Charlie Kessler, director of a short film titled Montauk, claims that Stranger Things creators the Duffer brothers plagiarized his ideas when developing the hit Netflix series. Kessler debuted his film at the 2012 Hamptons International Film Festival, where it won a student film award.
Kessler’s complaint, filed Tuesday in the Los Angeles Superior Court (as Deadline reports), insists that Kessler pitched Montauk’s concepts and ideas to Matt and Ross Duffer at a party at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2014. He claims to have later presented the script, story and film to the brothers, who allegedly used the story to create Stranger Things without compensating or crediting Kessler.
Interestingly enough, the original working title of Stranger Things was The Montauk Project, the same title as a feature-length film script that Kessler had already penned. The original logline for the Netflix series, as reported by Deadline in 2015, read:
Described as a love letter to the ’80s classics that captivated a generation, the series is set in 1980 Montauk, Long Island, where a young boy vanishes into thin air. As friends, family and local police search for answers, they are drawn into an extraordinary mystery involving top-secret government experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and one very strange little girl.
Kessler’s Montauk story, similarly, “involved a missing boy, a nearby military base conducting experiments on children and a monster from another dimension that looks like a toy,” that toy being a stuffed dragon.
“Mr. Kessler’s claim is completely meritless,” said Alex Kohner, the Duffers’ attorney, in a statement on Wednesday. “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.”
Kessler’s Montauk short film was registered with the copyright office, meaning his ideas and the content present in the film were protected in 2010, before it even premiered at the festival. In 2013, Kessler’s feature-length film script The Montauk Project was registered, as well. The complaint uses those facts to argue that the Duffer Brothers breached the implied contract and used Kessler’s intellectual property, which was protected by the United States Copyright Office, to create Stranger Things. Under item four, number 20 of the complaint, the plaintiff retains intellectual property over his concepts.
Moving on to the murky part of the entire lawsuit, item four, number 24 says that Kessler presented the concepts to the defendants “consistent with well-established customs and practices of the entertainment industry and on a mutually understood condition … that the Defendants would not disclose, use, and/or exploit the concepts without the Plaintiff’s permission and/or without compensating Plaintiff in the form of payments, credit and other consideration to the Plaintiff.” This implies that there may have been nothing in writing that the Duffer brothers signed. Of course, different industries practice business in different ways, so a written agreement may not have been needed; however, this complicates things for Kessler, who is requesting damages for a breach of implied contract.
When the project was greenlit by Netflix, it was still titled The Montauk Project. So the next question is, why change the title to Stranger Things? Netflix has not been included in the suit, nor has it issued a statement of any kind.
You can read Kessler’s full complaint here.