As you may have heard, Shia LeBoeuf really screwed the copycat pooch yesterday. Instants after he released his new short film about online film critics — I’m not linking for reasons about to become obvious — the Internet began pointing out that it appeared to be plagiarized. The victim in this instance is the graphic novelist Daniel Clowes — you’re most likely to have heard of his Ghost World — who wrote a graphic novella in 2007 that, in most material respects including the wording of the dialogue, is identical to LaBeouf’s film. And yet nowhere on the short film is there a hint that Clowes was the blueprint, much less even the “inspiration,” for LaBeouf’s work.
LaBeouf took to Twitter last night to issue the following “apology” over several tweets:
Copying isn’t particularly creative work. Being inspired by someone else’s idea to produce something new and different IS creative work. In my excitement and naiveté as an amateur filmmaker, I got lost in the creative process and neglected to follow proper accreditation. I’m embarrassed that I failed to credit @danielclowes for his original graphic novella Justin M. Damiano, which served as my inspiration. I was truly moved by his piece of work & I knew that it would make a poignant & relevant short. I apologize to all who assumed I wrote it. I deeply regret the manner in which these events have unfolded and want @danielclowes to know that I have a great respect for his work. I fucked up.
Those first two sentences are awfully unfortunate, particularly because LaBoeuf’s short film does not so much constitute something “new” and “different.” And by the way, because this could get really litigious really fast: by any stretch of a judge’s imagination, adapting a book for the screen is not transformative work. That’s why the whole concept of “film rights” exist, because we know that making a book into a film is a process close enough to copying that the author of the original work should benefit.
Look: we’re all aware that stardom brings with it a certain amount of spoiled, egomaniacal behavior. Some people express this, in Naomi Campbell’s and Russell Crowe’s cases, by throwing cellphones at subordinates. In Justin Bieber’s recent example, it manifests in spraying racist graffiti for no apparent reason whatever. But I have to say that I am, on some level, impressed by the seriousness which LaBeouf brings to his completely clueless work here. It truly takes what the men like to call balls to consciously copy the work of a well-respected graphic artist and pass it off as your own. You have to actively work, I think, to be this cluelessly self-indulgent. I believe totally, after all, that this young man made this film, sent it off to the festivals where it’s allegedly been playing, and thought to himself, “My, what a good day’s work I’ve done.” And all around him his team of handlers nodded sagely and said, “You’re a genius, Shia. Now, on to that original idea you had that you’re calling War and Peace. We think that would make a great novel, too.”