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‘Luca’ Writer Claims ‘The Holdovers’ Plagiarized His Black List Script

Simon Stephenson, who has a story by credit on “Luca” and contributed to “Paddington 2” and “Wonka,” has alleged that the Academy Award-nominated “The Holdovers” was heavily plagiarized from his script, “Frisco.” “The Holdovers” has five Oscar nominations, including for Best Original Screenplay. Its script is credited to David Hemingson.

In an email to the Writers Guild, reported by Variety and confirmed to the outlet by Stephenson, the British writer states, “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.'”

Representatives for Stephenson and the WGA did not immediately respond to requests from TheWrap for comment.

Stephenson’s “Frisco” appeared on the annual compilation of unproduced scripts loved within the industry, the Black List, back in 2013. Coming in at No. 3, its synopsis read, “A forty-something pediatric allergist, who specializes in hazelnut and is facing a divorce, learns lessons in living from a wise-beyond-her-years terminally ill 15-year-old patient when she crashes his weekend trip to a conference in San Francisco.”

“The Holdovers” tells the story of a cantankerous boarding school teacher, played by Paul Giamatti, forced to play caretaker to a teen over a boarding school’s holiday break.

At the time his script made the Black List, Stephenson was with agency UTA, but is now repped by CAA — the same agency as “Holdovers” director Alexander Payne. Stephenson alleges that Payne had a copy of his script in both 2013 and 2019. An email from UTA’s Geoff Morley, reported by Variety, indicated that Payne read the script in 2013 and liked it, but wasn’t interested in producing or directing it.

In 2019, the project was at Netflix, whose executive Lisa Nishimura brought the script to Payne, according to Variety. A later email from Brightstar’s John Woodward to Stephenson and producer Tanya Seghatchian stated that Payne had read it but that it was “not quite what he is looking for,” also noting that Netflix’s interest in the project “was predicated on Alexander.”

The credited writer for “The Holdovers,” Hemingson, has a background as an entertainment lawyer and TV writer. “The Holdovers” is his first feature film. Payne said that the concept for his film was inspired by a 1935 French film he’d seen at a festival, before receiving a TV pilot from Hemingson set at a boarding school. Payne said that he then reached out and asked him to write the film, then worked out the story together with the writer.

While Stephenson sought aid from the Writers Guild, he noted in a later email that he’d been told the guild could not help due to “Frisco” being written on spec.

In an extensive document laying out his argument by Stephenson, published by Variety, the writer states, “The meaningful entirety of the screenplay for THE HOLDOVERS has been copied from the FRISCO screenplay by transposition. This includes the FRISCO screenplay’s entire story, structure, sequencing, scenes, sequential sub-beats within scenes, line-by-iine 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.”

He also alleged, “The copying is so comprehensive that it seems likely THE HOLDOVERS was created by importing FRISCO into screenwriting software and directly overtyping the transposition on a line-by-line basis.”

Stephenson acknowledged in an email to the WGA board, “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.”

Variety was the first to report the news.

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