Oscars rocked by plagiarism accusations involving 5-time nominated film ‘The Holdovers’

Drama swirled at the Oscars as a screenwriter accused the acclaimed nominated film, “The Holdovers,” of plagiarizing a script he wrote over a decade ago.

The Scottish screenwriter’s name is Simon Stephenson and he’s not an unknown. He made a name for himself working on films such as Pixar’s “Luca” and StudioCanal’s “Paddington 2.”

Stephenson sent emails to the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) voicing his allegations, making it clear that the film’s storyline that was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture, had been lifted from one of his works.

“Stephenson alleged that The Holdovers’ director, Alexander Payne, likely read his script ‘Frisco’ when it made the rounds of Hollywood’s ‘black list’ in 2013. The list refers to an annual survey of Hollywood executives’ favorite unproduced screenplays. ‘Frisco’ peaked at number three,” Fox News reported.

(Video Credit: Focus Features)

Variety got a hold of the emails that show Stephenson bluntly alleging that there was “overwhelming” evidence that the screenplay of “The Holdovers” has been plagiarized line-by-line” from “Frisco.”

“[A]nybody who looks at even the briefest sample pretty much invariably uses the word ‘brazen,’” Stephenson told the WGA senior director of credits, Lesley Mackey.

Stephenson’s “Frisco” screenplay is a drama about a cranky middle-aged children’s doctor and a 15-year-old patient he finds himself in charge of.

“The Holdovers” stars an unpopular classics professor at an all-male boarding school, who winds up supervising a 15-year-old student during the holiday break.

Stephenson laid out for the Guild the similarities between the two films scene-by-scene. He also dug into the dialogue and the major sequences in the film.

“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 plagiarized line-by-line from a popular unproduced screenplay of mine,” Stephenson reportedly wrote in February, according to Fox News.

“I can also show that the director of the offending film was sent and read my screenplay on two separate occasions prior to the offending film entering development. By ‘meaningful entirety’ I do mean literally everything- story, characters, structure, scenes, dialogue, the whole thing. Some of it is just insanely brazen: many of the most important scenes are effectively unaltered and even remain visibly identical in layout on the page,” he added.

“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,” he continued.

The issue has still not been resolved and the Guild is saying it’s not something they handle.

“A WGA associate counsel told him it is not a guild issue and referred him to a Los Angeles law firm but told Stephenson, ‘A lawsuit remains the most viable option under these circumstances,'” the New York Post reported.

Variety went on to elaborate, “’This is a case that’s going to have everybody trembling because you can or soon can just push buttons and put scripts into AI programs and compare everything,’ says one Hollywood player familiar with Stephenson’s allegation. ‘They’re hard cases to win. And so there are kind of no winners in them because they’re expensive and ugly and they spook people. I think that’s probably why Simon is trying to get the WGA to help him.’”


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