In an attempt to hold a mirror up to his critics, Shia LaBeouf has earned a lot more of them -- and they’re not letting him off the hook.
When we last heard from the 27-year-old “Transformers” star, he was offering profuse Twitter apologies after being accused of plagiarizing much of his new critically acclaimed short film, “HowardCantour.com.” The 12-minute character study centers on an acerbic online movie critic who's going through an existential crisis of sorts. The movie earned critical praise at Cannes and Aspen Shortsfest before debuting Monday on the website Short of the Week.
The problem is, as BuzzFeed quickly pointed out, the story is startlingly similar to “Justin M. Damiano,” a comic novella written and illustrated by the indie cartoonist Daniel Clowes. The film isn't just similar to Clowes’ work but appears to have lifted entire passages of narration and dialogue. It even seems to borrow entire shots, using Clowes’ illustrated tale as a kind of unwitting storyboard. The only thing LaBeouf appears to have duly changed are the names of the characters.
Following the rapid-fire spread of plagiarism accusations, LaBeouf posted a series of tweets, saying he was “embarrassed” and admitting that he “neglected to follow proper accreditation.” He also apologized to “all who assumed I wrote it” -- an understandable assumption to make, given that press materials touted it as "a film by Shia LaBeouf." (Still, at this time the writer's credit on IMDb is left blank, though it's unclear if that's in response to the plagiarism charges.) At 2:49 a.m. Tuesday morning, he ended with a final thought:
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I fucked up.
â€” Shia LaBeouf (@thecampaignbook) December 17, 2013
Twitter isn’t letting it drop that easily, however. Both the cartooning and entertainment worlds have come back with harsh condemnation of LaBeouf. In classic Twitter fashion, many are making light of the incident, using the hashtag #shialabeouffilms to tweet out snarky suggestions for LaBeouf’s next project:
"Precious" Based on the Novel 'Push' by Shia LaBeouf #shialabeouffilms
â€” Clay Harrison (@Clay_Harrison) December 17, 2013
But to others the controversy is no joke. Among LaBeouf’s toughest critics were showbiz-industry types like Wil Wheaton of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fame, who tweeted numerous unsympathetic responses to LaBeouf’s apologies.
You really, really did. And you should be ashamed of yourself. RT @thecampaignbook: I fucked up.
â€” Wil Wheaton (@wilw) December 17, 2013
“The King of Queens” actor Patton Oswalt was similarly harsh.
â€” Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) December 17, 2013
Perhaps understandably, the loudest condemnations are coming from cartoonists.
Just apologize without making your bullshit someone else's problem, and their forgiveness/approval of you their obligation
â€” Christmas Neve (@cartoonfuntime) December 17, 2013
Anything that isn't "I thought I could pull it off cuz c'mon, who reads this stuff REALLY?" is spin. The end.
â€” Spike (@Iron_Spike) December 17, 2013
"Sure, I copied Clowes' work verbatim, but how come some people get away with just filming whatever stuff they think up? Double standard."
â€” Tom McHamry (@tommchenry) December 17, 2013
While not a household name, Clowes is enormously popular among fans of underground comics. His 1997 graphic novel “Ghost World” was adapted into a 2001 film directed by Terry Zwigoff. He described “Justin M. Damiano” as a deeply personal work and said in an interview with BuzzFeed that he's “shocked” LaBeouf lifted it.
LaBeouf’s film has since been password protected on Short of the Week, with the website issuing a statement saying it was “led to believe by Shia and the filmmaking team that the story was original.”
It’s unclear if Clowes will pursue legal recourse. Fantagraphics Books, which published the story, told International Business Times that the story belongs to Clowes alone. Eric Reynolds, associate publisher at the company, said in an email that Clowes is “exploring his options.”
Asked if he wanted to comment further on the accused plagiarism, Reynolds said simply that it’s a clear-cut case. “‘Accused plagiarism’ implies there may be some doubt,” he said. “There is no doubt. The script was lifted verbatim from the Clowes comic and he did not credit the source nor obtain any rights to adapt the work. This is the very definition of plagiarism.”
At this point, there doesn’t appear to be indication that anyone other than LaBeouf knew that the story had been lifted. Jim Gaffigan, who stars in the film, had been promoting it on Twitter before going silent sometime on Monday. A representative for the actor didn't respond to a request for comment.
In the meantime, LaBeouf is nothing if not consistent. A portion of his apology appears to have been lifted verbatim from a four-year-old comment by “Lili” on Yahoo Answers. It’s unclear if Lili will pursue legal action.