top of page

Holdovers Controversy

We’re after the Oscars now, so I guess this is last year’s news? There was a big article in Variety where the screenwriter of an unproduced script, Frisco, alleged that Alexander Payne’s acclaimed film The Holdovers rips it off.

The writer put together an elaborate memo (embedded in the Variety piece) detailing all the similarities.

There was also an article in The Wrap pushing back against the idea.

My first and foremost feeling is that I’m glad I am nowhere near this controversy.

My second thought is that I started to read the writer’s memo...and while there was a lot of evidence presented, when I looked at the individual examples (comparing page to page), they seemed kinda vague.

I wrote earlier how my writing partner and I, several years ago, wrote (and actually got optioned) a sci-fi pilot that was the same concept as Free Guy. It was a total coincidence. I know for a fact from the calendar there was no way we knew about Free Guy, and the Free Guy writer knew about us.

But I know from that experience that similar concepts lend themselves to similar ideas in execution. The material only has so many places to go.

The situation with The Holdovers is different because there is specific evidence that Alexander Payne was twice submitted, and passed on, the Frisco script.

So that’s kind of damning.

It’s also super weird. I find it hard to believe that Payne would have instructed the screenwriter of The Holdovers to keep referencing an unproduced script as a model. Everybody knows of the trouble you can get in when you do this.

I started to write more about this, but don’t want to speculate. It’s just weird. And sort of sad.

Also sad is that The Holdovers is apparently really great, but it’s streaming on Peacock, and I draw the line at subscribing to Peacock.

319 views9 comments

Recent Posts

See All


One would assume that the rather lengthy document contains the most egregious examples of plagiarism. After all, you want to hook the reader so that they'll take the time to dig even further.

So, I kept scrolling and reading and looking for examples of "obvious and blatant" examples of plagiarism, but I never did find them. It ended up being an exercise in frustration. Yes, there are similar beats (or beat structures), but you can find similar beats in almost all good screenplays - that's part of what makes them great. Good scripts - especially those both character and dialogue based - share certain rhythms, not only because that's part of the craft, but because that's part of how human…

Replying to

I thought so, too.


Neil Bulk
Neil Bulk
Mar 13

If you don't want to subscribe to Peacock you can rent it from Apple.


So buy it in physical media. It's that good.


The real scandal here is Da'Vine Joy Randolph winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for a very average performance. I think you refer to this sort of thing as DEI in the USA.


Listen to Jethro Tull's "We Used to Know" released in 1969. Then listen to the Eagle's "Hotel California" released in 1977. Purely coincidence of course.

bottom of page