Last April, filmmaker Charlie Kessler filed a lawsuit against Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer, alleging that the pair went much further than paying homage to sci-fi and horror genre greats and, instead, lifted the concept for the popular Netflix series from a short film, Montauk. Now, just over a year later, a new ruling by a Los Angeles Superior Court is sending the lawsuit on to trial.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the court denied summary judgement to the Duffer brothers, asserting that despite their argument that the ideas in question in the case are not novel, there is no "novel" requirement in either New York or California law.
At the heart of the lawsuit is Kessler's claim that Stranger Things is based on the script for his film project, The Montauk Project. The project is set in the New York town associated with "various urban legends and paranormal and conspiracy theories", has similar themes as Stranger Things. Kessler claims that he met the Duffers at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2014 and pitched them a TV series based on the concept. The Duffers had sought summary judgement in their favor to end the lawsuit. However, the court is prepared to move forward.
"The present situation presents far different facts than those detailed in Enberg," writes the judge in a short order. "The circumstances under which [Kessler] claims to have submitted his ideas to the defendants are not analogous. The plaintiff’s claimed expectations also differ significantly. He contemplated commercial exploitation and profitability... 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."
The trial is currently scheduled to begin on May 6, though parties involved will be in court next week for a hearing on what evidence can be precluded from trial. Kessler, for his part, has been pushing that documents and deposition from Netflix be allowed while the Duffers are pushing against that, as well as are trying to preclude evidence of their net worth. If Kessler is ultimately successful, he could be entitled to not only credit as a co-creator of Stranger Things, but one-third of the monies received.
What makes this whole case a little more interesting is that Stranger Things was initially conceived with the title "Montauk" with the show's events taking place in Montauk, Long Island before the setting was ultimately changed to Hawkins, Indiana. Netflix even referred to the series by its original name when early press releases about the series were released.
While in the wake of this new ruling a Netflix spokesperson claims the case has no merit and that they "look forward to being confirmed by a full hearing of the facts in court," Kessler's attorney Michael Kerman sees it differently. The case going to trial, for him, confirms that there is merit.
"Now that the Judge has ruled and denied their motion for summary judgment, we can now dispense with the nonsense promoted by the Duffers and Netflix that this lawsuit has no merit, and that they had 'proof' that they created the show. 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. These motions are very hard to fight and winning this Motion shows Mr. Kessler has a good case. We look forward to proving Mr. Kessler's case at trial."
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