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Alexander Payne and 'The Holdovers' Screenwriter David Hemingson Face Allegations of Plagiarism Amid Oscar Season Buzz

alexander payne holdovers screenwriter accused plagiarism oscar season
Source: MEGA

Mar. 9 2024, Published 4:30 p.m. ET

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Luca Screenwriter Simon Stephenson spoke out against Alexander Payne's critically acclaimed film The Holdovers and its writer David Hemingson, accusing him of plagiarism.

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alexander payne holdovers screenwriter accused plagiarism oscar season
Source: MEGA

Alexander Payne and screenwriter David Hemingson are accused of plagiarism.

On Jan. 12, Stephenson sent an email to Lesley Mackey, the Writers Guild of America’s senior director of credits, expressing concerns about a potential plagiarism issue.

According to Variety, Stephenson claimed that the screenplay for The Holdovers had been plagiarized from his own script, Frisco, line-by-line. This sparked a series of communications between Stephenson, the WGA, and other industry professionals.

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alexander payne holdovers screenwriter accused plagiarism oscar season
Source: MEGA

'The Holdovers' is nominated for best Original Screenplay.

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Frisco was one of the hottest screenplays in Hollywood when it landed at No. 3 on the Black List, an annual survey of the industry's best unproduced screenplays, founded by Franklin Leonard, in 2013.

The Holdovers, Payne’s critically acclaimed Focus Features film written by Hemingson, has been nominated for five Oscar nominations, including one for best original screenplay. It's currently considered a frontrunner for the award in a tight race with Justine Triet and Arthur Harari’s Anatomy of a Fall, Bradley Cooper and Josh Singer's Maestro, Samy Burch's May December, and Ceiline Song's Past Lives.

With voting already closed, and the ceremony set to take place this Sunday, Hemingson could very well win the Best Original Screenplay Oscar.

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Stephenson’s plea for intervention from the Writers Guild, citing undeniable similarities between the two scripts, has faced resistance regarding the guild's involvement.

Legal counsel advised Stephenson to pursue legal action outside the guild's jurisdiction, hinting at potential lawsuits instead of arbitration.

The case's current status within the Writers Guild remains ambiguous, leaving the industry anticipating potential developments.

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Stephenson alleges that Payne had the Frisco script in both 2013 and again in late 2019, allegedly before Payne approached Hemingson about working on the project together.

According to Variety, the claims are backed up by alleged emails involving several Hollywood agencies and producers.

On August 28, 2013, Verve founder Bryan Besser sent out a mass email, including Stephenson, that read, "Quick update: We gave FRISCO to Alexander Payne’s producing partner Jim Burke whom we took to lunch yesterday. Our opinion is that in an ideal world this is the best way into Searchlight."

UTA’s Geoff Morley indicated that Payne had read Frisco, writing, "I spoke to Alexander Payne’s exec Jim Burke directly a while back and he said that Payne did like it but was not interested in prod or directing it."

Payne and Hemingson declined comment. Stephenson confirmed the authenticity of the emails to Variety but declined further comment.

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