September 19, 2015

Guess What. You're Unoriginal! So Start Creating Art with This in Mind

Okay, don't hit me! You may very well be original. Okay, no you're not -- but no one is. Feel better? Didn't think so.

But maybe being original or creative doesn't mean what you think it means. To celebrate 5 years of prosperity, resulting in over 2 million views on Vimeo, NYC-based filmmaker Kirby Ferguson's super popular video series "Everything is a Remix" is now available as one single piece, polished, reedited, and remastered, to "change the way you think about creativity, originality, and copyright."

Check it out below:

Copy | Transform | Combine

Some people might see these as the basic tenets of biters and rip-off artists, but they're actually the "basic elements of creativity". "How can copying something, transforming it, and combining the elements be considered creative -- or maybe not creative, but original? Well, that's the main point that Ferguson is trying to get across is -- essentially the title of his series: everything -- everything is a remix.

Trying to be original is basically futile, not because people today aren't creative enough to be, but because everybody is influenced and inspired by everything. Sure, when I first watched Kill Bill I was like, "I've never seen anything like this ever before," and I was absolutely right -- but only because I hadn't seen The Searchers, Game of Death, or Lady Snowblood before. Does that make Kill Bill uncreative or unoriginal? Well, that's up to you to decide for yourself, but Ferguson would say that some of the greatest innovations and creations came from essentially copying (and then transforming and combining) other people's work.

I know that, as an artist, I get inspired by everything I see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. (Right after I watched Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles I immediately wanted to make a film exactly like it.) However, I know that, as an artist, I desperately want to be original. How do I do that when I get inspired by things that already exist? How do any of us do that?

The trick might be to redefine or, at the very least, understand, what it means to be original and creative.

As you embark on your next creative cinematic journey, perhaps you should keep these questions in the back of your mind: What would your art look like if you boldly and enthusiastically copied someone else's work, then transformed and combined it? How would it change? How would you change as an artist?      

Your Comment

18 Comments

"There is nothing new under the sun". True, but we all learn from one another. Great post, thanks V.

September 19, 2015 at 8:06PM, Edited September 19, 8:06PM

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“It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to." -- Jean-Luc Godard

September 20, 2015 at 3:58AM

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V Renée
Managing Editor
Writer/Director

I'm calling bollocks on this. Just because be are bombarded with copies of copies of copies, doesn't mean everything original has been done.

Largely we have network executives to blame for being afraid to take chances, they go with the option thats more likely to keep their jobs.

The best way to be original is to not look at anyone else's work. Ever.

September 20, 2015 at 8:19AM

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I agree with much of what you say but I think that you can learn from other peoples work with being derivative.

September 21, 2015 at 10:44AM, Edited September 21, 10:44AM

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Julian Richards
Film Warlord
1377

I agree we can all learn from others but how to we learn from others without absorbing and being steered by what we see.

I'm working on a documentary at the moment and I'm avoiding watching any docos while I am because that will affect it. Likely watching others will make it better. But I want it to come out as its own thing, good or bad.

It forces you to think of answers to things, approaches, yourself rather that remember something you saw and plug that in because you know it will work. To me thats how to find something new.

Those saying everything has been thought of is unbelievably narrow minded. Our society today is as different from 100 years ago to what it will be in another 100 years from now. Probably more so. We can't imagine whats to come from cultures that don't exist yet.

In 1898 the head of the U.S. Pattent Office tried to have his own department shut down because he declared "Everything had already been invented".....

September 22, 2015 at 12:54AM

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I think there is two very different concept. One is an original work and the other is "copying" or "getting inspired by". If you get inspired by something doesn't mean your work will not be original.

If you look at the image that shows his concept "the basic elements of creativity" you see clearly he is not saying you can't create anything new. But you do get your ideas from other things. if you lived your whole life in a black room you would most likely not be very creative because you'd have nothing to base your creation on, and no way of knowing what has already been done.

September 22, 2015 at 11:14AM

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I don't believe creativity, at least original creativity, needs something to be based on.

That black room would at least mean you went in a direction that was your own. Completely untainted and pure for the project you are working on.

I'm not suggesting your life needs to be sheltered but if its even for the duration of a new project its definitely interesting to put blinders on and see where it takes you.

September 24, 2015 at 4:44AM

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You yourself say are doing a documentary... what is that but not inspiration, or something else you're basing your creativity on?

September 26, 2015 at 8:19PM

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Great post!

September 20, 2015 at 12:27PM, Edited September 20, 12:27PM

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Timurbek Nishanov
Director / Editor
84

Reminds me of the post about Jim Jarmusch and his 10 rules for film making. "Originality is impossible but authenticity is invaluable."

September 20, 2015 at 4:23PM

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Paul B
374

I am amazed by what people term as new these days. Honestly if you built an app of a pre-existing software language no matter what it does it's "technically" not new (plus you had to learn it, you didn't invent the software). I think the terms innovation and invention need to be modified to suit this dilemma. Towards the end of the video we can imply that intellectual property if not properly managed will strangle creativity. It's amazing how ideas can be birthed at the same time through different people far apart and still start an intellectual property war.

September 21, 2015 at 6:38AM

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Olufemi Bamigbetan
Director of Photography, Web Enthusiast and Animation buff
166

That's like saying that because a sculptor used a chisel, their work isn't original. Software, like the chisel, is a tool, it's what you do with it that matters.

September 22, 2015 at 12:47PM

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Tom Montvila
TVProduction supervisor
241

You're right but I think the point on this is who should own the rights? If an artist thinks you using there music and building on it is illegal don't we start asking for so many complex issues with intellectual property. Most stories written are based on popular cult stories. Am just concerned we don't get to that point where people want money for everything just because they supplied "the tools"

September 22, 2015 at 2:44PM

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Olufemi Bamigbetan
Director of Photography, Web Enthusiast and Animation buff
166

The diagram reminds me of teacher training and the learning levels. SEAL; State, Explain, Analyse, Link. Levels 4-7, or GCSE grades D-A. The same material but processed differently.

September 21, 2015 at 10:47AM

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Julian Richards
Film Warlord
1377

like Dov SS simens once said: "nothing is written, its re-written" basically pretty much all movie stories have been done before, we are just re-mixing it up with different spices from different people.

October 14, 2015 at 2:37PM

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Manny
Dir
67

Some food for thought:

I've read that there are only a very few plot lines, which sometimes makes it very difficult to come up with an "original" story....the idea that everything has pretty much been done before.

Let me offer this: maybe your idea has some similar ideas to others...maybe you've drawn inspiration from other films or shows, but your idea isn't quite the same.

Perhaps, originality partially comes not from the Universal ideas that we all can relate to, but from the fashion it was told. You may write a film about someone rediscovering their passions, for example, which is not exactly an original idea, but the journey and the style of the story is what is original.

Does that make since?

November 1, 2015 at 1:48PM, Edited November 1, 1:48PM

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Rachel RC Scott
Writer/Director/Producer/Editor
234

Great article !!! I cited it (and - the diagram), here on my PhD blog on Movie Creativity: https://storyality.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/what-is-creativity-and-how-d...
See also my (free) PhD on creativity in movies (https://storyality.wordpress.com), a 25-year PhD study of: `What did the Top 20 RoI (return-on-investment) Movies do so right, to make them so creative? And - how can you do the same, as a movie creator (screenwriter, etc)...?' It's a game-changer.
Anyway - really great post! Thanks for it!!!
Sadly most people are unaware of the scientific study of creativity since the 1950s! (eg Sawyer 2012, etc). (Kanda hard to actually be creative, if you don't know what you're doing, LOL!)
Anyway - great post.
~JTV
https://storyality.wordpress.com/an-index-to-this-blog/

January 4, 2018 at 4:16PM

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Let's say today inspiration hit you as it never had before and you have just finished writing a poem you are proud of like nothing else you have ever written until now.

Let's say you are also a voracious reader, and your knowledge of literature in general and poetry in particular spans thousands of years, and that you haven't neglected to reread the important works as well as the obscure ones, encompassing dozens of different cultures. You are such a fanatic you've gone so far as to learn some French, Dutch, Russian, and Spanish so you can read your favorite authors in the language they wrote and thus enjoy every little nuance, so that rhymes and alliterations won't be lost to you in graceless translation...

Let's say that after reading the poem you've just penned you don't see the fingerprints of your favorite writers, you don't hear their voices. After careful inspection, there seems to be nothing that reminds you of the works that made the biggest impressions on you when you were young and impressionable. Likewise your musings return no results, but by now every failure to find a source for your inspiration has the unintended effect of puffing you up. You catch yourself grinning and soon enough you begin to worry about the crippling effects to your ego if you were too quick to congratulate yourself, only to have some faceless heckler (nerdier than thyself) call out your brazen imitation soon after making it public in the worldwide forum of the internet... couldn't withstand the humiliation. You decide to reach out to your academic friends --if anybody knows it will be them--, and quickly send out your immortal poem in a dozen emails. You bite at your fingernails and chew at the meat until it bleeds. You drink decaf coffee. You wish you had a smoking habit so you could chainsmoke this wait away but there exists no solace for you. Even if you were to drink, more than one beer would get you drunk because you are that big of a pussy --and you call yourself a writer?

The arms of the clock continue their leaps locked in their endless circle, located in somebody else's living room. This you don't see because you own a digital clock. You wake up earlier than usual because your bladder can't hold to decaf coffee any longer, and as you drag your loafers to the restroom you imagine yourself a victim of insomnia and fantasize about its horrors. You release a steady stream of piss into the toilet bowl and feel sorry about yourself, tortured with sleep deprivation and half-mad with nervous maladies like the best poète maudits. By the time the water in the bowl has been flushed away, you feel much better and you are ready to face the email replies. One after the other the answer is the same: the poem is not derivative. At first, the slight bulge in your pajama crotch embarrasses you... what the hell! You tell yourself you've earned it, and before you know it you've taken it for a walk around the apartment and into the kitchen, giggling like a kid every time you look down and catch a glimpse, going about making a toast with jam.

With breakfast over and you done stroking your ego the time has come to share your groundbreaking new poem. Yes, "new." But not just new for me, now for literature. New to the world, to university professors and school teachers alike, to their students, to their student's parents on their way to work, to the bus drivers carrying them like an expecting woman carrying her child in her womb, a child who will be born in a world where nothing is new because everything has already been invented but his parents will reminisce about simpler times when not everything was old and regurgitated, and they will then tell their child about the time they heard of this new poem (how they remember like it was yesterday...), it was all over the news, yes it made for a lot of talk, that poem did. It made one proud of being American. Everything else may be outsourced but great original poetry still grows in this fertile land of opportunistic freedom. God bless America. And let the bald eagle poop on our enemies and peck their eyes off their sockets, godamn terrorists, stay the fuck outta---

In the aftermath
Let's say You becomes He...

And out it went. The poem. The reaction resembled tsunami waves of nothing. Surprise gave way to disappointment, which in turn led to bitter resentment, which simmered covered until it festered violent outbursts of spite and hatred. He would routinely sit at the edge of his chair with his head buried between his shoulders and proceed to type with two stiff forefingers --machine-gun style-- lengthy letters made entirely of insults, adverbs, and adjectives, directed at every living soul for having turned their backs on his genius. Some say his mind was so far gone he mistakenly bought a half ounce bag of regular espresso coffee ground, which would explain the stomach cramps he claimed kept him doubled up on his floor, screaming in agony. He became a recluse and blamed a Queer Jew conspiracy for turning his friends against him (in reality his friends tired of his 3am calls to rant about conspiracies and blocked his number). The last time he left his house he is said to have walked into the nearest liquor store and bought a six-pack of Pabst, Marlboro Reds, and Twizzlers. At some point that same night he called one of his friends and left a voicemail saying something along the lines, "I am now ready to shed my skin and become a real writer. I think I now have what it takes. All this time I've been looking in libraries --I was looking in the wrong place. Everything a writer needs he can find in a liquor store."

What exactly went down the next 72hs is uncertain. The coroner report states his blood alcohol content was thrice above the legal limit, so if we believe he only made one beer run then he must have been one big hairy pussy. Precise details are close to impossible to gather since his apartment went down in a fire, which the firemen believe was accidental; he must have passed out while smoking using a styrofoam cup for an ashtray. There remains one last puzzling mystery in his tragic demise that has so far remained unexplained. A footnote to his autopsy reports the presence of four complete, undigested, unchewed, Twizzlers found lodged inside his rectum. The coroner report lists the cause as "Death by misadventure." Unfortunately, the coroner was unavailable for comments at the moment of writing this article. I hoped to gain some insight into the matter by engaging him in conversation but maybe it's better this way. Some things are better left alone and some secrets better remain secret.

Let's say you are still wondering, What about his original poem. Well, to begin with, it wasn't as original as he thought it was. In fact, it wasn't original at all. How could it be since he wrote it in English? He didn't develop the language, did he? He didn't arbitrarily make up its definitions either. There isn't one person who can take credit for that, not even Merriam-Webster. Neither did he come up with language as an abstract idea. His poem could be communicated and understood by others because the readers already know what each word meant, instinctively understood signified and signifier, what happened when you put certain words next to others and when your structure a sentence in a given way. You can't claim as original something that is made up entirely of raw materials available in the public domain. Society fed him on a diet of words, he chewed some longer than others, regurgitated, then spit them right back into society --nothing new there. Sure, we could argue that no other person has picked those particular words among many with similar connotations, then placed them in such order, finished the work when he did. That is no guarantee that somebody else won't. It's probable.

It's probable I've been working at this nonstop for too long and now I am burned out and sleepy. I hear somebody calling me... I'm not alone in the dead of night, it seems I have a comrade in arms. Graveyard shifters of the world unite and take over, you are not alone. Nobody is ever alone as long as there are others.

July 22, 2018 at 10:34AM, Edited July 22, 11:13AM

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Ernest O
Writer
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