At least, once in your life, you have watched a film and uttered these words somehow: “This film is very much like another film I watched before.”
There are times that the similarities are done creatively that you yield to it. There are times that they are bluntly done that you get really agitated. There are times that you just accept the idea that there is no original story nowadays and you consider the similarities to be purely coincidental.
On the side of the filmmakers, in times that they have stories going a similar route as another film: they may be paying homage to a film or a filmmaker they look up to; it may be a total rip-off; or it may be purely coincidental.
Films touch lives and values of their viewers. And some filmmakers pay honor and respect to their fellow artists by coming up with films based on literary sources, a true-to-life story or event, or another film that marked great inspiration for them.
Homage means paying honor and respect to a work that the filmmaker looks up to. Inspired by the filmmaker and/or the film itself or its theme and elements, the one paying homage recreates a past creation in a way that the new work can be utilized into a significant art form in itself.
Doing a rip-off is nothing less than stealing. It is deliberately taking the concept, story, style, or treatment of another film and then claiming it as an original work. How much self-worth can a filmmaker have in passing another one’s work as his/her own?
More often than not, these plagiarizers get away with it when they rip-off films from foreign countries as there are less possibilities of them getting discovered (or getting discovered right away).
Sometimes, there are people who find great concepts from their brain boxes and get surprised that another film has already been done in the same fashion. It’s not impossible to think alike with another person a city or a continent away. And at times that such thing happens, it’s a matter of having a clean conscience and keeping up with both the passion and discipline of filmmaking as a profession.
I remember how my first film has turned out to be having elements similar with the Japanese horror film The Ring. It’s entirely a different story being a melodrama with touches of magic realism and some dark elements; and yet, it has been surprising that the idea of the “Sadako hair” gets into a similar route. In the said short film, my 35mm thesis film at the University of the Philippines Film Institute (I defended the story to the panel way back 2001, started shooting the film by 2002, and finished it by 2003), the theme about coming of age and overprotection come into play. And my concept involves an adolescent’s long hair being a metaphor for imprisonment. The main character lives within the conventions of a traditional home – a grand but constricting mansion – where she should keep up with the “Maria Clara” image of a young woman bound to maintain a long, beautiful hair. Utilizing devices in magic realism, I made the girl’s hair into bars of cage on her face to exemplify her imprisonment; thus, having the title Karsel (“prison” in Spanish). Around the same time frame, The Ring (with that “Sadako hair”) has come out. And it was quite a shock then knowing that it makes a certain effect to such a student short film sharing particularly similar visuals to a recent worldwide hit.
Now, going back to the issues of paying homage, doing a rip-off, or having purely coincidental moments of thinking alike with another person, given such circumstances, I believe that it’s just a matter of keeping up with the respect for oneself, for others, for the craft, and for the profession. And it could just go four general routes: the similarity becomes an inspiration, a compliment, an insult, or a guilty ride.