‘The Holdovers’ Accused of Plagiarism by ‘Luca’ Writer

The Alexander Payne awards contender The Holdovers is facing controversy on the eve of the Oscars, where the script from David Hemingson is nominated for best original screenplay.

The feature stars Paul Giamatti as a cynical teacher at a boarding school who gets stuck caring for a teenage boy (Dominic Sessa) over Christmas break. According to Luca and Paddington 2 writer Simon Stephenson, the script has striking similarities to his unproduced screenplay for Frisco, about a cynical pediatrician who finds himself caring for a teenage patient over a period of days. The Frisco script had some notoriety, as in 2013 it landed on the Black List, which honors the year’s best unproduced screenplays.

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Stephenson prepared documents comparing scenes from both screenplays as well as their overall structure. Variety, which made one of those documents public Saturday, reported Stephenson sent it to the WGA in January to seek help. According to one document, Payne was sent drafts of the script in 2013 and 2019 in a bid to get him to board the project.

“The meaningful entirety of the screenplay for THE HOLDOVERS has been copied from the FRISCO screenplay by transposition,” claims the document. “This includes the FRISCO screenplay’s entire story, structure, sequencing, scenes, sequential sub-beats within scenes, line-by-line substance of action and dialogue, characters, arcs, relationships, theme and tone. A majority of this has been done line-for-line, and a large number of unique and highly specific elements created in FRISCO are readily and unequivocally identifiable in THE HOLDOVERS.”

Among the similarities Stephenson highlighted was an early moment in which the protagonist is summoned to his boss’ office and dressed down for wronging a politician. (In The Holdovers, Giamatti’s character failed the son of a U.S. senator. In Frisco, the doctor protagonist calls a U.S. congresswoman., who was the mother of a patient, a moron.)

The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to representatives for the WGA, Payne, Hemingson, and Stephenson. (Both Payne and Stephenson are repped by CAA, while Hemingson is at WME).

The Holdovers script is up against Maestro, Anatomy of a Fall, Maestro, May December and Past Lives for best original screenplay at the Oscars, which ended its voting window late last month. Late last year, Payne and Hemingson spoke to THR about the movie’s origins. Payne said he had long wanted to make a film set at a boarding shcool, while Hemingson had written an unproduced TV pilot set at a school. The pilot script caught Payne’s eye, and he called the screenwriter.

“I thought it was a prank call at first until I saw the Omaha area code and realized it actually was Alexander Payne,” recalled Hemingson of getting that call from Payne. “And he said, ‘I have this film I want to do about this odiferous, socially challenged professor stuck at school over Christmas — would you be interested in writing it?’”

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