Francis Ford Coppola On Art, Copying And File Sharing: We Want You To Take From Us

from the first-step dept

Paul Tamm points us to a really wonderful interview with filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, which touches on a whole variety of different topics, but a couple of quotes are likely to be interesting to folks around here. For example, he's asked about copying works of other filmmakers and whether or not he tries to "veer away" from the masters of the craft to create his own style, and he responds brilliantly:
I once found a little excerpt from Balzac. He speaks about a young writer who stole some of his prose. The thing that almost made me weep, he said, "I was so happy when this young person took from me." Because that's what we want. We want you to take from us. We want you, at first, to steal from us, because you can't steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that's how you will find your voice.

And that's how you begin. And then one day someone will steal from you. And Balzac said that in his book: It makes me so happy because it makes me immortal because I know that 200 years from now there will be people doing things that somehow I am part of. So the answer to your question is: Don't worry about whether it's appropriate to borrow or to take or do something like someone you admire because that's only the first step and you have to take the first step.
While (of course), I always dislike the incorrect use of the term "stealing," I found this to be quite an insightful answer from someone who is certainly in a position to pretend otherwise. However, throughout history we've heard similar (if much less eloquent) claims from others. Ray Charles famously made similar points about copying his music (shamelessly) from others to create his own unique sound (and invent soul music in the process).

Immediately after this, he's asked about business models, and he notes:
This idea of Metallica or some rock n' roll singer being rich, that's not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I'm going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?

In the old days, 200 years ago, if you were a composer, the only way you could make money was to travel with the orchestra and be the conductor, because then you'd be paid as a musician. There was no recording. There were no record royalties. So I would say, "Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money." Because there are ways around it.
While some will misinterpret this to mean that artists shouldn't make money, that's not what he's saying at all. He's saying it shouldn't be presumed that they automatically must make money -- or that if they are to make money, that it needs to come from the film directly.

Filed Under: art, copying, francis ford coppola, free, sharing

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2011 @ 7:25am

    There is a huge difference between influence and replication. The Beatles might have been influenced by Chuck Berry or Chubby Checker, but they did much of it their own way. They were influenced. The cover band at your local bar? They are into replication.

    Any of us can take a song we hear on the radio and sing other lyrics we make up to it. That is easy. Someone learning to play the piano (or even the Ukulele) can learn to play someone elses music, and perhaps play it in their own way. That is much closer to pure replication than it is to influence.

    FFC says "You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that's how you will find your voice". That is what influence is all about. Watch our movies, see how we do it, make your own. It doesn't imply in the slightest that you should just replicate, or duplicate. As he said, in making a movie, even taking is only the first step. It isn't an end in itself.

    200 years ago, we had no simple way to distribute music in a manner that could be purchased for enjoyment. The only way you got music was to attend a concert. Now we can have music 24 hours per day from hundreds of different sources. Concerts aren't the only way to get music, many people never attend a live show. They still enjoy music. As FFC says, maybe music should be free. It isn't a definitive statement that it should, only that it is something to consider.

    Oh yeah, I agree with Anonymous on this one, TD really is hoisting the freetard flag the last little while. I attribute that to the fact that they are finally seeing that government and private legal actions are having an impact on the online world, and that perhaps the all you can eat buffet of free stuff is getting curtailed.

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