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The Real Story Behind Shia LaBeouf's Hilarious 'Motivational' Rant

David Pogue
Tech Critic

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who’ve already seen the hilarious clip of actor Shia LaBeouf screaming, “Just DO IT!” furiously at the camera for two minutes, and those who will.

The first time you see it, you can’t help having some reaction. The guy is just losing it. He’s like a Nike commercial delivered by Charles Manson. He’s Tony Robbins on a bad trip.

“Just DO IT!he screams. “Don’t let your dreams be dreams. Yesterday, you said tomorrow. So just do it! … What are you waiting for?! DO IT! JUST DO IT! YES, YOU CAN! JUST DO IT! If you’re tired of starting over, STOP GIVING UP!”

Throughout this rant, he’s contorting himself. He doubles over. He plucks some invisible birdseed out of one palm. He keeps enclosing the space around his crotch. Overall, he behaves as though his distress over your inactivity is being compounded by severe intestinal distress.

Here it is:

The performance is so ridiculously over the top that, if you’re like most people, you can’t help laughing at it. What a nutcase, right?

The greenscreen factor

But it gets better — much better. LaBeouf was filmed in front of a greenscreen — and you know what that means. Using video-editing software, you can replace that green background with any video or photo you choose. It took the Internet only a few hours to start dropping LaBeouf into a variety of increasingly hilarious backgrounds.

One person quickly turned the rant into the most unforgettable motivational TED talk ever.

Another talented editor custom-filmed a scene on his apartment balcony, apparently with his phone, and then edited LaBeouf into the footage. It’s funny and has a bad word in it.

In this sequence, LaBeouf makes a fairly convincing Star Wars hologram, acting as a sort of motivational coach for an uncertain Luke Skywalker.

And here’s LaBeouf providing raging retorts to the passive-aggressive 2001: A Space Odyssey spaceship computer, HAL. It’s amazing how well his dialogue fits with the movie’s.

There are actually dozens of Shia rant videos, all created in a single day. You can find all of them here, on Reddit.

The backstory

When you first encounter the Shia meme, your first instinct is probably to laugh yourself silly — at him. He has had so many nutty brushes with fame, art, and the law that his goofy overacting here is certainly worth mocking. Right?

As it turns out, he’s not as clueless as he seems. He’s actually performing. He was scripted and directed in this clip.

LaBeouf was participating in a video art project called #Introductions for Central Saint Martins, a London arts college.

Each student in the class was directed to write a short script for the actor to perform on camera in front of a greenscreen. According to the Guardian, this was the assignment:

“Submit a piece of text lasting up to 30 seconds or no more than 100 words. This can be as poetic, abstract or literal as you like — with the emphasis on expressing the feeling and tone of the work being introduced.”

LaBeouf wound up performing 36 of the pieces in a single day in a Los Angeles greenscreen studio. The various segments involve him wearing a motorcycle helmet, using a British accent, and standing on his head.

It’s the latest piece of performance art LaBeouf has done with British artist Luke Turner and Finnish artist Nastja Säde Rönkkö. You may have heard of a previous collaboration from these three: LaBeouf showed up at a movie premiere with a paper bag over his head bearing the phrase “I am not famous anymore” written in black marker.

In any case, the resulting 30-minute string of performances is very peculiar but strangely compelling. You can watch it here.

The students processed the video in various ways, resulting in a really-not-that-interesting finished product that was screened at the arts school’s bachelor of arts graduation ceremony.

In other words, the hilarious Shia rant video is actually just a two-minute excerpt from the art students’ project.

It would have been much juicer and funnier and more satisfying, of course, if we could mock LaBeouf for being crazy and unaware. But, in fact, he intended to make a performance piece. It was shot in front of a greenscreen on purpose — and released with a Creative Commons license, meaning “anyone in the world is welcome to work with this video for free.”

It seems that LaBeouf and his collaborators knew very well what they were doing. The video art, in this case, wasn’t just what LaBeouf performed or what the Central Saint Martins students created from it — in the end, the performance art also included a whole Internet full of inspired, witty, and impressively quickly made videos.

Well done, all. You’ve earned your degrees!