Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Just because you're paranoid, don't mean they aint after you...

Plagiarism: Its the scurge of the creative realm, according to some paranoid folk.

But are they paranoid?

Lucy V Hay believes that no one is stealing your idea . So in a bid to prove her wrong, I'm stealing her idea for a blog post about this very subject - see, plagiarism in action!

Alright, alright... Generally, on the whole, 99.999999999% of ideas are NOT ripped off. Just because you came up with this great idea, it doesn't mean somebody else isn't thinking exactly the same thought right at this very minute.

Many a time have I experienced that pang of 'THAT'S MY RUDDY IDEA!!!!!! THIEF!' whilst watching movies. So far, I can lay claim to being the original creator of such concepts as 'The Usual Suspects',  'In Time' and parts of 'Natural Born Killers'. I can lay claim, but I would be wrong-diddly-wrong. I hit on an idea - so did somebody else.

Avatar: Not Dances With Wolves.
Dances With Wolves: Not Avatar. 

I recently entered the LSF's "Four Nights In August" competition. Whilst my script was heavily critical and political, the ultimate execution of the story (at least, the ending) was apparently similar to a few other submissions. Whilst I did feel a pang of 'I'm utterly unoriginal!', I actually read a couple of the entries with similar endings. Yes, we had a similar 'twist', but the scripts themselves were completely different in tone, style, voice, and commentary.

So how do we stop ourselves from being 'ripped off'? Do we just write for ourselves and refrain from showing the fruits of our labour? Of course not. A wise person once said to me (whilst stealing a quote from Freddie Mercury, I believe), 'Its no good being the greatest piano player if nobody hears you play.'

I do believe that producers, script readers and such like may read a script which subconsciously remains in their memory, only to be 'discovered' at a later point and turned into their own creation. But its in the execution where it really counts. There are plenty of films out there with GREAT ideas, but translated incredibly poorly or in an unsatisfying style.

In fact, if your idea is similar to another film, but the content is completely different, then why not tweak it and use it? I would never suggest serving up re-heated seconds, but there are some strong ideas which will run and run. It all rides on how YOU choose to expand on the idea. If its good enough, it will find its audience. Or simply say 'Fair enough, time to move on'. Use these moments of frustration to drive your desire for originality and creativity!

So send out your scripts, keep a paper trail of your ideas and various drafts, but STOP BEING PARANOID. Got it? Good.

I'll end with a story (true) about my experience with plagiarism. In 1996, I was chummy with a small-time producers who, in turn, was friends with a couple of small-to-medium sized producers. I was invited to pitch some ideas to my producer friend, and I reeled off all I could in a desperate bid to gain employment. He loved all my ideas, and was going to chat about them to his producers friends.

Weeks past, and I received a call to come in and chat. The meeting was the complete opposite of our first upbeat, friendly, excitable meeting. I sat there whilst my producer 'friend' fed-back his friends comments about my ideas. 'Rubbish'. 'Unoriginal' (see?). 'Nobody will EVER make a tv series about zombies! (HA!).

Wondering what just happened, I went home with my tail between my legs.

About a year or so later, I met up with my producer 'friend' again, as I needed to borrow a Mini DV camera for a friend. We chatted about what projects we were involved with, and I asked him about his producer friends. He said they had just made a tv pilot, and then went on to describe the idea in full, which sounded incredibly similar to an idea I had pitched him a year ago.

Even then, I was willing to accept that it could have been a coincidence. So I said to my 'friend' "That sounds very similar to an idea I pitched you a year ago..." I wasn't accusing or criticising him or his friends; simply remarking...

But my 'friend' responded in such a way that I KNEW he had stolen my idea -

"If you even THINK about suing us I will ruin your career before its even begun! Got it?"

And he was being deadly serious. And he used more F-words and a threatening tone of voice that befits a sentence such as that. BUT: The pilot didn't sell. However they chose to adapt the concept didn't work.

So there ya go: Plagiarism doesn't exist. The moral of this story is - Choose your friends wisely, stay away from coke-heads and be certain of whom you are (possibly) working with.

Lets close with two hilarious tales about plagiarism accusations gone made. Ta-Ta!

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