NYU Tisch Student Makes Plagiarized Film To Win Festival Prize After Raising $1,700 On Kickstarter

The Campus Movie Fest is a national competition where film students have a week to make a 5-minute movie. The winning films from each campus then “go to Hollywood” and compete against other schools.

NYU’s winner for the drama prize at this year’s Campus Film Festival was a film called Synchronized. It starts with a sequence of a gas mask clad man sprinting down the street like his life depends on it. He enters a chamber and breathes heavily surrounded by a heavy orange glow until a light changes to green. The man brings home a video camera and has a short fight with his younger sister. They can’t leave the house often because of the dangers outside and the girl is frustrated with their situation. The next morning, the little girl’s bedroom is empty and the video camera is missing. So the man runs out of the house to find her but only finds the girl laying on the ground, completely out of air.

It’s a great plot, but there’s only one problem: Replay, another short film, has the same exact plot.

Matias N Shimada, Tisch film class of 2013 and the director of Synchronized, started a Kickstarter page to raise money for his film. Kickstarter is a website where “creators” can raise funds from “backers” for creative projects they are conducting. Shimada set his goal at $1,700 and successfully raised $1,726 in under 90 days. One backer even gave a single donation of $400-$700.

Note: In their FAQ section, Kickstarter answers the question of “How do I know if a project creator is who they say they are?” with “At the end of the day, use your internet street smarts.”

The film that Synchronized pulls its ideas from is called Replay:

Watching the two films side-by-side, it’s obvious that the films are nearly identical. The gender roles are flipped and Synchronized expands more on the tape recorder idea but the two films are essentially the same film. There’s no point to discussing if Synchronize is a copy of Replay — it just is. And that’s something that Shimada is well aware of.

In a public Facebook note that totaled over 1400 words, which has since been removed, Shimada said, “The BIGGEST mistake I made is not telling anyone where I got the idea, since it is not entirely original. I know people are going to be extremely furious towards me for this and they have every right to be. I have also decided to back out of the festival completely in addition to that, because going would be unfair.”

In the note he also apologizes to many others including Stephen Kaiser-Pendergrast, his producing partner for this film. To his Kickstarter donors, he says that “the apology should be extended to them.” He adds, “They supported this project financially all along and it had to come down to this.”

Shimada denied an interview request from NYU Local but issued a short statement:

Everything I did, I did in complete innocence, and I did not do anything with the intent to harm anybody, but given everything that has happened, I think it is appropriate to seek independent legal advice, which I am doing now.

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    17 Comments

  1. Chloe Jenkins says

    What you don’t mention is how cruel the other students of the NYU community have been to him, which I think is more appalling than anything Matias has done. As a fellow student put it: “I can forgive people for being foolish, I can forgive people for failure, I can especially forgive people who admit to making mistakes. However, I can’t forgive people for being cruel.”

    I think Matias has handled this situation very well, owned up to his mistakes, and done everything in his power to make things right. And no one seems to be recognizing that.

  2. Zach Budgor says

    One important component of this story, neglected above, is the embarrassing, classless vitriol spewed at Shimada since this all began. He’s apologized to essentially everyone on the planet as well as withdrawing his film from the competition and forfeiting a Hollywood trip; short of returning the Kickstarter funds, what more can be done? I suspect if his film hadn’t won the fest, it would be a non-issue. His fellow film students went at him with fangs bared on Facebook pages and Youtube alike, displaying admirable composure in comments like this: “THIS IS NOT A FUCKING ADAPTATAION… I DON’T KNOW WHO THE FUCK YOU ARE BUT´╗┐ YOU ARE A FUCKING MORON.. WATCH THE TWO.. IT IS A CARBON COPY WITHOUT PERMISSION… THAT…IS…CALLED…. PLAGIARISM!!!!! IDIOT….” and “I wouldn’t be able to look at myself each morning knowing I STOLE someone else’s idea as well as $1,700 to produce something that wasn’t mine…Go ahead, remove this comment as you have others. Covering your tracks again.”

    The repeated attacks on Shimada by specific, wildly determined students (his genial “peers”) show a far less professional attitude than any of his public statements regarding his now-infamous folly. I’ve heard him defend himself twice in person: the first time he was confused and clearly grasping for any possible defense, while the second time he sounded weary and burdened with his mistake. While it’s sadly true that a simple credit could’ve defended against charges of plagiarism, the murky “illegality” of Shimada’s actions fails to expose anything as damming as the disgusting opportunism and cruelty flaunted by his attackers.

  3. Kaitlin Kelly says

    @Chloe, Zach:

    While I don’t think anybody is condoning bullying, I do firmly believe that Shimada deserves to be punished for his actions, and deserves the ignominy that comes along with it. According to Shimada’s apology and other comments elsewhere, he spent approximately seven months developing Synchronized, giving him ample time to consider his actions and the course he was going to take. His statement, quoted in this article, saying that he “did [it] in complete innocence” is frankly asinine. He knew what he was doing all along, and now deserves the repercussions, whether they be legal or academic.

    Sure, I give him credit for apologizing, but he only did it after comment after comment trying to explain away or defend his behavior. It was only once he was caught with absolutely irrefutable proof that he finally owned up to his crime.

    Does he deserve to be told to “die in a fire?” No. Does he deserve to have this follow him through school and probably his future? Most certainly.

  4. Nick Martinez says

    @ Zach

    You said it yourself Facebook and Youtube comments.
    Do you really expect professionalism?

  5. Zach Budgor says

    @ Kaitlyn

    I agree. I don’t know if he thought it would honestly be taken as a tribute or if he hoped he’d never be found out, but it was a serious oversight and – I imagine – not easily forgotten by his crew and anyone else directly involved. The way everyone turned on him like vultures on a carcass, however, reflects just as poorly on them and I’d be no more likely to work with them than Shimada in the future. If I were in Film.

  6. Blake Brewer says

    Ok, what people don’t know is the full story… Matias is handling this properly and professionally now but only because he was confronted. Originally, the attempt was to keep this situation private but Matias refused to publicly apologize and admit what he had done. It was only after I agreed to delete my comments off of youtube that Matias agreed to confess that he had plagiarized. Matias’s actions were based off of my personal advice. Yes, I agree Matias is handling this professionally and I give him lots of respect for being open and public about this situation… it takes a lot of courage to come out the way he did.

    Please do not take quotes out of context. That particular quote was not directed toward Matias but another person who was trying to defend him without proper knowledge of the full events. The comment was removed at the request of Matias, which I honored. I do feel he should return the money, me being one of the people that helped fund the film.

    This situation is now being handled professionally and maturely. There have been meetings with faculty at NYU and the situation is being resolved. There is really no need to continue to talk about this matter. I would appreciate it if you would stop bashing us for allegedly “bashing” him.

  7. Chloe Jenkins says

    @Blake

    I’ve been watching this closely, and remember several of the comments you left. It’s only “alleged” because the facebook page where you left the comments no longer exists. Just as you made Matias own up to things he did, you should own up to things you’ve done. This is not a personal attack against you, but it could have been handled better by everyone.

  8. Michael Steindel says

    Big deal, All movies seem to me to have been copied. Original ideas for movies what a joke that is. The guy got funding and put together a staff to create a film that mimics an animated version. Matias N Shimada took an animated short and turned it into a winner. Shimada will become a Hollywood bigshot because its really all about getting funding, getting noticed and winning not were the original material comes from. Good luck Shimada forget what these people are saying now just wait till they’re begging for a job.

  9. john smith says

    Not sure what made Ari and Blake think that they have the responsibility to be someone else’s conscience. Maybe they should stick to worrying about their own problems.

  10. Ted O'Brien says

    Matias should be immediately expelled from NYU for plagiarism. He will then move to Hollywood and have a stellar career stealing other people’s ideas for a living. It’s the Hollywood way!!

  11. says

    In all honesty this was just a demonstration of reality once we graduate.

    If you could pull it off great for you. If not, prepared to be butchered by everyone around you so it could be their turn next. Disney isn’t suing Cameron for Pocahont- I mean Avatar. But than again, Cameron just adapted it to an epic 3D masterpiece instead of an animation.

    My link (click my name) is written by another source regarding this source of thing.
    <–

  12. Ryan Callahan says

    I can’t make it through a day without coming up with an original idea for a film, and I don’t even make films. How uncreative can you be?

  13. Jerry Wang says

    I’ve known Matias for about 6 years, as a friend since 9th grade….we don’t go to the same college, so the last two years we haven’t spoken as often.

    Matias is not the funniest, or brightest, or most socially apt person I’ve ever known. Hell, I can’t even say that he’s very interesting. But through the years I’ve known him, he’s always been a reliable person; a sincere one.

    Matias hasn’t spoken a word of this situation to me. But I heard it anyhow, from someone out to mock him. So in his defense, I have this to say:

    Whatever Matias has done, I know that he has never had ill intentions. In all likelihood, he may have had foolish intentions, or dreams of grandeur, or a strong desire to win awards. But don’t we all enjoy recognition?

    I’ve been through 4 years of high school with the guy, Matias is not a schemer. He doesn’t sit next to people and pretend to be buddies with them to join a clique. But he is nice to as many people as he can be.

    Matias is a fan. Borderline lunatic about certain bands, or directors, or…Spanish. He might lack the sensitivity to call his work a “homage”, but it’s very likely that all he’s tried to do with his film, is pay homage to a story he discovered that he really, really liked.

    I can’t believe that people are calling for NYU to expel him. It’s his mistake, but that’s what experience is, right? What college is supposed to give us?

    He’s never been popular, or even at times respected; the fact that people here are out to destroy him proves that. When my friends ask me a question about Matias, it’s usually something along the lines of, “Why are you friends with him?”

    I suppose it’s a hard question to answer, even after 6 years. But his sincerity has always meant something, no matter how frustrating, or thickheaded, or even childishly evasive Matias has at times been. Give the guy a chance. Let him learn the meaning of originality.

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