There’s some sayings in Hollywood. “Give Me The Same Thing, But Different!” and “All Great Stories Have Already Been Told.” Within the Industry, there is an ongoing battle between the sparkle of originality and the safe harbor of shit that has already been done and made a lot of money. And this ideological battle has spawned a swarm of remakes in past years, apparently putting originality, creativity, and the moviegoing public on the losing side.
While remaking “Point Break” may be a damnable offense, many great filmmakers and writers manage to “borrow” scenes, troupes, or little nuances from other classic filmmakers and make them even better. When “borrowing” is done right, it becomes an “homage”. Or it’s missed by most of the audience altogether public.
Here’s a few examples: (or you can check out my video blog version on Youtube by clicking here).
1. “The Departed” and “The Third Man”
Carol Reed’s classic “The Third Man” features a long, long, long ending shot with some very signature Zither music. What better way to demonstrate a woman giving a man the cold shoulder than having him wait expectantly for her, only to have her walk by and completely ignore him? It’s a simple concept, but very impactful, especially given how long it takes her to walk by!
In “The Departed”, made 50+ years later by Martin Scorcese, he demonstrates a woman’s disdain in the same manner. Except this time it’s Matt Damon being snubbed by Vera Farmiga, and the shot is shorter. But it’s the same basic framing and setup. Pretty cool… er.. cold that is.
2. Luca Brazi and Demi Moore: Mumbling Redux
Who has less in common than Luca Brazi from “The Godfather” and Demi Moore’s Cmdr. Joanne Galloway from “A Few Good Men?” Well, they aren’t so different after all. Screenwriter Arron Sorkin, obviously well schooled in classic cinema, honed in on an effective and somewhat humorous troupe from the Coppola classic.
In “The Godfather”, Luca Brazi, the muscle behind Don Corleone, mumbles to himself a practice speech he plans to say when thanking the Don for being invited to his daughter’s wedding. But when he finally goes to deliver the speech, he stumbles over his words. A small moment, but somewhat endearing.
In “A Few Good Men”, Demi Moor’s character mumbles to herself, practicing how she’ll ask to be assigned as counsel to the case that’s the center of the movie. But when she goes to ask, she stumbles over her words as well, and it’s amusing.
3. “Pulp Fictions” homage to “Psycho”: The Boss Run In
Two very non comedies provide a moment of near absurdest humor with this troupe. In “Psycho”, Janet Leigh’s character steals a lot of money from her boss, then skips town. But on the way, who should walk right in front of her car but… her boss? Crazy! Simple, unnerving Hitchcock.
So it should be no surprise that today’s modern master of the squeamish, Quentin Tarantino, paid homage to this scene in “Pulp Fiction”. Here, Butch (played by Bruce Willis) has successfully conned mob boss Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) out of money by not throwing the fight he was supposed to and betting on himself. He then shoots John Travolta and is about to skip town when… he happens to run int Wallace crossing the street!
Same fundamental setup, different executions.
You can see the difference between an intelligent homage and a blatant rip off or remake. Rather than just flatly copying an original story, a good filmmaker grasps the fundamental essence of the scene, moment, or setup from another film, owns it, then reappropriates it organically into their own story.
It’s something you can do in your films, and it’s particularly forgivable and even celebrated in a first feature. (Consider “Swingers” homage to “Goodfellas” and “Reservoir Dogs”). To learn more about shooting your first feature and starting your directing career without film school, check out our upcoming webinar by going to filmschoolsolution.com.