My friend Erich, a monster of pop culture, recently sent me links to the SNL piece “Lazy Sunday” on YouTube. I have a vague memory of seeing the sketch on tv, but was totally unaware that it had reached such prominence (as evidenced by its Wikipedia entry). Erich was kind enough to send along not only a link to the original (with the caution “Watch this as soon as you can because they try to delete as soon as someone posts it”), but also a version of the video made by Bryant Fisher and Max Sitnikov. Bryant and Max’s video is one among an enormous archive of “Lazy Sunday” homages. One of my very favorites, for the record, is this “Lazy Sunday–Chinese Version” in which the boys go not to Magnolia Bakery for cupcakes, but rather to Chinatown for baozi (buns). The impressive, and to my mind, fascinating hook of Bryant and Max’s video, however, is their recreation of the original. It is, as E. says, practically a “shot for shot” remake.
On the surface, this kind of remake sounds a lot like plagiarism. After all, they’re taking the everything that makes the original unique. In the realm of copyright law, there’s no way these two could argue that they were critiquing or parodying this piece. Despite all of that, my first thought on seeing the video was this: good grief, those two would have to know and learn a goodly amount about film in order to recreate this video. Shot-for-shot recreation is no joke: they’d have to study that film, mark out places for the actors, frame the shots, etc. [If you doubt it, just ask Gus Van Sant, as his shot-for-shot recreation of a classic is a bit of a running joke.]
I’d argue here that copying, or what looks like plagiarism, changes across media. There seems to be little, if anything, to be learned about plagiarising, word-for-word in writing, particularly at a time when you can cut and paste a paper. Here, you don’t even have to consume the content, you simply plop it into another version of the same medium. With film, however, we’re talking about a much different process. In order to copy, you need to watch and watch carefully; learn lighting, setting, framing, different shots; a variety of editing techniques; acting; etc. In essence, with film, to copy, shot for shot, is to learn. Where does copying fall on the hierarchy of interactions in participatory culture?
The pedagogical angle here is interesting as well. What are the ramifications of asking students to reproduce (is that different than “copy”? I think so: “copy” in common parlance is to use technology to get a version of the original for your own use.) a scene from a favorite movie, shot-for-shot? In what ways does it teach them filmmaking and analysis in a different way? And just for all you naysayers out there, does it implicitly support a culture of illegal reproduction of originals?