Great artists steal.
If you watch a lot of movies and TV shows, at some point you will see scenes on different media that look similar. Maybe the artists are paying homage to what came before them, or maybe they are just stealing that idea and scene outright because it works so perfectly for them.
As the saying goes: “Good artists copy, great artists steal”. But when they steal to make something original, how do you describe it? And how can you tell for yourself what you can steal?
Today we’re going to go through this idea by adding a term called “pastiche. “We’ll also look at some examples of pastiche in film and television so you can better understand their definition and execution.
Ready? Let’s go.
What are pastiche films and television? And how can you learn filmmaking from them?
Filmmakers love to pay homage on the style and use of another filmmaker cinematography, including camera angles, lighting, and mise en scene. This is where the idea of pastiche begins to take shape. But what does the word mean?
In the context of film and television, it is a cinematic device that directly mimics the cinematography or scene work of another filmmaker by directly mimicking iconic moments in that film or television show.
You can even define it through the direct reboots of franchises that take the greatest moments from the originals and use them for a new generation.
Pastiche vs. homage
One of the hardest things to tell is the difference between pastiche and homage. Traditionally pastiche used homage. Let’s take a closer look.
In particular, a tribute is a film or television show that shows respect for another text or style without directly stealing it. I like to think of it like that Indiana Jones Films pay homage to old classic series without directly adopting them.
While something like Strange things is a direct pastiche of movies and science fiction shows from the 1980s. Do you see how they work together?
What are pastiche films and television?
A pastiche has a myriad of ways in which it mimics someone else’s style. It’s very respectful of the origins, as opposed to the parody that tries to ridicule it. When you look at them in film and television, you have to think of entire projects built around this copycat storytelling, not just scenes or concepts.
What are some examples of pastiche films and television?
One of the easiest ways to understand pastiche is from the films of Quentin Tarantino. He often uses plots, traits, and themes from many lesser-known films to create his films.
I mean, think about how Inglourious Basterds takes a title from a lesser known WWII movie and takes the central plot from The dirty dozen. Sure, there are many unique and incredible moments in the movie, but it couldn’t exist without the things that came before it.
Tarantino has been frankly saying that “I steal from every single movie that has ever been made” and you can see that effect on screen.
Galaxy Quest does this with his pastiche of Star Trek, a film about a cult science fiction show that is very similar to the real show. And its problems, villains, and character arcs are similar Star Trek also.
Another great example is the work of Sergio Leone. He made spaghetti westerns, which were a pastiche of the American westerns he loved. This, in my opinion, helps extrapolate what pastiches are. They may even be better than the originals – that’s not the problem – but they build on the things they’ve seen over and over to ensure that audiences get another level of connection.
This is not just a feature film making tool.
Think about this year’s groundbreaking show, WandaVision. It’s a show that makes a pastiche in the format of a different show every week. Of I love lucy to Malcom in the thick of it, it fits into the narratives of television history and tells its own story at the same time. Community was famous for it too. While the entire series didn’t, certain episodes played in different formats. For example, her paintball episode played out like a western.
These pastiches also cover reboots of the original. We saw it in Ghost hunters, we see it on TV with the new one 90210, and even in the series Rick and Morty, that’s a pastiche by Back to the Futurealthough it involves other parts of pop culture in a very postmodern way.
How can you learn filmmaking from pastiche films and television?
The more movies you watch, the more you notice pastiche. I had no idea about the films Tarantino was aping until I did some research. Then I was able to expand my cinematic knowledge.
The same goes for something like war of stars. I saw this film as a kid. I didn’t know anything about Joseph Campbell or how Lucas used these ideas to build his narrative. What about how Flash Gordon is an attempt then a pastiche of. close war of stars?
There is so much film history and film theory that go into these ideas. But you can constantly learn new lessons and techniques by seeing how other directors and writers have approached their ideas. It gives you the freedom to steal if necessary.
So if you’re stuck in a scene or have writer’s block, maybe a little homage or pastiche can help.
Let me know what you think of all of this in the comments.