It appears someone thinks they own the rights to anything based on the the Montauk Project legend, even if it doesn’t directly refer to Montauk or even Camp Hero. The maker of a 2012 short film, Montauk, is suing the creators of Netflix’s runaway hit Stranger Things, Matt and Ross Duffer, saying they stole his ideas for the show.
Filed Tuesday in Los Angeles superior court, filmmaker Charlie Kessler‘s suit, which demands monetary damages and a jury trial for breach of implied contract, claims that Kessler met the Duffer brothers at a 2014 Tribeca Film Festival premiere party and discussed his ideas for a feature film called The Montauk Project. He notes that, like his film idea, Stranger Things was originally called The Montauk Project.
The show was actually called Montauk in early press releases from Netflix, not The Montauk Project as Kessler asserts. Montauk is the title of Kessler’s original short film, which premiered at the 2012 Hamptons International Film Festival, so it may not matter that he cites the wrong title in the lawsuit.
If you want to read the lawsuit, Deadline released it here.
The aggrieved filmmaker is correct, however, that the series, under its original title, was billed as the Duffer’s take on the mysterious legends surrounding Montauk’s Camp Hero Air Force base, including mind control experiments, the creation of a monstrous beast, and the abduction of children who were to be turned into government super soldiers with telekinetic and psychic abilities.
These legends were first published in Preston Nichols and Peter Moon‘s book The Montauk Project, which is not mentioned in the lawsuit.
Kessler, who also filmed his Bait short in Montauk, says he discussed and presented “the script, ideas, story, and film” to the brothers “on the mutually understood condition and bilateral expectation” that the Duffers would not “disclose, use and/or exploit the Concepts” without his permission, or without compensating him with “payments, credit and other consideration.” He says the Duffers instead “misappropriated, used and exploited” his concepts to produce Stranger Things, which aired its second season on Netflix last year (see trailer below).
There’s only one problem: Even if he did speak with the Duffers, which they deny, Kessler isn’t the first person to use the Montauk legends as inspiration for a film.
“There are just so many reasons why he didn’t influence Stranger Things,” Montauk Chronicles filmmaker and host of History’ The Dark Files Christopher Garetano said, weighing in on the controversy Thursday. “He did this after my stuff was getting heavy exposure,” Garetano added, pointing out that an early iteration of his movie about the Camp Hero legends was receiving press as far back as 2010.
Released last fall, History’s The Dark Files, starring Garetano, also took a shot at uncovering the truth about Montauk and Camp Hero.
The final version of The Montauk Chronicles (see trailer above) wasn’t released until 2015, but Garetano screened his original version of film in May of 2012—after he had already received some coverage online, and launched a website in March 2010. Garetano says he was exploring the Camp Hero subject matter on film long before Stranger Things or Kessler’s film saw the light of day.
“I’m sure [Kessler] saw my stuff,” he said. And despite similarities between Stranger Things and The Montauk Chronicles, “I’m not suing the Duffers,” Garetano added. “Everyone has their influences.”
The Montauk Chronicles and Garetano received a great deal of attention following the success of Stranger Things. As a result, the filmmaker was interviewed numerous times about his movie and the connections between Montauk’s legends and the Duffers’ show. Two such articles are reproduced as evidence in Kessler’s suit.
Garetano called the lawsuit “ridiculous,” and said he wasn’t particularly impressed by Kessler’s Montauk short (see the trailer above). “I saw his short well before Stranger Things was a twinkle,” he explained. “He hasn’t really honed his craft,” Garetano continued. “He’s just one of those guys looking to make a buck.”
As for whether or not the Duffers should or would pay Kessler a settlement to go away, Garetano said, “If they pay him, it’s just obscene. I just don’t see how it’s going to fly.”
For their part, the Duffer brothers deny ever meeting Kessler or seeing his short film. In a statement released to various newspapers through their attorney on Wednesday, the Stranger Things creators said, “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.”
Stranger Things was renewed for a third season in December of last year.