Stranger Things creators deny accusation of stealing show's premise

Stranger Things creators Ross Duffer and Matt Duffer at the 2018 DGA Awards at the Beverly Hilton, on Feb 3, 2018.
Stranger Things creators Ross Duffer and Matt Duffer at the 2018 DGA Awards at the Beverly Hilton, on Feb 3, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

(Washington Post) - Film-maker Charlie Kessler has accused Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer of stealing the premise of the Netflix series from his 2012 short film, Montauk. Kessler filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court earlier this week and is seeking damages for "breach of implied contract".

He debuted his short at the Hamptons International Film Festival in 2012 and later expanded upon it to write a feature film script called The Montauk Project. He claims he met the Duffer Brothers in 2014 at a Tribeca Film Festival party, where the trio allegedly discussed the "script, ideas, story, and film". The lawsuit states that, in creating Stranger Things, the Duffer Brothers defied a "well-established" industry standard of not using someone else's idea without permission or compensation.

Alex Kohner, the Duffer Brothers' attorney, shared the following statement with The Washington Post: "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."

So how similar are the projects?

Kessler's story, according to the lawsuit, centres on a boy named Michael who wakes up in a trance and walks to Camp Hero, an abandoned military base in Montauk, New York, and suddenly disappears. A "cop with a haunted past" vows to find the boy and discovers that the government is experimenting on children at Camp Hero, endeavoring to create "psychic weapons" and "portals to the alien world". The cop does find Michael eventually, but the boy seems to have been altered by the experiments. He opens a portal above the base, "disrupting the space-time continuum".

In the 1980s-set Stranger Things, which premiered in 2016, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) is abducted by a creature called the Demogorgon and taken into an alternate dimension called the Upside Down. The government runs secret experiments on abducted children in Hawkins, Indiana, hoping to better understand the otherworldly force. One of the children, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), escapes.

While both appear to have missing kids, monsters and secret experimentation, "cop with a haunted past", for instance, could refer to dozens of TV characters other than the Netflix series' Jim Hopper (David Harbour). Variety noted that a 1992 book called The Montauk Project: Experiments In Time predates both projects and "tells of repressed memories of secret government experiments at Montauk's Camp Hero". Related conspiracy theories have circulated online for years, according to Variety.


The Netflix series was still called Montauk when the platform announced in 2015 that it had ordered eight episodes. Gaten Matarazzo, who plays Dustin in Stranger Things, mentioned the Camp Hero connection in a November interview with Wired.

Kessler's lawsuit notes the commercial success of Stranger Things, stating that the show has "enriched (the Duffers) to the tune of millions of dollars". In mid-March, news broke that the cast would be receiving massive raises for the third season. The Hollywood Reporter reported that Harbour and Winona Ryder will make US$350,000 per episode, while the youngest stars - Schnapp, Matarazzo, Finn Wolfhard and Caleb McLaughlin - will make US$250,000.