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Archive for the Category "Plagiarism"

Visionaries or Rip-off Artists? (Or Both?) Oct 08

When we think of people like James Cameron, Darren Aronofsky, the Wachowski brothers, Tarantino… many words come to mind: visionaries, geniuses, mavericks, thieves — wait, what?

Thieves?

The experts at CRACKED.com have come up with another excellent film-related article that showcases “7 Classic Movies You Didn’t Know Were Rip-Offs.”

I’m all for paying homage to classic movies, or using concepts from old shows or books as jumping off points to begin an original story, but did these movies take it too far?

CRACKED.com’s insightful and thought-provoking article provides a historical perspective, videos, and side-by-side screen captures, where applicable, of seven such instances.

Here are few images comparing Black Swan to a Japanese animated film called Perfect Blue, about:

… a pop singer instead of a ballet dancer, but other than that, Black Swan could pass for its American remake. In both movies, the young, innocent protagonist has just moved on to a more demanding job (dramatic actress/lead dancer), and the pressure turns her apeshit. She gets chased by a “double” who may or may not be the product of her imagination, and at one point becomes convinced that she killed someone.

Cracked - Black Swan Comparison

Cracked - Black Swan Comparison

Cracked - Black Swan Comparison

Yes, the pictures also come to life and taunt her in Perfect Blue.

Here’s the full list of movies that they scrutinize:

#7. Pirates of the Caribbean Is Suspiciously Similar to the Game The Secret of Monkey Island

#6. The Matrix Was a Comic Book

#5. Black Swan Was a Japanese Cartoon

#4. J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek Is Really Star Wars

#3. Wild Wild West Was an Episode of Batman: The Animated Series

#2. Terminator Was a Bunch of Harlan Ellison Sci-Fi Stories

#1. Reservoir Dogs Was a Film From Hong Kong

It’s worth pointing out that a few key scenes and ideas does not a movie make. All of these movies (with perhaps the exception of Wild Wild West) feature brilliant story elements, dialogue and cinematic innovation that did not appear in the sources that are being cited. The execution of an idea is a thing unto itself. That’s why you can’t copyright a concept.

But — if the execution is virtually identical, that’s another matter… Seriously, check out the Reservoir Dogs section and tell me that wasn’t a flagrant rip-off something more than an homage.

What’s your take? Does the knowledge that these filmmaking icons borrowed (stole) key elements from these previous sources cause you to look at them in a different light?

Read the full article at CRACKED.com.

Passive Plagiarism? Nov 07

The Whole Internet Truth

ANOTHER UPDATE:  The Story Department article has been edited and all is well. Thanks everyone!

UPDATE: The article in question on The Story Department‘s web site has been taken down pending review. (P.S. The Story Department is still one of my favorite sources of information on screenwriting)

I consider myself a pretty fair guy. I go out of my way to cite sources of any material I use, and am even happy to promote fellow consultants if I think they’ve got something important to say.

So imagine my surprise when one of my readers pointed out that they found several of my ideas posted in a recent article on The Story Department‘s web site, without any credit.

In this post about passive protagonists, written by Jack Brislee, the following appears:

On the other hand, a passive protagonist displays some or all of the following traits.  He

has no strong desire
does not make decisions
does not pursue a goal
is reactive instead of active
allows someone else to dictate his life

Now here’s what I wrote in my post on the subject of passive protagonists earlier this year:

A passive protagonist is a main character that displays some or all of these traits:

has no strong desire
doesn’t make decisions
doesn’t pursue a goal
reactive, instead of active, as a rule
allows someone else to dictate their fate

Look familiar?

Now obviously the concept of what constitutes a passive protagonist has been around a while, but the expression of this particular concept was unique to my site.

And what about the controversial hook of Jack Brislee’s article — i.e. breaking/bending the rule of no passive protagonists?

Here’s what he has to say:

Even the most rusted on admirers of the traditional Hollywood screenwriting style admit that there are three occasions when the protagonist may be passive –

  • in the first few pages of the script, where the protagonist can be passive in his normal world
  • after the inciting incident, where the enormity of the call to adventure might result in initial refusal.
  • at the end of Act II in the “All is Lost” or “Dark Night of the Soul” moment, when the protagonist, having just been beaten up (physically, mentally or both) is consumed with self doubt and unable to act.

I’m not sure I’d qualify as a “rusted on admirer,” but here’s what I had to say in one of my posts last year:

In a Hollywood script, there really are only three allowable times that your main character can be somewhat passive:

  1. In the first few pages of your script… your protagonist can be somewhat passive in their normal world…
  2. After the catalyst/inciting incident/call to action… Sometimes the hero refuses the call flat out.
  3. When “All is Lost” — usually late in Act II… the hero gets the crap beaten out of them (either physically or mentally or both), and has a moment of crisis. The protagonist takes a moment to wallow in self doubt, after having just endured some form of tragedy or failure.

This one’s especially irksome. The point being made may not be earth-shattering — it’s more like one of those, “Hey yeah, you’re right!” kinda deals — but as far as I know, I was the first one to make the point. Is it too much to ask for a shout out? There are other authors cited in the post, just not me.

I’m happy that Jack Brislee is writing posts that show how some screenwriting rules can be broken.

But plagiarism should not be one of those rules.


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Category: Plagiarism, Rants  | 5 Comments