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I love music, books, movies, blah, blah, blah! I love people, learning new things, and always progressing to be a better person.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A fine line between parody and plagiarism

"Almost everything I've done, I've done through my own creativity."
 - Quote by Buddy Rich

Something has been bothering me lately like 
an itch at the back of my brain that has slowly but surely come screaming to the surface.

I have been in film school for three years now, and with my new collected knowledge and experience I can honestly say that it is very, VERY hard to create something original.

There is a theory in literature and media that there are only seven plots total in storytelling.

They are
[wo]man vs. nature
[wo]man vs. man
[wo]man vs. the environment
[wo]man vs. machines/technology
[wo]man vs. the supernatural
[wo]man vs. self
[wo]man vs. god/religion

So, it's not hard to see why bringing an original idea to the screen can be one of the most intellectually and creatively taxing experiences to be a part of. But, just because there are only seven plots that doesn't mean you can't create an original and compelling way to tell them. 

With that said, here's what has been bothering me.


Kid History is a very popular series of YouTube shorts "created" (and I use that term lightly) by two brothers from Utah. The entire concept behind Kid History is the two brothers interview their younger nieces and nephews about family stories and then recreate those stories for YouTube. They take the audio of the children’s interviews and overlay it upon scenes they act out with adult actors pantomiming and mouthing the children's crazy storytelling.

Wow! What a crazy, original idea right? 
That's what I said...two years earlier when I saw Derek Water's Drunk History at the Sundance Film Festival and on Funny or Die.

Drunk History is an award-winning series of short films created by Derek Waters and starring such talents as Jack Black, Don Cheadle, Will Ferrell, and many more

In Drunk History, writers, comedians, and history buffs get fall-down drunk and then are interviewed about historical events. They then recreate those stories by taking the audio of the drunk person's interview and overlaying it upon scenes they act out with well-known actors pantomiming and mouthing the drunk's nonsensical storytelling.

So, the makers of Kid History have taken (and this is by their own admission) the entire concept, production, and execution from Drunk History and made a slight change to the interviewee.

Now I understand the concept of parody and that, to some, imitation is the highest form of flattery. But it fails to be a parody when the original concept is itself a parody and when imitation is a frame-by-frame rehash of another persons idea. If that is what you've done then what you are is nothing more than a hack.

Here, I'll let you be the judge. 

(Note: Pay close attention to the concept, the beginning and end credits, and how the overall pieces of both films are cut together)

Kid History (Also note that the creator's YouTube username is stolen from Pinky and The Brain...have you no shame?):

Drunk History:

What bothers me the most is that the creators of Kid History are now selling DVDs on Bored Shorts TV, collecting advertising money on YouTube, and are selling out local theaters on a stolen concept. They even have people lauding them with festival awards and using terms such as "creative" and "visionary" when they stole the idea from an already award-winning concept

So I ask you: If they are so "creative" then what have they really created? 

To summarize their interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, the "creators" of Kid History said that they wanted to enter a local film festival, so they went online for an idea of what to shoot and found Drunk History (HOLY SH*T! THEY ADMIT TO STEALING THE CONCEPT).
They made Kid History using the template set forth by Derek Waters and have won several local festivals all while riding the coat tails of another person's hard work and creative concept. 

To me this does not deserve praise, awards, and certainly not money for something they have creatively plagiarized. The fact that people are buying into this is astounding to me not only as a member of a similar creative field but also as an observer.

And the creative hijacking doesn't stop at Kid History. It continues with the BYU film department.  

I'm sure you've all seen this commercial.

Old Spice Commercial:

It's fantastic! It's funny, eye catching, and best of all very hard to do! It's won several awards and has completely changed the face of commercials for the past year.

Now watch this...

BYU Library Ad:

Notice anything similar? While this can technically be classified as parody, I just don't see it that way. Because, yet again, a parody of a comedy is ridiculous, pointless, and a scapegoat for not having any true creativity.

I'm not saying BYU film didn't do a good job making this video, because they did a great job. But how hollow of a victory is it to find success through another person's original idea?

They didn't come up with the idea or the concept. They saw an already award-winning advertisement and said, "That was awesome! We should do that."

Sure, they have succeeded in carbon-copying a great idea. But in my book that doesn't deserve respect or admiration. If they spent just a little more time coming up with an original idea the experience would have been more rewarding. They would've not only be challenging themselves creatively but they would still have their integrity as well.

Let me be clear. By bringing up this topic I am in no way saying that I am the most original when it comes to creativity nor have I shattered any genres in my field. But, at least I am trying my hardest to do something different. I strive to be different in my writing and film making in hopes of finally breaking that barrier between creative inspiration and true art. Have I done that yet? Of course not. But at least I am not six steps behind by making cookie cutter versions of other people's genius.

But if that is what the public wants, who am I to resist?

"Almost everything I've done, I've done through my own creativity."
 - Quote by Buddy Rich - Neil Hiatt

Now all I have to do is sit back and wait for the praise to roll in.


Bradimus Prime said...

I know I would be devastated if someone stole my Idea for the next great American novel. Mines about a futuristic theme park were dinosaurs have been brought back to life through advanced cloning techniques, I'm thinking of calling it "Billy and the Clonasaurous".

Neil Hiatt said...

"Oh, You have got to be kidding sir. First, you think of an idea that has already been done and then you give it a title that no one could possibly like."


"It was on the best sellers list for eighteen months! Every magazine cover had it."


"...Popular movies of all time sir. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? I mean...Thank you, come again."

Josh Keele said...

I can see your point. It is sad that originality, new concepts, and new ideas are super hard to come by theses days. Any movie, book, or commercial that comes out, are stolen ideas from stolen ideas. Granted they're new ideas that come into life. But it is hard, that is why it is easier to take an idea that is good and try and make it your own. Like "Kid History" which came from "Drunken History". They just changed it to kids(which I think More people like kids then drunken people)Thus, them selling it. I think I'm going to take it and interview white-trash, hick people. It will be an instant hit. Just like the original Macs did the same thing, taking what xerox did and making it more user friendly. This world just steals ideas from each others, games do it constantly. Basically if you have a good idea, it will be taking and made a little different, may be better or worst. Look at our "Breakfast short", then we see Julian Smith doing "Malk". Maybe he thought of it himself but maybe not. I know you are creative and will come up with an award winning idea and you'll make Billions.

Anonymous said...

Random comment from 1.5 years later but you write very good. I enjoy reading your stuff.

I came across this blog by randomly clicking on facebook profiles. Didn't expect to find something this interesting by way of facebook stalking. Keep up the good work.

Neil Hiatt said...

Thank you