The ‘Stranger Things’ Copycat Lawsuit Claims The Duffer Brothers Ripped Off Someone Else’s Idea
If the reports are true, the concept behind Stranger Things might be strange, but not necessarily original. TMZ reported on Tuesday, April 3 that the Stranger Things creators are being sued over copycat allegations that claim they ripped off another producer's ideas. Matt and Ross Duffer are reportedly the subjects of the lawsuit, which alleges they might have had help in crafting the foundational concepts that gave rise to the premise of the acclaimed Netflix show. (Bustle reached out to the Duffer Brothers' rep, as well as to Netflix, for comment, but did not receive an immediate response.)
UPDATE: On Wednesday, Bustle received a statement from the Duffer Brothers' attorney. The statement denies the allegations:
"Mr. Kessler’s claim is completely meritless. He had no connection to the creation or development of ‘Stranger Things.’ The Duffer Brothers have neither seen Mr. Kessler’s short film nor discussed any project with him. This is just an attempt to profit from other people’s creativity and hard work."
EARLIER: According to TMZ, the new lawsuit has been filed by producer Charlie Kessler, who alleges that the Duffer Brothers culled fundamental plot points from his short film, Montauk, in developing those for Stranger Things. The short, like Stranger Things, centers on the possible existence of top-secret — and potentially supernatural — government operations wreaking havoc in the quiet New York town from which the film got its name. Montauk was available to stream on Vimeo until several hours after TMZ released its report on April 3, but is no longer publicly accessible.
The details of Kessler's allegations against the Duffer brothers, outlined in TMZ's report, are as follows: Kessler reportedly approached the Duffer Brothers in April of 2014 with a proposition to adapt Montauk into a full-blown television series. The lawsuit reportedly claims that, at the time, Kessler and his agents pitched the concept for an expanded series called The Montauk Project, but as TMZ reported, the Duffer brothers didn't seem interested in the idea. So, when Stranger Things premiered on Netflix two years later, in July 2016, Kessler claimed he was "shocked."
Kessler's lawsuit is alleging that his script and idea were used in creating Stranger Things, TMZ reported. According to TMZ, Kessler claims that when the Duffer brothers originally sold Stranger Things, they allegedly did so using the name Kessler supposedly devised for his own series pitch: "The Montauk Project." The lawsuit reportedly seeks monetary reparations for Kessler, in addition to what TMZ's report described as the "destruction of all materials allegedly ripped off" from him.
While Montauk might not have seen the same kind of blockbuster success as Stranger Things, the short (which Kessler produced, co-wrote, and directed) did glean an award at the Hamptons International Film Festival after making its debut in 2012. The primary focus of Kessler's film, which spans the better part of 7 minutes, is rooted in the uncovering of some kind of covert, government-helmed "experiments," suspected to have taken place throughout the greater Montauk area. The description for Kessler's Montauk talks of conspiracy theories, potentially sinister "government projects," and the possibility of supernatural intervention.
While Montauk is no longer available to access through Vimeo, viewers can still watch Kessler's film via TMZ's site, which includes the short film in full. Like Stranger Things, Kessler's short toes the line between a handful of intermingling genres, though "horror" and "science fiction" seem to encompass its tenor most adequately. Montauk takes advantage of the opportunity for noir-esque cinematography, capitalizing on the scare factor with a series of dimly-lit wilderness shots interspersed with high-pitched shrieks from terrified Montauk residents and concerning reports by local news broadcasters. Kessler's short film also grapples with an investigation of sorts into the bizarre government ops, courtesy of Montauk's small-town police force.
Stranger Things, which is slated to begin production on its upcoming third season this summer, deals with some similar elements, though it is difficult to discern whether those similarities might constitute any sort of rip-off, or are simply the product of coincidence. The show has seen several plot points come to fruition during its two-season run that could bear some resemblance to those explored in Montauk (a police investigation, unexplained local happenings, the possibility of metaphysical interference). However, those elements seem pretty non-specific, so it might be difficult to trace them back to Montauk. It's currently unclear how the lawsuit will affect Stranger Things and its production, if at all.