October 24, 2014

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Shia LaBeouf Apologizes On Twitter For Plagiarism In Short Film 'HowardCantour.com'

Shia LaBeouf Apologizes On Twitter For Plagiarism In Short Film 'HowardCantour.com'


Shia LaBeouf apologized on Twitter Monday night after allegations spread that he plagiarized a fair amount of his short HowardCantour.com, taking story and, in some cases, direct quotes from the comic Justin M. Damiano (2007) by Daniel Clowes.

'HowardCantour.com' Closely Resembles 'Justin M. Damiano'

HowardCantour.com, the short supposedly written and directed by LaBeouf premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012, but accusations of plagiarism only began to gain steam after the short premiered online Dec. 16 on the site Short Of The Week. The short has since been password protected, but you can still watch the entire short here.

HowardCantour.com Trailer (Film by Shia LaBeouf) from Short of the Week on Vimeo.

Evidence Of Alleged Plagiarism

“We were led to believe by Shia and the filmmaking team that the story was original. Until Daniel Clowes grants permission for the adaptation of his work and is properly credited, we don’t feel comfortable showing the film publicly,” Short Of The Week writes, explaining its decision to make the video password protected.

Both HowardCantour.com and the comic Justin M. Domiano present musings on the existence of the film critic. The first page and of the comic and the first scene of the film are nearly identical, with shots representing the frame and perspective of the illustrations in the comics, and dialogue directly lifted from the comic material.

“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,” reads the first panel of Justin M. Domiano.

The main character in HowardCantour.com, played by Jim Gaffigan, opens the film with the exact same monologue, delivered in voice over. The rest of the film follows the plot and visuals of the comic, ending exactly the same way. A few words are interchanged here and there, but evident form the very beginning is that the two works are incredibly similar. If nothing else, there is no down that HowardCantour.com is an adaptation of Justin M. Domiano. The problem lies in the fact that LaBeouf did not credit Clowes for his work, nor did he ask permission to adapt Clowes’ original comic. The film does not include credits for writing or directing, but it does say ‘A film by Shia LaBeouf.’ For all intents and purposes, LaBeouf passed off the writing and work as his own original short film.

“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 need to understand them. 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 told Short of the Week.

Shia LaBeouf Apology

After the allegations of plagiarism spread around the Internet, LaBeouf apologized to the public and to Clowes on his official Twitter account, though the first Tweet in his apology has already been discounted as, again, a plagiarized work. BuzzFeed points out that the tweet, seen below, very closely responds this post on a Yahoo Answers thread:

“Merely copying isn’t particularly creative work, though it’s useful in training and practice. Being inspired by someone else’s idea to produce something new and different IS creative work, and it may even revolutionalize the ‘stolen’ concept,” user Lili wrote in response to the question about Picasso’s philosophy on artists stealing from each other.

Here is LaBeouf’s first apology Tweet for comparison:

LaBeouf’s following apology appears to be original:

“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 [Daniel Clowes] 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,” LaBeouf tweeted.

Clowes has not responded to LaBeouf’s tweets and it is unclear whether LaBeouf has reached out to Clowes over more private channels. However, Clowes did speak to BuzzFeed about the short film, saying he was shocked by LaBeouf’s actions.

“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. 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,” Clowes told BuzzFeed Monday.

Editor and associate publisher at Fantagraphics, the company that publishes Clowes’ work, Eric Reynolds told BuzzFeed that Clowes is looking into legal action. Reynolds says he was less than impressed with LaBeouf’s Twitter apology.

“His apology is a non-apology, absolving himself of the fact that he actively misled, at best, and lied, at worst, about the genesis of the film. No one ‘assumes’ authorship for no reason. He implied authorship in the film credits itself, and has gone even further in interviews. He clearly doesn’t get it, and that’s disturbing. I’m not sure if it’s more disturbing that he plagiarized, or that he could rationalize it enough to think it was OK and that he might actually get away with it. Fame clearly breeds a false sense of security,” Reynolds wrote in an e-mail to BuzzFeed on Tuesday.

LaBeouf appears in the film Charlie Countryman, currently in theaters, and stars in the upcoming Lars von Trier film Nymphomaniac. HowardCantour.com is LaBeouf’s fifth foray into directing, according to IMDB, and this scandal could very well make it his last.

Olivia Truffaut-Wong

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Read more: Shia LaBeouf, HowardCantour.com, Daniel Clowe, Justin M. Damiano, Jim Gaffigan


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