Shia LaBeouf’s plagiarism scandal – and how history repeats itself

17 Dec

Yesterday, actor Shia LaBeouf admitted plagiarising a short comic strip by Daniel Clowes. “In my excitement and naiveté as an amateur filmmaker, I got lost in the creative process and neglected to follow proper accreditation,” he Tweeted after Buzzfeed broke the story that his short film HowardCantour.com bore uncanny similarities to Clowes’ Justin M. Damiano, including word-for-word dialogue.

“Im [sic] embarrassed that I failed to credit @danielclowes for his original graphic novella Justin M. Damiano, which served as my inspiration,” he continued, even though in past interviews he gave the distinct impression he had come up with the script himself. He closed with a simple, “I f***ed up.”

People are scratching their heads that he ever thought he could get away with it: Clowes is hardly unknown in Hollywood, having written Ghost World and Art School Confidential. But then again there was a much more extreme case, back in 1990, that I broke while at Time Out.

We’d received a tip-off from a comics fan (Alan Jones, I think) that the forthcoming Brit sci-fi flick Hardware (below left) bore a striking resemblance to a four-page strip in a 2000AD comic (below right). So I set up a classic journalistic sting.

I dug out a copy of the comic from my boxes (finally, a purpose for my hoarding!), and wrote out a synopsis of the strip, which was about a killer robot accidentally activated inside a home. I told our Sidelines editor, Alix Sharkey, to call the producer of Hardware and say that we were planning a story on the film, but wanted to make sure we had the story down correctly.

He then read out my synopsis of the comic strip. Throughout, the producer went uh-huh, yep, that’s the plot of our film all right, until the end when he said there were a few extra minutes Alix had missed out. Only then did Alix tell him he’d just agreed that Hardware was exactly the same plot as a comic strip. A long, lo-o-o-o-ong pause ensued. Then: “Can I get back to you on that?”

I later heard from the strip’s writer, Steve MacManus, that he and artist Kevin O’Neill were subsequently offered a cash settlement (way too low in my opinion given that Miramax were involved in the film, but Steve seemed delighted), plus a credit, which you’ll still see on IMDB. Writer/director Richard Stanley, a known comics fan, was even vaguer in his apologies than LaBeouf: “The story came to me in a dream,” he insisted, and even in a recent 2009 interview he downplayed the connection.

But we know better, Richard… and so, bizarrely, should La Beouf, who is one of Hollywood’s biggest actors – even if not, apparently, one of its biggest thinkers.

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One Response to “Shia LaBeouf’s plagiarism scandal – and how history repeats itself”

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  1. Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD, at the BFI tonight | London, Hollywood - October 28, 2014

    […] I put two and two together in Time Out magazine and the producers had to settle out of court, full story here). RoboCop was a rip-off of Judge Dredd – the early version of his helmet, shown in the […]

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