The Holdovers hit with plagiarism accusations ahead of Oscars

Connie Queline

The Holdovers hit with plagiarism accusations ahead of Oscars

Ahead of the Oscars, where The Holdovers is nominated for Best Original Screenplay, a plagiarism claim has hit the Alexander Payne film.

As Paul Giamatti’s character in The Holdovers quoted, “History is not just a study of the past, it is an explanation of the present.” So what if looking at a piece of the past led to a successful present? That’s the situation The Holdovers – one of the best films of last year – is finding itself in, as the script is now accused of plagiarism ahead of a potential win for Best Original Screenplay at Sunday’s Academy Awards.

According to Variety, screenwriter Simon Stephenson — who has credits on Pixar’s Luca and Paddington 2 — issued a complaint to a representative for the Writers Guild of America that The Holdovers was suspiciously close to his own Frisco, one of the films featured on The Blacklist, the annual list of best screenplays that have yet to be greenlit. As per The Blacklist, here is the official plot of Frisco: “A forty-something pediatric allergist, who specializes in the hazelnut and is facing a divorce, learns lessons in living from a wise-beyond-her-years terminally ill 15 year old patient when she crashes his weekend trip to a conference in San Francisco.” OK, so this doesn’t seem nearly as close to being in the world of The Holdovers as purported, but the supposed comparisons have been broken down in the claim:

Even this seems extremely loose, but Stephenson is confident that he has a case for plagiarism. According to an email sent from the writer to the WGA, “I can demonstrate beyond any possible doubt that the meaningful entirety of the screenplay for a film with WGA-sanctioned credits that is currently on track to win a screenwriting Oscar has been plagiarised line-by-line from a popular unproduced screenplay of mine…I’ve been a working writer for 20 years – in my native UK before I came to the US – and so I’m very aware that people can often have surprisingly similar ideas and sometimes a few elements can be ‘borrowed’ etc. This just isn’t that situation. The two screenplays are forensically identical and riddled with unique smoking guns throughout.” Despite his case and claims, it’s believed that the WGA essentially brushed off the situation as having nothing to do with the guild as Frisco was a spec script. 

Stephenson further says that The Holdovers director Alexander Payne had direct access to the Frisco script as far back as 2013 (with later connection in 2019), supported via emails. According to sources, Payne had read and liked the screenplay but wasn’t moving forward on it. 

In addition to an Oscar nomination, David Hemingson earned recognition from dozens of other organizations, including the BAFTAs, the Independent Spirit Awards and the WGA. While Anatomy of a Fall could very well take home Best Original Screenplay, no doubt this dispute will put a cloud on The Holdover’s nomination. The team of Hemingson and Payne are due to reteam for a western.

What do you think of the plagiarism case regarding The Holdovers? Give us your thoughts below.


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