Alexander Payne’s ‘The Holdovers’ Faces Plagiarism Claims

Screenwriter Simon Stephenson has accused Alexander Payne and his collaborator on ‘The Holdovers,’ David Hemingson, of plagiarizing his screenplay, ‘Frisco.’ Stephenson, known for his work on ‘Luca’ and ‘Paddington 2,’ raised his concerns with the Writers Guild of America (WGA), alleging that ‘The Holdovers’ mirrors ‘Frisco’ substantially. ‘Frisco,’ a drama about a middle-aged children’s doctor and his 15-year-old patient, shares a strikingly similar premise with ‘The Holdovers,’ which revolves around a middle-aged boarding school teacher and his 15-year-old pupil.

Despite ‘The Holdovers’ receiving critical acclaim and Oscar nominations, including for best original screenplay, Stephenson’s claims raise significant questions about the originality of its content. Evidence suggests that Payne had access to the ‘Frisco’ script on two occasions before developing ‘The Holdovers’ with Hemingson. This revelation, supported by email exchanges among Hollywood agencies and producers, highlights potential exposure to the material in question.


WGA’s Response and the Quest for Resolution

The WGA’s apparent reluctance to intervene in this matter has prompted further discussion within the industry. Despite Stephenson’s attempts to engage the guild through detailed emails and documentation of the similarities between the two screenplays, the WGA maintains that plagiarism and copyright infringement are outside its arbitration scope under the MBA (Minimum Basic Agreement). This stance has left Stephenson contemplating legal action as a more viable means to seek recognition and compensation.

Plagiarism in the Film Industry: Not a New Issue

Plagiarism accusations are not unprecedented in the film industry but remain challenging to prove and resolve. Historical cases, like Art Buchwald’s lawsuit against Paramount over ‘Coming to America,’ and more recent allegations against Guillermo del Toro’s ‘The Shape of Water,’ showcase the complexities and sensitivities involved. With advancing technology, the ease of comparing scripts and identifying potential plagiarism is increasing, suggesting that the industry may need to confront these issues more directly in the future.

Wrapping Up

As ‘The Holdovers’ competes for prestigious awards, the plagiarism allegations cast a shadow over its achievements. The situation underscores the delicate balance between inspiration and originality in creative work and the industry’s ongoing struggle to address these concerns effectively. For Stephenson, the pursuit of acknowledgment and justice in what he perceives as a clear case of plagiarism underscores the broader challenges writers face in protecting their intellectual property. The bottom line here is that The Holdovers wasn’t trying to be unique, it’s a run of the mill coming-of-age mentor-pupil story, what worked and made it of note is the character work, the performances and so it’s less about plagiarism, in my view, and more about a big misunderstanding of what entails plagiarism and any sort of malice from Payne.

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Tags: Alexander Payne, David Hemingson, Simon Stephenson, The Holdovers, Frisco, Plagiarism, WGA, Oscar Nominations, Film Industry Controversies

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