“You do things sometimes as a writer subconsciously, things you’re not even aware of. I’m always comfortable doing things instinctively because I see it as tapping into this vein of archetype that works for a broader audience base.”
Writer/director of Titanic and Avatar
“I think it’s fine for young (filmmakers) to out and out rip off people who come before them because you always make it your own.”
Francis Ford Coppola
World News interview
Yesterday we looked at several films that share some of the same DNA. I mentioned several words and phrases used to explain why some movies resemble other movies. Blake Snyder in Save the Cat added one more phrase—”Hollywood’s Dirty Little Secret.”
“Look at Point Break starring Patrick Swazye, then look at Fast and Furious. Yes, it’s the same movie almost beat for beat. But one is about surfing, the other is about hot cars. Is that stealing? Is that cheating? Now look at The Matrix and compare and contrast it with the Disney/Pixar hit Monsters, Inc. Yup. Same movie. And there’s a million more examples. Who Saved Roger Rabbit? is Chinatown…In some instances, the stealing is conscious. In other, it’s just coincidence.”
Save the Cat
So let’s have some screenwriters weigh in on the topic.
“I wrote the screenplay (for The Magnificent Seven), Johnny Struges, the director, asked me to make a screenplay out of Kuroisawa’s (Seven Samari), setting it in the West.”
Walter Brown Newman
“(The movie Red River) was Mutiny on the Bounty. I had always thought what a great Western.”
Red River screenwriter Borden Chase as told to William Bowers
Okay, but do screenwriters have to be at retirement age to admit to taking from other films? Well, writer/director James Cameron prefers to use the words “reference point” when talking about films that he watched before he made Avatar. Here’s an Q&A interview that he did with the Los Angeles Times that addresses if Avatar is Dances with Wolves in space.
Geoff Boucher: There’s also maybe some heritage linking (“Avatar”) to “Dances with Wolves,” considering your story here of a battered military man who finds something pure in an endangered tribal culture.
James Cameron: Yes, exactly, it is very much like that. You see the same theme in “At Play in the Fields of the Lord” and also “The Emerald Forest,” which maybe thematically isn’t that connected but it did have that clash of civilizations or of cultures. That was another reference point for me. There was some beautiful stuff in that film. I just gathered all this stuff in and then you look at it through the lens of science fiction and it comes out looking very different but is still recognizable in a universal story way. It’s almost comfortable for the audience – “I know what kind of tale this is.”
Dances with Wolves was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and Avatar was nominated for 9. Combined they both they won ten Oscars. And while only Dances with Wolves won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Screenplay based on Material from Another Medium (Michael Blake), Avatar became the all-time box office champ making $2.7 billion worldwide.
As a sidenote Avatar’s production designer saw shades of The Wizard of Oz in the script. (The Wizard of Oz just happens to be one of Cameron’s favorite films.)
Scott W. Smith