Great artists steal.
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?
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?
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.
What Are Some 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 how Inglourious 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.
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.