Screenwriter Lodges Plagiarism Claim Right Before Oscars

( – Screenwriter Simon Stephenson emailed the Writers’ Guild of America (WGA) the month before the 2024 Oscars awards ceremony to put forward his case that the award-winning “The Holdovers” film, at the time nominated for several Oscars, was the product of plagiarism.

Opening up an email correspondence on January 2 with WGA senior director of credits, Lesley Mackey, the “Paddington 2” writer said that he had concerns over a crediting issue, before going on the explain that he believed that his unproduced screenplay, “Frisco”, had been ripped off “line-by-line” by the creators of “The Holdovers”.

“Frisco”, a screenplay about a doctor given the responsibility of caring for a tiresome 15-year-old, was circulated around Hollywood in 2013 when it earned the third spot on that year’s “Black List” – a list of unproduced screenplays touted as favorites by movie executives. In 2019, “Frisco” was pitched to streaming giant Netflix, where executive Lisa Nishimura is reported to have given the script to Alexander Payne, who would later direct “The Holdovers”. Payne, along with screenwriter David Hemingson, began work on the script for “The Holdovers” not long after.

It is Stephenson’s claim that “The Holdovers”, which centers around a teacher looking after a 15-year-old student, is a clear and obvious case of plagiarism, with numerous examples of similar characters and scenes in each script. Not everyone agrees with Stephenson’s assessment, however, with many writers taking to social media to express their view that the similarities do not amount to plagiarism, but instead show use of common tropes found throughout the history of cinema, for example, that of the misanthropic older person forced to build a relationship with a troubled youngster.

Leila Azari, the WGA West Associate Counsel is reported to have expressed sympathy for Stephenson’s concerns but clarified that this accusation could not be classed as an issue for the guild to resolve, despite the continued membership of Payne, Hemingson, and Stephenson. Azari instead advised that Stephenson seek legal recourse should he want to continue the matter and referred him to a law firm based in Los Angeles who may be able to take on the case.

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