The Art of Copying Other People's Work

Editors are magpies. I’ve spent my whole career watching other peoples' work for shiny bits I can pick out and weave into my own basket of tricks. I have no conscience about my methods, I feel no remorse or shame; I simply want the best, shiniest most impressive body of work I can possibly manage and I’ll stop at nothing to get it, even if it must be burglary (I even just stole that line). Put simply, I see something I like in someone else’s work and I copy it. It’s plagiarism, it’s theft, it’s behaviour that would be dishonest and unforgivable if not for these three facts of creative life:


  1. Finding ideas to steal in the first place isn't all that easy, because well-made videos present themselves as a finished article and don't always let you see the thought process that went in to making them. It takes practice to see past the projection of a video and identify format points, storytelling devices, visual effects; the component parts of a video that might be wiggled loose and stolen and collected for future use. At first these ideas and decisions that sit behind what's on the screen aren't very obvious - especially if it's a good video which works well and keeps your attention and doesn't let the viewer see much of what's backstage. But with practice you'll be able to recognise what's going on. Practice making your own work as well as watching others'. All video-makers face the same problems; how to make things interesting, how to entertain an audience, and the more experience you have wrestling with these problems yourself, the easier you'll be able to spot the methods other creators are using to solve them. And once you think you've found something you want to try, your next problem is how to adapt it to your own use.


  1. It’s very difficult (almost impossible) to exactly replicate someone else’s work in a video. Adopting someone else's idea or style is a bit like buying a lamp, it looked fantastic in the shop display, but now it's in your house... it needs work. And just like the lamp, the visual effect you love from someone’s work looks different when it’s viewed in the context of your video. The format point you stole, in order to make it work, needs to be wrought and twisted beyond all recognition to fit into the story you’re making. Your voice, your tone, your expression, puts a completely new angle on that narrative device you stole. It all works differently now, and disappointingly a lot of this stuff looks a lot less shiny now it’s in your nest and not someone else’s. Why is that?


When you took that idea you tore it from it’s context (a video, or a book, or a film - where it had been quite comfortable, thank you) and dragged it into your head where it was changed once by your perception of it and the uniqueness of your own understanding. It stayed in your brain where it was dissected and examined and stitched back together again, and put on bed rest until the day when it must leave your head and go into one of your videos. And this is another difficult journey. Through the sideways weather of external influences and mistakes you made while filming and unforseen events, by the time this idea finds it's way onto your editing timeline it's changed beyond all recognition, and it doesn't quite work the way you thought it would. What' worse is that it's sitting next to a load of other stolen ideas which also aren't working how you thought they would and somehow it’s your job, as video creator, to make a kind of harmony happen, even if it does require force (it will). By the time your done, all these captured ideas, will be singing to your tune, which will be so different from their original tune that the person who’s video inspired you in the first place could watch your work and think “That’s a great idea, I wish I’d thought of that… I’m going to steal it”


  1. There are no new ideas. Even if you do succeed in exactly copying something, you’ll only find you copied off someone who was copying off someone else (who was copying off someone else, etc. etc.) No one has been born in a cultural vacuum and somehow in an act of creative immaculate conception, produced something entirely new and brilliant. Everyone’s finding inspiration / being influenced by / copying off of everyone else and messing it up and coming up with something of their own by accident and that’s what makes new things.


So if you’re already a seasoned thief, I hope I’ve helped assuage any guilt you might have had for your misdemeanours. And if you’re still an innocent, let me offer this nefarious practice as the first thing you might take from someone else and use as your own. May it serve you well. Happy stealing.

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