The Best Artists Steal

One of the topics that often gets hotly debated in both the filmmaking and photography industries is “stealing.” That is, stealing ideas. One photographer doesn’t want another photographer to “steal” his/her poses or post-processing style. Filmmakers who all seem to copy similar shots, color grading, or storylines. We can tend to become very protective of our craft.

But, as the old saying goes, “Good artists borrow. Great artists steal.” Even the paragons of success in the filmmaking industry have proven this point:

Quentin Tarantino is notoriously famous for rehashing, remixing and mashing up old Asian and western pulp fare. Go to about the 7:02 mark in Kirby Ferguson’s “Everything is a Remix – Part 2”

I also found this interesting documentary short which shows that Tarantino’s inaugural hit, “Reservoir Dogs” is basically a remake of filmmaker Ringo Lam’s “City on Fire.” (Warning:Adult language).

Look at this side by side comparison of the opening to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with other old black and white films.

Even the re-envisions Star Trek has amazing similarities to another well knowns space fantasy film

But we all know that even Star Wars is just a re-hashing of dozens of old westerns, war, sci-fi and Kurosawa films that came before it.

Of course there are many more examples. The act of “copying” dates all the way back to when ancient Roman sculptors copied the Greek sculptors that came before them. But I’m not trying to make the argument that Kirby already made so well in his excellent “Everything is a Remix” series. What I’m asking is this: since there obviously has been artistic copy-catting going on, probably since the days of the cave man, why do we get so up in arms when it happens to us? Isn’t that just part of the business? Par for the course? Not offering a solution here, nor am I saying is encourage or approve blatant artistic copying. I’m just putting the question out to the universe.

What say you?

One thought on “The Best Artists Steal

  1. We’re all building on each other. If it’s outright plagiarism that’s one thing – otherwise we all get ideas from observing what others are doing or have done.

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