"Transformers" star Shia LaBeouf has attempted to step out from under Optimus Prime's shadow in recent years, what with his brief stint as an independent comic book creator as well as his efforts as a director. LaBeouf's latest project, a short film titled "HowardCantour.com," keys in on both of those interests — but it brings up some serious ethical questions about LaBeouf as well.
In "HowardCantour.com," LaBeouf tells the story of film critic Howard Cantour, played by comedian and actor Jim Gaffigan. With the exception of some name changes, the film takes direct story and dialogue cues from a comic called "Justin M. Damiano," written and illustrated by Daniel Clowes. For example, both LaBeouf's film and Clowes' comic begin with the same narration: "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."
Despite the striking resemblance, LaBeouf's film doesn't credit Clowes and "Justin M. Damiano." Indeed, until this week, Clowes was completely unaware of "HowardCantour.com," which first debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012.
"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," Clowes tells BuzzFeed. "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."
Following Clowes' comments, word traveled fast about the connection between "HowardCantour.com" and "Justin M. Damiano," with outlets like The Hollywood Reporter and USA Today picking up on the news. Additionally, the "HowardCantour.com" video became password protected shortly after Clowes issued his statement.
For his part, LaBeouf apologized for the similarities between "HowardCantour.Com" and "Justin M. Damiano," but stopped short of admitting to plagiarism.
"Copying isn't particularly creative work. Being inspired by someone else's idea to produce something new and different IS creative work," he wrote on Twitter. "In my excitement and naivete as an amateur filmmaker, I got lost in the creative process and neglected to follow proper accreditation."
He continued with the following tweets:
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
In a further twist, Bleeding Cool points out that even LaBeouf's apology is eerily similar to a Yahoo Answers user's explanation of artist Pablo Picasso's saying: "Good artists copy, great artists steal."
"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," wrote Yahoo Answers user Lily in a post written four years ago.
An hour after his initial apology, LaBeouf issued a shorter tweet on the subject: "I f---ed up."