Alexander Payne’s ‘The Holdovers’ accused of plagiarism

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The acclaimed comedy-drama The Holdovers, directed by Alexander Payne and written by David Hemingson, has been accused of “brazen” plagiarism by screenwriter Simon Stephenson.

As per Variety, on January 12th Stephenson contacted the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) in order to discuss the idea that The Holdovers had lifted from his 2013 screenplay Frisco. In a letter following the initial email exchange, he wrote: “The evidence The Holdovers screenplay has been plagiarised line-by-line from Frisco is genuinely overwhelming – anybody who looks at even the briefest sample pretty much invariably uses the word ‘brazen.’”

The thematic similarities between the two projects are fairly clear to see. The Holdovers centres around a boarding school teacher who is forced to look after a small group of teenagers over the Christmas break. Meanwhile, Frisco details the life of a children’s doctor, and the 15-year-old they are forced to look after.

Aside from the plot similarities between the two projects, Stephenson’s complaint is built around the fact that Holdovers director Alexander Payne was in possession of the Frisco screenplay both in 2013 and 2019, shortly before he began putting The Holdovers together.

Reportedly, Payne was offered the directing role on Frisco multiple times, most recently by Netflix in 2019, but declined the offer. At the time of writing, Frisco does not show any signs of being made into a feature-film anytime soon. 

Meanwhile, The Holdovers has been the recipient of various awards, including ‘Best Supporting Actress’ wins for Da’Vine Joy Randolph at both the Baftas and the Oscars. The film was also nominated for ‘Best Original Screenplay’ at the Oscars.

Although Stephenson has continued his plagiarism claims, the WGA seems to have washed their hands of the dispute, despite almost all involved being Guild members.

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