Actor Shia LaBeouf made it rather clear that he didn’t want his career defined by his lead role as Sam Witwicky in Michael Bay’s first three blockbuster Transformers movies when he decided to leave the franchise and pursue smaller, more personal projects. It’s a safe bet he doesn’t want his career defined by what has transpired this week, either.
It all began last year when LaBeouf, a self-proclaimed amateur filmmaker, premiered his short film HowardCantour.com at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. That short debuted online Monday and some viewers quickly noticed that it was shockingly similar to an uncredited comic book; he’s since been accused of plagiarism on two different accounts.
Justin M. Damiano is the name of a 2007 comic written and drawn by Daniel Clowes. It’s also the source material of Shia LaBeouf’s short film, although LaBeouf neglected to ever credit said source in the film, or while promoting it during or since its releases at both Cannes and online.
…Until today, that is. After he got called out for it.
HowardCantour.com tells the story of an online film critic named Howard (played by Jim Gaffigan) and is almost identical to the Justin M. Damiano comic, down to many of its visuals. LaBeouf not only never credited original author Clowes, but never even spoke to him about adapting the book. Clowes tells BuzzFeed:
“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.”
The film was quickly blocked from public consumption last night (initially with password protection, and now it’s gone entirely) and Shia LaBeouf took to Twitter to being explaining and apologizing, with these six tweets:
Copying isn't particularly creative work. Being inspired by someone else's idea to produce something new and different IS creative work.— Shia LaBeouf (@thecampaignbook) December 17, 2013
In my excitement and naiveté as an amateur filmmaker, I got lost in the creative process and neglected to follow proper accreditation— Shia LaBeouf (@thecampaignbook) December 17, 2013
Im embarrassed that I failed to credit @danielclowes for his original graphic novella Justin M. Damiano, which served as my inspiration— Shia LaBeouf (@thecampaignbook) December 17, 2013
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.— Shia LaBeouf (@thecampaignbook) December 17, 2013
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— Shia LaBeouf (@thecampaignbook) December 17, 2013
I fucked up.— Shia LaBeouf (@thecampaignbook) December 17, 2013
LaBeouf admits to being inspired by Daniel Clowes’ comic and to failing to credit him appropriately. It’s especially odd considering LaBeouf’s years in the industry and coming off working in a massive film trilogy based on a licensed product. We should note that HowardCantour.com isn’t the first project LaBeouf directed, wrote or produced. This is where we get to part two of the alleged plagiarism surrounding this project.
LaBeouf was previously accused of plagiarism back in February when allegedly copying paragraphs from an Esquire article from 2009 written by Tom Chiarella in letters he wrote to the cast of the broadway show Orphans, when he dropped out of the production. At the time, it was widely-publicized that LaBeouf had a falling out of sorts with castmate Alec Baldwin and shared some of his emails to Baldwin and the cast via Twitter for followers to see, emails that included paragraphs straight from that Esquire piece about what it means to be a man.
A similar thing happened with LaBeouf’s tweets last night as the first one – as several Twitter folk picked up on – seems to have been lifted from a Yahoo! Answers response from 2009 by a user named “Lili” about the idea of copying and stealing art. Note the identical phrasing and capitalization between the two.
Merely copying isn’t particularly creative work, though it’s useful as training and practice. Being inspired by someone else’s idea to produce something new and different IS creative work…
Copying isn’t particularly creative work. Being inspired by someone else’s idea to produce something new and different IS creative work.
The differences come from the 140-character limit on Twitter but the words and repeated situations the star finds himself in speak for themselves, and understandably, there’s quite the outrage and buzz online about the entire situation. Actor and comedian Patton Oswalt took a particular interest in the matter and has been rather outspoken with his Twitter responses on the matter.
This is going to be a tough topic to dance around while promoting his upcoming projects Nymphomaniac and Fury, and one where studio publicists (and his own) will have to step carefully. Unfortunately, plagiarism isn’t new or uncommon.
Even on Screen Rant we found ourselves dealing with a plagiarism issue recently – albeit a hilarious one – when another site copy-and-pasted one of our entire articles about Full House returning to television. Thing is, that was one of our April Fools joke posts and linked several times to imaginary sources with images revealing the prank. It didn’t stop outlets including Yahoo TV and Perez Hilton from picking up the fake news as real and not checking the original source (us). Read all about it here. That was funny. This Shia LaBeouf situation isn’t.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.