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He says, she says and the true story of Rubber Boy disappears

3 years ago
Rubber boy

Marketingmagazine.com.my) – By: Malati Siniah

While Leo Burnett was waiting in anticipation to see if their shortlisted ad for Petronas would take home Malaysia’s first and only metal at this year’s Cannes Lions, back home a storm was brewing.

Allegations were made that the award-winning ad Rubber Boy done by Leo Burnett Malaysia was plagiarised from filmmaker Tan Chui Mui’s unsuccessful pitch to the agency in 2014.

Kicking off the conversation last Saturday via a series of Facebook postings under the hashtag #‎LeoBurnettPlagiarism‬, Chui Mui detailed how her team at Da Huang Pictures pitched their idea, inspired by a friend’s childhood story, to the agency.

Having been told that their idea was rejected by the client, Chui Mui and her team were surprised to see the similarities between their script and the 2016 Petronas’s Chinese New Year ad, which has now passed its 3 million view mark on YouTube.

Chui Mui’s allegations were picked up by local media outlets over the weekend and drew support by The Screenwriter’s Association of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor (Penulis) who called for an investigation by Cannes Lions over the agency’s submission.

Rubber Boy was submitted under the Film Craft category for Best Script, and was the only Malaysian agency shortlisted for the award.

In response to the allegations the Leo Burnett team shared their side of the story via two separate postings under the same #‎LeoBurnettPlagiarism‬ hashtag.

James Yap, Leo Burnett’s Creative Director, shared that the ad in question was based on a ‘personal family story’, a tale of his grandfather who worked in the estates after serving with the British Air Force during the war. In his post James went on to share personal anecdotes of how his childhood memories inspired the scripting of Rubber Boy.

“It hurt that my story had been stolen and the actual writer vilified. The Cannes shortlist for Rubber Boy falls under scriptwriting.

In which case, I’ll soon post Rubber Boy script (dialogue and narration) and Mui’s script. They bear no resemblance to one another. As my friend would say they are so far apart, you’d have to take a bus to get there.” Shared James in his post.

Leo Burnett’s business director Eswara VAN Sharma defended the agency and denied the plagiarism acquisitions by Chui Mui. In his Facebook post, Eswara posted a side by side comparison of Leo Burnett’s presentation slide and that which was posted by Tan.

“When you read this, and know how much we have at stake, it becomes clearer as to why we would never, ever do what we are being accused of.

“And when you see the pictures I’ve posted, it becomes clearer as to how the reality has been manipulated to suit dishonest ends.”

Chui Mui acknowledged both postings, agreeing with James that a rubber tappers tale was a common one, noting that she had once used the idea in a previous film.

However, she highlighted that the key element from her script of the son struggling to lift his mum’s heavy basket should not have been included as a scene in ‘Rubber Boy’, sharing that it was the main factor that led her to complain on the issue.

rubber boy scene
She also denied Eswara’s allegations of her doctoring the presentation slides, throwing the accusation back sharing that her presentation deck was sent over in a PowerPoint format.

Yesterday MARKETING reached out to Leo Burnet on this issue, and in its statement the agency denied the plagiarism allegation calling it ‘baseless’ and share that they had reached out to Chui Mui on this issue and were waiting for her response.

Below is the official media statement received from Leo Burnett:

“Leo Burnett does not condone or endorse plagiarism of any kind. Credit is always given, wherever it is deserved.
The allegation that Rubber Boy is based on plagiarised material or script is incorrect.

The creative team at Leo Burnett that worked on Rubber Boy for the Petronas CNY short film has affirmed this and we stand by their version of how the Rubber Boy story and script were developed.

The Rubber Boy story is based on an idea that our internal pool of talent at Leo Burnett, in close collaboration with our client collectively worked on.

As part of the creative journey from idea to shooting script, the client-approved script is shared with the prospective directors, and we guide them to evolve a treatment of our script. The purpose of this treatment is to add details and nuances to the script. Key elements such as the setting in the rubber estate and the character of the child and his motivations and circumstances, along with the key message, are always in the agency script that was briefed to all the directors involved.

During this process, many suggestions are exchanged back and forth, and the treatment is evolved under the close guidance and supervision of our creative team.

The final decision is accorded to the treatment which best meets our and our client’s objectives. After this, we work closely with the chosen director, from the actual shoot to the post-production process, to ensure the best possible outcome.

As such, we reiterate that the allegations of plagiarism are baseless.

Nevertheless, we have reached out to the party making the allegations and await their response.”


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