Short of the Week

HowardCantour.com

This is the story of Howard Cantour. A warrior. His life as a film critic and how he comes to terms with reviewing his hero’s film.

>UPDATE: Shortly after releasing this film and posting this review, it’s become clear that a significant portion of HowardCantour.com was taken without permission or credit from a comic by the legendary Daniel Clowes. We were led to believe by Shia and the filmmaking team that the story was original. The film has now been removed. This  post goes into more detail

Created by actor-turned-director, Shia LaBeouf, as a way of trying to understand a profession that carries a lot of sway in his industry – the film critic, HowardCantour.com is an entertaining short brimming with engaging performances, snappy dialogue and crisp cinematography. Based around the inner-workings of fictional film expert Howard Cantour, LaBeouf’s latest short is a film about principles and how you deal with those beliefs when they come under scrutiny.

“A critic is a warrior. Each of us on the battlefield have the means to glorify or demolish.”

Howard (Jim Gaffigan) is an online critic, the “online” being a qualifier that he keenly feels judged for. He is someone who came up during a heady, idealistic time of zine criticism in the 90′s, but as the film industry he covers has become more commoditized, and the internet itself changes the entire attitude and nature of his profession, Howard finds himself increasingly bitter. When, at a press junket, he is given unusual access to a director he had once highly praised but whose latest film he despises, Howard’s angry solipsism is tested.

LaBeouf has written an incredibly clever script, which, in its short 12 minutes, patiently progresses through multiple interpretations. Howard is a a small man, with a little bit of power. Normally this is a figure ripe for mockery, presenting the opportunity to see the film as LaBeouf “getting back” at snobby critics. However the empathy he reserves for Howard quickly dispels that theory. Howard IS capable of sensitivity, perhaps too much so, and is tested when his former hero nakedly looks to him for approval. It is tempting as an audience to flip 180 degrees at this point and see Howard as a heroic figure—an iconoclast standing up for true artistic merit in an age of relativity. But that, I would argue is to misread the film equally. John Buffalo Mailer’s essay on the film is helpful in understanding the delicate play that LaBeouf makes here. After all, listen to Howard’s arguments against the film he’s reviewing, and his yearning for an escapist cinema based on wish-fulfillment.  The film is not a farce about a tiny man, nor an epic about a principled man. It is the kind of nuanced film that Howard himself is decrying, an attempt in a small way to reach someone’s truth. Howard’s truth is that he is a sad, disappointed man, disconnected from those around him and himself. His dislike of the film is not an aesthetic argument, but an arbitrary one based on preference. Disconnection is his life, he doesn’t want to see it reflected on the screen, instead he pines for a life that could match the Hollywood-magic he yearns for.

Tackling the subject of film criticism is always going to be an interesting choice for someone in LaBeouf’s line of work, eager to discover how the concept originated and why he decided to create a narrative around a film critic, Short of the Week spoke to the director about the inception of Howard Cantour—”I know something about the gulf between critical acclaim and blockbuster business. I have been crushed by critics (especially during my Transformers run), and in trying to come to terms with my feelings about critics, I needed to understand them. As I tried to empathize with the sort of man who might earn a living taking potshots at me and the people I’ve worked with, a small script developed.”

Revolving around a character that LaBeouf describes as “a man who lives inside his head”, the casting of Howard was always going to be a pivotal decision in the success of this short. Bringing the titular protagonist to life with a truly captivating performance, you can almost hear the gears of thought turning in Jim Gaffigan’s well-rounded, wholly believable turn as Howard. Speaking about his film’s main character and what he looked for in the actor to portray him, LaBeouf gave us an insight into the man he picked to play the forever internalizing Howard—”I was trying to suggest that there can be more to moviemaking for critics eager to make their name on a scathing review, and so I needed someone cranky as fuck and instantly likeable. I needed someone who I could believe only barely tolerates the people he runs into in real life, but remained lovable. Most importantly I needed a dreamer. Jim is that. I sent him the script with my reel and he made it happen.”

Currently gaining attention for his role in Lars von Trier’s much talked about feature Nymphomaniac, most of us will know LaBeouf for his acting roles, starring in some of the biggest blockbusters Hollywood has seen in recent years. What many may have overlooked though, is how the burgeoning director has been honing his skills behind the camera on a number of music videos and short films. With the head-shaving Marilyn Manson promo Born Villain, blood-soaked Future Unlimited video Haunted Love and Man Bites Dog styled Mockumentary Maniac all adding to an impressive back catalogue from the last couple of years, LaBeouf the director is yet to make another mark on the film industry with HowardCantour.com—his most mature and narrative-driven directorial work so far. But why short films? As staunch advocators of the format, Short of the Week couldn’t pass up the opportunity to quiz someone who spends most of his time working on feature-length projects, what it is that attracts him to this condensed medium—”At their best, short films capture the essence of storytelling without the encumbrance of pop-psychology, over-developed characterizations, and without the unnecessary weight of meaningful subplots & subtexts. Simple, universal stories that cater to my generation’s attention span.”

Whilst writing this review, a strange thing began to happen and as I felt myself empathizing more and more with the film’s protagonist, I began to experience similar concerns to those debated in the inner dialogue of Howard. Not that LaBeouf is a cinematic hero of mine (sorry Shia), but there is a certain gravitas that surrounds his name that will pull readers to this article. The more I thought about it, the more pressure I put on myself, the more pressure I put on myself the deeper I became entangled in internal debate. Have I effectively captured my thoughts on his film? Have I been too kind to his film because of who he is? …Shit! …Wait! …have I just written that all down?

~
Editor on Short of the Week | Cohabiter on Directors Notes | Communicator at @kung_fuelvis
  • Gavin Hawk

    I really liked this film. The pacing, the acting, all of it was so well done.

  • Anonymous

    So why no mention of Daniel Clowes’ JUSTIN M. DAMIANO? At all?

  • yousuck.

    SCAM fucking dumb shia labeouf stealing!!!!!! you should take this shit down

  • Nino

    password!?

  • Anonymous

    hahahahahah

  • Jörg Tittel
  • Jörg Tittel
  • Shannon Hubbell

    Adaptation is too kind. Transcription.

  • Anonymous

    LaBeouf stole this entire thing from Cartoonist/writer/screenwriter Dan Clowes. In a perfect world, LaBeouf would never have been given a shot at movie stardom, and being in big movies in no way makes him a talented or popular actor, so let’s hope this drives a wedge between Hollywood and this awful little person for good.

    http://comicsalliance.com/shia-labeof-daniel-clowes-short-film-plagiarism/

  • S.I. Rosenbaum

    those first two sentences, oof. Get an editor.

  • Rusty Elbows

    Help me out here.

    How do you make a film pulled from a story written by a writer without getting the permission of the writer, then say I forgot to credit the writer?

    Clowes already said he’d never met, or ever written for Shia, so saying I forgot to credit him and then doing so doesn’t mean you had/have permission to make a film about his work.

    Shia did this ALL wrong and it could cost him.

  • Rusty Elbows

    Help me out here.

    How do you make a film pulled from a story written by a writer without getting the permission of the writer, then say I forgot to credit the writer?

    Clowes already said he’d never met, or ever written for Shia, so saying I forgot to credit him and then doing so doesn’t mean you had/have permission to make a film about his work.

    Shia did this ALL wrong and it could cost him.

  • Practice Preacher

    The word “those” should have been capitalized here. Is oof really a word?

  • Practice Preacher

    The word “those” should have been capitalized here. Is oof really a word?

  • Charles Ranier

    I feel sorry for Jim Gaffigan now being associated with this disaster. All he did was act in it, but it’s his face on the screen. Shia should be apologizing to him as well for making him an unwitting accomplice to Shia’s brazen theft of someone else’s very real, very personal story.

  • Charles Ranier

    I feel sorry for Jim Gaffigan now being associated with this disaster. All he did was act in it, but it’s his face on the screen. Shia should be apologizing to him as well for making him an unwitting accomplice to Shia’s brazen theft of someone else’s very real, very personal story.

  • Shahir Daud

    Very interesting turn of events. I didn’t get to see the film before it became private, but the ‘fallout’ asks some interesting questions about short films and their place in the industry. This was accepted at Cannes? Were there any viewers there who saw the connection?

  • Shahir Daud

    Very interesting turn of events. I didn’t get to see the film before it became private, but the ‘fallout’ asks some interesting questions about short films and their place in the industry. This was accepted at Cannes? Were there any viewers there who saw the connection?

  • http://www.lucky9studios.com/ Ivan Kander

    Agreed, Shahir. He duped a lot of big festivals, which I find fascinating.

  • Shahir Daud

    I guess, we should all accept an honest truth about film festival selections. If a film comes in from Shia Labeouf and an equally great film comes in from an unknown, we all know which one is more likely to make the cut, plagiarized or not.

  • Jazbrd

    Not only that, but he plagiarized his twitter apology from a yahoo answers post 4 years ago. AND, for fun, I copied and pasted his well phrased defintion of short films in the above article, and it looks like that was plagiarized word for word too! Check out the quote under “Short Film is Art” here:

    http://www.firstlightonline.co.uk/make-a-film/step-4/short-film/

    He just added for my generation at the end! Could he be doing this intentionally as a Kaufman-esque type prank or is that giving him too much credit? There’s the Esquire magazine article he copied as well in his public email to Alec Baldwin. Seems a little too much to not be something else…

  • Peter Grey

    If he had credited Clowes, would anyone be denigrating the actual story like they are now? Is it a bad film or isn’t it?

  • http://www.andrewsallen.com Andrew S Allen

    It does smell a bit funny to me. Although, if there’s anything to learn from the Joaquin Pheonix I’m Still Here escapade, it’s that performance pranks like that can fail to rise above initial negative reactions.

  • Jeff Burns

    Pretty shameful to steal someone’s work. Even worse to think all you need to do to fix that is give a little credit after the fact. I will never watch this movie, or any other
    work from the film maker. I will however head to the comic shop.

  • Ben

    My opinion is that this whole story is just too big to be true. Might be something behind all this.

  • Rich71

    The script is incredibly clever it completely changes my opinion of the writer, Shia Labeouf. I previously viewed him as simply a douche bag capable of little more than pantomiming his way thoughtlessly through unoriginal reboots of other peoples creations, Transformers, Rear Window, Wall Street, Indiana Jones… I had though Labeouf to be someone of no real substance incapable of an original thought, and cheap imitation of all the original actors who’s characters he was now rebooting. But as a writer, Howard Cantour. Com shows he is anything but a cheap imitation.

  • Rich71

    *CORRECTION* ….my bad, turns out he is in fact a cheap imitation in all aspects of the creative process.

  • HEEHAW

    I THOUGHT that answer sounded much too intelligent! Unbelievable!

  • HEEHAW

    His “thoughts” on how the film originated aren’t even his own!!!

    Shiarrhea:
    ”I know something about the gulf between critical acclaim and blockbuster business. I have been crushed by critics (especially during my Transformers run), and in trying to come to terms with my feelings about critics, I needed to understand them. As I tried to empathize with the sort of man who might earn a living taking potshots at me and the people I’ve worked with, a small script developed.”

    Kyle Buchanan wrote this for Vulture over a year and a half ago:
    “LaBeouf would know something about the gulf between critical acclaim and blockbuster business — he’s made three Transformers movies, after all. But his short isn’t an attempt to slag on critics, not really: Instead, he tries to empathize with the sort of man who might earn a living taking potshots at the actor.”

    http://www.vulture.com/2012/05/shia-labeouf-gets-inside-a-critic-at-cannes.html

    UNBELIEVABLE!

  • Farrell

    http://www.firstlightonline.co.uk/make-a-film/step-4/short-film/

    Scroll down to the section called “Short film is art”, read it, then come back and read the Lebeouf quote in this article.

  • Blake

    Why didn’t I download it when I had the chance?

  • Oliver Charles Lardner

    Here’s the thing, he could have directed/produced anything, but he chose this script. In his speech he talks about directing and production… When it comes to these things, it’s quite often the effort involved, not the idea. This is why writers and artists only get 5% (if that) of sales, because their contribution of an idea is not worth much when you compare the blood sweat and tears involved in actually creating something, making it real… Now I’m not here to say that what happened was right, but this concept that ideas trump all is false. Stolen or otherwise, even in [Damiano's] original comic he talks about the ivory tower on the FIRST PAGE. This surely is a powerful example of dissent in his favour, and Damiano’s response to all this was suitably gracious. Hat’s off to him for an amazing idea, but credit to the now Arch-Traitor LaBeouf for directing a very nice short film. Slap on the wrist for not attributing to Damiano, but hey… I’m sure Damiano has been “inspired” in the past as well…

  • Oliver Charles Lardner

    Here’s the thing, he could have directed/produced anything, but he chose this script. In his speech he talks about directing and production… When it comes to these things, it’s quite often the effort involved, not the idea. This is why writers and artists only get 5% (if that) of sales, because their contribution of an idea is not worth much when you compare the blood sweat and tears involved in actually creating something, making it real… Now I’m not here to say that what happened was right, but this concept that ideas trump all is false. Stolen or otherwise, even in [Damiano's] original comic he talks about the ivory tower on the FIRST PAGE. This surely is a powerful example of dissent in his favour, and Damiano’s response to all this was suitably gracious. Hat’s off to him for an amazing idea, but credit to the now Arch-Traitor LaBeouf for directing a very nice short film. Slap on the wrist for not attributing to Damiano, but hey… I’m sure Damiano has been “inspired” in the past as well…

  • Gavin Hawk

    So sad that he ripped this off. Wow.

  • Abe

    But can I watch it…?

  • cocoloco chris

    Your undermining the work that Damiano did to create his comic, as you are forgetting that the ‘idea’ was not just that, it was an idea and then it became a work of art – a comic. So really, what Shia has done is not just stolen the idea, but the work and effort Damiano has put into the comic. That’s like calling a book an ‘idea’, no it is not, it is a book that the author has crafted from an idea in the beginning brain storming stage, to the storyboarding, sketches, notes, and planning which developed into a written story – a complete piece.
    This my friend is an adaption – an unauthorised one. It would be entirely different if the ‘idea’ came from a phone discussion or online forum – somewhere were copyright and ownership of written comments / posts is harder to define but the fact it came from a published piece is ridiculous.
    If he was truly interested in how critics think and wanted to get behind their mind-sets, and not just have his own self image at heart; he could have talked to Damiano himself about the prospect of adapting his material and collaborating on the film together. .

  • Oliver Charles Lardner

    Well to be fair, Shia didn’t write the script, and we don’t know the full story here… I feel sorry for the production team and other actors.

  • Shite Beef

    I guess my brother had it right a few years ago…Shia LaDouche

  • HonkeyKong

    He actually typed “Why Short Film” into Google to answer this writer’s question on why he chose short film as an artistic medium. LOL.

    https://www.google.com/search?q=why+short+film&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&channel=np&source=hp

    The Yahoo answers content he copied and pasted as his “apology” for being caught plagiarizing Clowes, came up (1st result) by Goggling a commonly misconstrued quote attributed to Picasso: Good artists copy Great artists steal.

    https://www.google.com/search?q=good+artists+copy+great+artist+steal&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&channel=np&source=hp#channel=np&q=good+artists+copy+great+artists+steal&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&safe=off

    The plagiarized material from an email he sent to Alec Baldwin comes from an Esquire article that comes up when you search: How to be a man.

    https://www.google.com/search?q=how+to+be+a+man&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&channel=np&source=hp

    These are all in the very top results, and they probably were at the time he Googled them as well. His search history would be a revealing glimpse into the mind of a lazy, entitled sociopath.

    Trying to play this off as intentional trolling with his recent tweets copied from other famous apologies is just so cringe-worthy. The jig’s up, girlfriend! This is not some artistic meta-commentary on the nature of art and technology (or whatever). This is something he has been doing for years and has just has not been exposed, yet. A pathetic little fraud without an original thought in his head, wanting so badly to be seen by others as something he is not. His downward spiral is going to be U-G-L-Y and he ain’t got no alibi! He has earned this public humiliation.

  • HonkeyKong

    LOL. Find the original source for anything he has ever written- a digital scavenger hunt!

  • HonkeyKong

    LOL. Find the original source for anything he has ever written- a digital scavenger hunt!

  • Bravo!

    I don’t think anyone is denigrating the story. The point here is that a great story was stained by the evil deed of plagiarism and that ,sadly ,diminish the whole film. Lies will never be praised, lesson learned.

  • Anonymous

    And then you found out that he simply plagiarized the entire thing. Indeed, not only is he a pretentious little twerp, he appears to be a serial plagiarizer. He’s a mediocre-to-bad actor, and George W. Bush is clearly the better “artist”.

    Or, to quote (and attribute to), Emerson: “There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.”

    LaBeouf is not educated and he has not cultivated himself. A man with nothing to say is wise to stay quiet, and a desperate, pathetic, jealous fool if he imitates others. I feel sorry for the kid—it must be an awful feeling to be smart enough to know talent when you see it but not to have any himself. It’s never too late to change oneself, but it’s the rare movie star who develops true character, at least while enjoying success—he’s likely to get worse, if possible.

    LaBouef ought to stick to being a mediocre actor, be grateful for the success he has, and use his wealth and influence to champion those more talented than he—many wise and wealthy men have done great good this way. He could easily have approached the actual artist here and collaborated on or commissioned the film he pretended to “make”. Instead, he has humiliated and debased himself, revealing himself to have as Napoleonic an interior stature as exterior—this is a small man, through and through.

  • Anonymous

    And then you found out that he simply plagiarized the entire thing. Indeed, not only is he a pretentious little twerp, he appears to be a serial plagiarizer. He’s a mediocre-to-bad actor, and George W. Bush is clearly the better “artist”.

    Or, to quote (and attribute to), Emerson: “There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.”

    LaBeouf is not educated and he has not cultivated himself. A man with nothing to say is wise to stay quiet, and a desperate, pathetic, jealous fool if he imitates others. I feel sorry for the kid—it must be an awful feeling to be smart enough to know talent when you see it but not to have any himself. It’s never too late to change oneself, but it’s the rare movie star who develops true character, at least while enjoying success—he’s likely to get worse, if possible.

    LaBouef ought to stick to being a mediocre actor, be grateful for the success he has, and use his wealth and influence to champion those more talented than he—many wise and wealthy men have done great good this way. He could easily have approached the actual artist here and collaborated on or commissioned the film he pretended to “make”. Instead, he has humiliated and debased himself, revealing himself to have as Napoleonic an interior stature as exterior—this is a small man, through and through.

  • Lee

    He was a noted fan of the author, bragging about it publicly at a point. If he hasn’t read the work, odds are he was aware of its existence. When he filmed the script, none of that went through his mind?

    Besides, and I may be wrong, but I was under the impression he wrote the script himself.

  • Oliver Charles Lardner

    OK, I finally was able to watch the film, side by side with the original comic. It’s a a great film, but it was a great comic to begin with. And it wasn’t source material, it was word for word the whole way through. He wasn’t “inspired”, and the film credits go to no pain to explain the source. Shia plagiarised, case closed.