes’ comics and associate publisher at Fantagraphics, called the film “shameless theft!”
“The first I ever heard of the film was this morning when someone sent me a link. I’ve never spoken to or met Mr. LaBeouf,” Clowes told BuzzFeed. “I’ve never even seen one of his films that I can recall — and I was shocked, to say the least, when I saw that he took the script and even many of the visuals from a very personal story I did six or seven years ago and passed it off as his own work. I actually can’t imagine what was going through his mind.”
Both the film and comic (below) begin with narration by the main character, who says, “A critic is a warrior, and each of us on the battlefield have the means to glorify or demolish (whether a film, a career, or an entire philosophy) by influencing perception in ways that if heartfelt and truthful, can have far-reaching repercussions.”
The next scene in both the comic and film feature the critic having a conversation with a young, blonde freelance critic, who asks the critic if he is going to a junket, which she will be attending despite its lack of actors. Then, in the film, she says of the filmmaker they’re discussing, “He so perfectly gets how we’re really all like these aliens who can never have any meaningful contact with each other because we’re all so caught up in our own little self-made realities, you know?” In the comic, the dialogue is nearly identical.
The parallels continue through the end of the film and the pieces share many more direct quotes.
LaBeouf, a known Clowes fan, has given interviews in which he described developing the script for the film organically.
“I know something about the gulf between critical acclaim and blockbuster business. I have been crushed by critics (especially during my Transformers run), and in trying to come to terms with my feelings about critics, I needed to understand them,” LaBeouf told the website Short of the Week. “As I tried to empathize with the sort of man who might earn a living taking potshots at me and the people I’ve worked with, a small script developed.”
LaBeouf has been accused of plagiarism before, taking blocks of quotes from an Esquire article and pasting them into an email he sent Alec Baldwin that he leaked online.
Clowes is best known for his alt-comics, such as Wilson and Ghost World, the latter of which was made into a film 2001. He also wrote the screenplay for the adaptation of his comic Art School Confidential.
A rep for LaBeouf did not immediately return BuzzFeed’s request for comment, but the film is now password protected.
Update: Late Monday night, LaBeouf tweeted an apology.
LaBeouf claimed he wasn’t “copying” Clowes, but rather was “inspired” by him and “got lost in the creative process.”
The first part of his apology is very similar to an entry on Yahoo! Answers written four years ago. A user named Lili wrote, “Merely copying isn’t particularly creative work, though it’s useful as training and practice. Being inspired by someone else’s idea to produce something new and different IS creative work, and it may even revolutionalize [sic] the ‘stolen’ concept.”
LaBeouf wrote: “Copying isn’t particularly creative work. Being inspired by someone else’s idea to produce something new and different IS creative work.”
Read the entire apology below.