Behind the Shia LaBeouf controversy

Shia LeBeouf.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Of all the questions that have swirled around the Shia LaBeouf-Dan Clowes controversy, the biggest has been: Could he really not have known that making an uncredited movie with similarities to an existing graphic novel was wrong?

This would be a legitimate question for anyone steeped for years in the creative process, where people argue over credit more than they do catering options.

It’s especially true in the case of the “” filmmaker since a) LaBeouf’s whole movie is about media ethics, b) Shia actually played a journalist, spending time preparing for his reporter role in this year’s “The Company You Keep” with an L.A. Times colleague and quizzing him on all manner of ethics and best practices -- and not copying the narration from another work is, like, kind of a big part of that.


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Like the success of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull,” LaBeouf’s cluelessness will remain one of life’s great mysteries. But it does appear to be cluelessness -- “In my excitement and naiveté as an amateur filmmaker, I got lost in the creative process and neglected to follow proper accreditation,” he Tweeted, seemingly without irony.

In my several times talking to LaBeouf -- most recently last spring for “Company” — I was struck by his earnest intensity. Actors are known for this quality, but LaBeouf’s goes well beyond that of other actors, to the point that it seems almost like what he believes at that moment is so important that even a semi-relevant aside is a distraction, or worse. Combine it with a showbiz bubble — I mean, the guy has lived on sets since he was an adolescent -- and the picture gets a tiny bit clearer.

None of this excuses the Clowes incident; I’m not even sure it explains it. But it does suggest a man so blinkered it actually may not have occurred to him there would be an issue here. (If he in fact realized that it was a problem, couldn’t he have just picked up the phone and called Clowes to option the piece? And yet Clowes says he never heard from LeBeouf or was aware of the movie until Monday.

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Of course, the possibility that it is genuine cluelessness on LaBeouf’s part in some ways makes it worse. “I apologize to all who assumed I wrote [the film],” he tweeted. To which Patton Oswalt sarcastically replied, “You don’t say. What would have led people to ‘assume’ you wrote it? Hmmmmm. Life’s a kooky puzzle, huh?”

LaBeouf’s next movie, due in March, is “Nymphomaniac,” the full-frontal Lars von Trier exercise. One can only imagine the stream of Twitter apologies if it turns out what LaBeouf attempted to pass off as his own in that film was, in fact, someone else’s.


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