If you watch a lot of movies and TV shows, eventually you're going to see scenes across mediums that kind of look like each other. Maybe the artists are homaging what came before them, or maybe they are just directly stealing that idea and scene because it works so perfectly for them.

As the saying goes, “Good artists copy, Great artists steal.” But when they steal to make something original, how do you describe it? And how can you identify what to steal for yourself?

Today we're going to go over that idea, by exploring a term called "pastiche." We'll also dig into some examples of pastiche across film and television so you can better understand the definition and execution.

Ready? Let's go.

What Are Pastiche Movies and TV? And How Can You Learn Filmmaking from Them?

Filmmakers love to pay homage to another filmmaker's style and use of cinematography, including camera angles, lighting, and mise en scène. This is where the very idea of pastiche begins to take shape. But what does the word mean?

Pastiche Definition

In the context of film and television, it's a cinematic device that directly mimics the cinematography or scene work of another filmmaker through the direct imitation of iconic moments in that movie or TV show.

You can even define it via the direct reboots of franchises, which take the biggest moments from the originals and repurpose them for a new generation.

Pastiche vs. Homage

One of the hardest things to discern is the difference between pastiche and homage. Traditionally, pastiche uses homage. Let's look closer.

Specifically, an homage is a film or TV show that pays respect to another text or style, without directly pilfering from it. I like to think of how the Indiana Jones movies are an homage to old classic serials, without taking things directly from them.

Whereas something like Stranger Things is a direct pastiche of films and science fiction shows from the 1980s. See how they sort of work together?

What Are Pastiche Movies and TV?'Stranger Things'Credit: Netflix

What Are Pastiche Movies and TV?

A pastiche has a variety of ways it imitates another's style. It is very respectful of the origins, unlike parody, which seeks to lampoon them. When looking at them in film and television, you have to think about entire projects built around this copycat storytelling, not just scenes or concepts.

Examples of Pastiche Movies and TV

One of the easiest ways to begin understanding pastiche is from the films of Quentin Tarantino. He often uses plots, characteristics, and themes from many lesser-known films to create his movies.

I mean, think about howInglourious Basterds takes a title from a lesser-known WWII film and takes the central plot from The Dirty Dozen. Sure, there are a lot of unique and incredible moments in the movie, but it could not exist without the things that came before it.

Tarantino has openly stated that "I steal from every single movie ever made," and you can see that effect on screen.

Galaxy Quest does this with its pastiche of Star Trek, creating a movie about a cult sci-fi show that's very much like the real-life show. And its problems, villains, and character arcs resemble Star Trek as well.

Another great example is the work of Sergio Leone. He made spaghetti westerns, which were a pastiche of the American westerns he loved. This I think helps extrapolate what pastiches are. They can be even better than the originals—that's not the problem—but they build off the things they have seen over and over again to make sure the audience gets another layer of connection.

This is not just a feature filmmaking tool.

Think about this year's landmark show, WandaVision. It's a show built doing a pastiche every week on another show's format. From I Love Lucy to Malcolm in the Middle, it fit itself into the narratives across TV history while telling its own story. Community was famous for doing this as well. While the whole series didn't do it, specific episodes would play out in formats from another. For example, their paintball episode played out like a western.

These pastiches also cover reboots of the original. We saw it in Ghostbusters, we see it on TV with the new 90210, and even in the series Rick and Morty, which is a pastiche of Back to the Future, though it incorporates other parts of pop culture in a very postmodern way.

Why Do Filmmakers Use Pastiche?

Filmmakers often use pastiche for a variety of artistic and narrative reasons. Pastiche, as a mode of expression, refers to the imitation or mimicking of another style, genre, or work, but done so in a celebratory or affectionate manner, rather than as parody which may carry a more mocking or critical tone. Here's why filmmakers might use pastiche:

  1. Homage: One of the primary reasons filmmakers employ pastiche is to pay tribute to works that have influenced them. It's a way of nodding to the classics or acknowledging the contributions of other artists in the medium.
  2. Nostalgia: Pastiche can evoke feelings of nostalgia in audiences. By referencing or imitating a particular style or period, filmmakers can transport audiences back to a different time, which can be both emotionally resonant and a powerful storytelling tool.
  3. Meta Commentary: Filmmakers might use pastiche to make a commentary on a particular genre, style, or trope. By drawing attention to specific conventions, they can offer a critique or simply highlight the uniqueness or oddity of certain filmic elements.
  4. Inter-textual Play: Pastiche allows filmmakers to create a dialogue between their work and other texts. This inter-textual play can enrich the viewing experience for audiences, especially those familiar with the referenced works.
  5. Audience Engagement: Recognizing a pastiche can be a fun and engaging experience for viewers. It can create an "in-the-know" feeling, where audiences feel a deeper connection to the film because they recognize the reference.
  6. Aesthetic Reasons: Sometimes, the look and feel of a particular style or era might simply fit the story the filmmaker is trying to tell. Pastiche can be used to establish a specific mood, tone, or setting.
  7. Economic Reasons: In some cases, using an established style or convention can be a strategic choice to appeal to a particular audience segment. This might be especially true for genres with a dedicated fanbase, like sci-fi or horror.
  8. Innovation through Fusion: By merging different styles or genres, filmmakers can create something new and innovative. Pastiche offers a way to blend the familiar with the new, producing fresh perspectives.
  9. Character Development and Context: A character in a film might be shown as a fan of a particular movie or genre. Using pastiche can provide audiences with insights into that character's personality, preferences, or background.
  10. Educational or Satirical Purposes: While pastiche is celebratory, it can still be used to educate audiences about certain tropes or clichés, or even satirize the overuse of certain elements in film.

Filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, and the Coen Brothers frequently employ pastiche in their films, drawing from a wide array of sources to create unique cinematic experiences.

How Can You Learn Filmmaking from Pastiche Movies and TV?

The more movies you watch, the more you notice pastiche. I had no idea of the movies Tarantino was aping until I did some research. Then I was able to broaden my filmic knowledge.

The same goes for something like Star Wars. I saw that movie when I was a kid. I didn't know about Joseph Campbell or how Lucas used these ideas to build his narrative. What about how Flash Gordon is an attempt to then do a pastiche of Star Wars?

There's so much film history and film theory that goes into these ideas. But you can constantly learn new lessons and techniques by seeing how other directors and writers tackled their ideas. It sort of frees you up to steal if you need to.

So if you are stuck in a scene or suffering from writer's block, maybe a little bit of homage or pastiche can go a long way for you.

Let me know what you think about all of this in the comments.