Where does modern myth end and IP infringement begin? If you're Matt and Ross Duffer, creators of Netflix's Stranger Things, you hope that whispered theories of government conspiracy, time-travel, and mind-altering experiments are owned by the people.
A new lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court claims that the Duffers appropriated the idea for the hit sci-fi series, now gearing up for Season 3, and that they could potentially owe millions in the wake of its phenomenon status. But finding justice in the suit could be tricky, depending on how much of Stranger Things could be considered "true."
The plaintiff, Charlie Kessler, alleges that he met Matt and Ross Duffer at an after-party at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, at which he pitched them on a script he had written called The Montauk Project. The script was based on his 2010 short film Montauk, which itself culled from a long history of paranormal-adjacent activity in the Long Island town. As detailed in the suit, Kessler's The Montauk Project follows a character named Steve, who goes searching for a missing boy, only to encounter kids with psychic superpowers, a series of subterranean tunnels, portals breaching the space-time continuum, and a monster created out of the image of the missing boy's favorite toy. It sounds… familiar.
But as the suit also mentions, these ideas were in the ether thanks to the documentation of men who claim to have either assisted in or been the subjects of experimentation conducted at "Camp Hero," a military base in Montauk that remains as secretive as ever. When the Duffers' series first hit Netflix, Thrillist documented the "true story" of Stranger Things (a report that serves as an aggregated basis for at least one of the cited sources in Kessler's lawsuit) based on available texts and published research. The stories were well known to paranormal scholars, and available to anyone who wanted to find them.
Stranger Things wore its inspiration on its sleeve; the series was originally developed under the working title "Montauk." But there are also major differences between the finished product and the Camp Hero accounts. Kessler's claim is that if the Duffers show intersects with the embellishment of The Montauk Project, he's entitled to his cut of the success story. "After the massive success of Stranger Things that is based on Plaintiff’s concepts that Plaintiffs discussed with Defendants, Defendants have made huge sums of money by producing the series based on Plaintiff’s concepts without compensating or crediting Plaintiff for his Concepts,” Kessler’s suit says.
"Mr. Kessler’s claim is completely meritless,” Alex Kohner, attorney for the Duffers, told Deadline. "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."
Stranger Things Season 3 is currently in production, eying a 2019 release.