Inspiration is arguably the most important steps in the process of creation. In the dictionary, inspiration is defined as “a force or influence that inspires someone,” and it can come from literally anywhere. Anything can inspire you. Take one look at a graphic designer’s “inspiration” board on Pinterest and you’ll find an assortment of random oddities and quirky fonts, as well as work from thousands of their fellow designers’. Finding sparks of inspiration in this eclectic mix of various design works can be what makes the designer’s own work stand out as something special and meaningful. In this same way, filmmakers often find their inspiration in the works of their peers, and show traces of these influences throughout the rest of their careers.
So, is riding on the coattails of other people by using their styles and tricks ethically acceptable?
I would argue yes, absolutely.
And here is where we delve into the world of remixing. In the media circles of today, the term “remix” is tossed about pretty frequently, and literally means “to mix again.” An artist can take an idea, an abstract concept, or a piece of work and remix it with their own spin to get something completely unique. They can use the inspiration provided by their fellow artists to make something beautiful.
Filmmakers represent an interesting category in this land of remixing. Some directors have been accused of blatantly copying the styles and even the individual shots of some of the greatest filmmakers of the past. In the video below, there are examples of what appear to be shot-for-shot recreations of iconic scenes from classic films in the works of George Lucas, Quentin Tarantino, and countless others. Does this mean that these recent films should be disregarded due to their lack of originality? Au contraire.
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As the video states about six minutes in, “creation requires influence.” Without influence, where would you find inspiration to create something amazing? Over the years, filmmakers have experimented with various styles and tried new techniques, ultimately finding out what worked and what didn’t. Today’s filmmakers have an opportunity to learn from the successes and failures of the creators of old and use this information in their own ventures. We can use the tried and true shots laid out for us by the great filmmakers who came before us, and through this we can create so much more. Truly, it is more of an homage than an act of plagiarism.
There are certainly risks to this view of film adaptation, including the threat of copyright infringement as well as the chance that people will lose a desire to create work that is truly their own. My only advice to deter these problems would be this: don’t allow a wealth of inspirational material to make you lazy. Make an effort to make your work truly your own. There is a difference between paying tribute to the people who inspire you and just slapping your name on someone else’s creation. Learn that difference.
Allow me to leave you with a quote from director Jim Jarmusch:
Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ‘It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.’