We’ve got some artist on artist crime happening here.
I’m finding myself rather bothered by this whole thing with Shia LaBeouf plagiarizing Dan Clowes in his short film HaroldCantour.com. Basically, LaBeouf adapted a strip that Clowes wrote called Justin M. Damiano into a film. Only he forgot about the part that when you’re making an adaptation, you need to ask permission, be granted the rights, and give credit. Otherwise it’s called stealing.
If it were just that he was “inspired” by Clowes and there were similarities, we could maybe make some shades of gray arguments. It’s pretty clear though when watching the film and reading the strip that it’s not just inspiration happening here. He straight up took word for word dialogue as well as panels from the strip. And seemed to think that this was an okay thing to do.
It’s not. It’s just not okay to take someone else’s work and claim it’s your own. It’s not fair to the original artist, it’s not fair to the audience, it’s not fair to the actors and crew you hire, and it’s not even fair to yourself.
Great that LaBeouf has issued an apology and all that (even if his apology is pretty lame) but it seems like he’s still missing the point. He seems to be saying that this all would have been okay if he had properly credited Clowes. Yes, the lack of credit is part of the problem. But that’s like after the fact. Before he even made this thing, he should have gone to Clowes and asked permission. That’s how we do it in the professional world. It’s one thing if you’re posting a fan film to Youtube (even that’s not always okay) but it’s another when you’re trying to pass something off as a professional work of your own. When you’re presenting yourself as the Creator.
I think I’m particularly bothered by the whole thing because for one it involves an artist I like quite a bit (Dan Clowes, not Shia…). It’s also because he not only plagiarized the shit out of Clowes, he then took this work, passed it off as his own, submitted it to festivals, and never once mentioned Clowes. And not just little festivals. We’re talking Cannes and AFI and the kind of places a filmmaker dreams about having their work shown. Short films aren’t about making money, good luck with that, they’re about learning, showing what you can do, and hopefully making a name for yourself. It’s about prestige and being taken seriously as a professional. Short films are labors of love, creating for the sake of creating.
I can’t wrap my head around what LaBeouf could have possibly been thinking. How did he think this was okay? In what version of reality did this seem like a good thing to do? And why would he not just ask Clowes? Isn’t this the kind of thing we learn not to do by like the third grade?
The kicker of the whole thing is that I actually quite liked the film. Jim Gaffigan was a great casting choice and Clowes’ material is great on the screen. Too bad LaBeouf had to go and ruin the whole thing by being a giant douche. Slow clap here folks. Slow clap.