The Hunger Games and Plagiarism

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Thoughts on the debate over whether Battle Royale was plagiarized to create The Hunger Games, and what screenwriters can learn from it.


As you all have probably noticed, The Hunger Games is coming out this weekend, and while most are excited (I, for one, am going at midnight), people are getting into arguments about whether or not The Hunger Games was plagiarized from Battle Royale, a Japanese movie that’s also based on a book.  While I don’t want to get into the specifics of whether or not HG and BR are the same (they aren’t), the debate is making me think about how plagiarism is a concern for screenwriters. While both established and aspiring screenwriters worry about their ideas getting stolen, it’s especially a concern for the early-career writers who might feel they don’t have the power to do anything about it. Luckily, there are steps writers can take to stop worrying so much. The first step is to stop caring so much. And the second step is to protect yourself.

You might have noticed I put the “stop caring” step AHEAD of the “protect yourself” step. That’s because it’s the most important (and hardest) to do. This happens in the idea stage of a script, or even in the writing and revision stages of a script, when it’s most beneficial to share your work and get feedback from other writers.  I’m not saying you should completely let go of all attachment to your work. But if you are so scared that your brilliant idea is going to get stolen, you’re never going to take the risk of showing your work, and that means it’ll never get better, and it’ll never get sold.

How do you stop worrying about your ideas getting stolen? Remember two things: everything is archetypal, and execution matters most. A love triangle. Coming of age stories. The hero’s journey. These are all archetypes, and whether you’ll admit it to yourself or not, your ideas are all probably stemmed from one archetype or another. That’s not a bad thing – it’s what makes stories universal.

But that brings us to point two - execution matters the most. This is where it’s relevant to talk about The Hunger Games and Battle Royale. Both books, and now films, have the exact same premise: A totalitarian government puts teenagers on an island and forces them to kill each other as a means of societal control. But the execution is not the same; there’s a ton of details that make them completely different, and makes the debate about plagiarism pointless. Even if someone steals your idea, you’ll execute it better, because it was your idea in the first place. If you can trust in your own creativity enough, the fear of someone stealing your idea will become less and less scary.

Again, this is the advice for the idea stage of writing. Once you have a completed script, that’s where step two comes in: Protecting Yourself. Look for The Hunger Games and Plagiarism – Part Two in the upcoming weeks!