There’s an old adage that any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered ‘no’. But, in this case, it’s still very much up in the air – and the question will be put before a court next month.
Filmmaker Charlie Kessler has filed a suit against Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer, alleging the series plagiarised his 2012 short film Montauk, which will be going to trial this May 6th. Last Wednesday, the Duffers’ attempt to have the suit dismissed was denied by the Los Angeles Superior Court. Most significantly, Judge Michael Stern has stated “Triable issues of fact remain to be determined concerning what plaintiff said, what he meant to convey by his conversation and how the defendants responded before it can be definitively concluded whether or not an implied in fact contract was formed.”
Note what he’s not saying there – that Stranger Things isn’t similar enough to Kessler’s film for this case to be worth hearing out. Per the court, it is. As Kessler’s attorney S. Michael Keman put it, “If the lawsuit had no merit, or if they actually had the ‘proof’ they created it, then their summary judgment would have won. They lost.” What remains to be decided is whether, as Kessler claims and the Duffers deny, Kessler pitched them the idea in 2014 and gave them “the script, ideas, story and film” that were the seeds of Stranger Things.
The Duffers, naturally, deny this completely, describing the suit as “just an attempt to profit” from their smash-hit series. However, there is the damning detail that the Duffers used the working title ‘The Montauk Project’ while Stranger Things was in development – and, when Netflix first announced the series in 2015, it was originally called ‘Montauk’.
It’s long been theorised that every story going can ultimately be boiled down to one of six or seven basic plot structures. However, the similarities between Montauk and Stranger Things run a bit deeper than simply being examples of the ‘overcoming the monster’ formula – the plot of Montauk includes a missing boy, a nearby military base conducting experiments on children, and a monster from another dimension, three concepts that every Stranger Things fan could put a name to.
T.S. Eliot, no stranger to wearing his influences on his sleeve, once said ‘immature poets borrow, mature poets steal’. Stranger Things is well-known for its not-so-subtle nods to other works, mainly beloved ‘80s horror flicks – the difference is, Stephen King (a fan of the show, as it happens) hasn’t claimed that he pitched ‘Stand By Me’ to the Duffers several years beforehand.