Kessler’s lawsuit alleges that the Duffer brothers breached an implied contract with him after he pitched them a similar sci-fi story set near a secret military base two years before Stranger Things was released. Kessler had produced a short film called Montauk in 2012 based around secret government experiments, which won an award at the Hamptons International Film Festival.
In the wake of Montauk’s success, Kessler approached the Duffer brothers in 2014 at the Tribeca Film Festival with an extended idea called The Montauk Project,which could be adapted for a feature film or a full-length series. His lawsuit claims that the Duffer brothers turned him down but stole his ideas, accusing them of “misappropriation, unauthorized use and exploitation of Plaintiff’s protected work, ideas, and concepts”. The complaint highlights how the Duffer brothers “have made huge sums of money” based on concepts allegedly stolen from Kessler, “without compensating or crediting [Kessler] for his concepts.”
One problem Kessler’s suit will likely face is in determining that the concepts he pitched to the Duffers in 2014 were his original ideas and therefore his intellectual property. The complaint states that, “Stranger Things was initially sold as a show entitled The Montauk Project and initially the show was repeatedly referred to asThe Montauk Project, before its name was changed to Stranger Things.”
However, the title The Montauk Project originated in a series of books published in the 1990s about alleged secret government experiments at Camp Hero and/or Montauk Air Force Station. Kessler was clearly aware of these alleged experiments because the original title for his feature film was Camp Hero, before he changed it to The Montauk Project. Indeed, secret government experiments are a recurring theme in pop culture, from The Men Who Stare at Goats to The X-Files.
One of the reasons for this is that US government agencies conducted a variety of very real experiments either seeking to tap into supposed psychic powers or to develop advanced methods for mental and behavioral control. As researcher Christopher Garetano, an executive producer of the History Channel series The Dark Files, said, “After World War II, the United States recruited Nazi scientists and used them for a variety of things, to develop weaponry and technology.”
Kessler is seeking damages, restitution and lost profits along with an injunction preventing the Duffer brothers from further use of his concepts. The injunction would also require them to “destroy all materials of every nature and kind in their possession, custody or control” based on the same concepts. This means that if the lawsuit is successful it could threaten the planned third and fourth seasons ofStranger Things, preventing them from being made.