As ‘Stranger Things’ Plagiarism Case Readies For Trial, Duffer Bros Want To Know If Jurors Watch Netflix & Plaintiff Keys On Pilot

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Dominic Patten
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A week before Stranger Things creators the Matt and Ross Duffer are set to go to trial over claims they ripped off the idea for what became the Netflix blockbuster, both sides are quarreling over what they want and don’t want the jury to see or hear.

In a series of filings to Los Angeles Superior Court late last night, attorneys for the Duffer Brothers and plaintiff Charlie Kessler staked out their respective ground in the plagiarism case with more than a little of the Upside Down, if you know what I mean?

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Nearly two weeks after the Duffers failed to get Kessler’s claims that the idea for Stranger Things came from his 2014 film Montauk thrown out, the slew of filings comes the same day a “brazen” Matt Duffer sat for an apparently contentious deposition in the matter, which the plaintiff’s side is now seeking sanctions for.

Against that background, the battle in the paperwork submitted to the docket Tuesday is about money and scope, as is almost always the situation in such cases.

Some are more unintentionally amusing than others. For one thing, in a series of questions put forth by the Duffers’ lawyers for use in jury selection (read them here), the defendants want to know whether potential jurors “watch television?,” “how often?,” “do you watch movies?,” and “do you have a subscription to a media streaming service, like Netflix?” To cull the pool they also want to know “How many of you have never seen Stranger Things?,” “have you ever heard of any urban legends out of Montauk, New York?,” and “have you ever been to an entertainment industry party?”

Among other less mockable requests to L.A. Superior Court Judge Michael Stern, the Duffers want a number of documents (read here) sealed so their “confidential, personal financial information, including information regarding their compensation on Stranger Things” won’t be seen by the public or a jury. They also really don’t want the “unredacted Stranger Things mythology document, which contains unreleased, secret character and plot elements central to upcoming episodes of the series” out there.

The arguments postulated by the brothers’ Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan lawyers are that showing the money would “directly prejudice their interests by jeopardizing ongoing interest in Stranger Things and compromising both the Duffers’ and Netflix’s future negotiating positions.” Besides the obvious spoiler alert, the POV on the latter sealing is that the Duffers have already “prepared a redacted version of the Stranger Things mythology document that allows public review of the material already disclosed in the series’ released episodes.”

Of course, there is more the Duffers want to keep from prying eyes, and that has Kessler’s lawyer more than a little miffed. “The Duffer Brothers keep saying that, when the truth comes out, they will prevail,” Kessler’s lawyer S. Michael Kernan told Deadline this morning. “But, they did not prevail on the motion for summary judgment, and now they are trying to block the truth from coming out.”

“They are seeking to preclude: evidence about the theft Mr. Kessler’s name of the project; evidence Mr. Kessler is producing a film about civil rights icon Rosa Parks; evidence they entered into a contract; and evidence that Mr. Kessler sent his script to their agent,” the Beverly Hills-based attorney added. “That is hardly wanting the truth to come out.”

Neither Netflix nor reps for the Duffers responded to requests for comment from Deadline on the latest twists in the case.

Kessler alleged in his initial April 2, 2018 filing that he pitched the concept for the series to the Duffers four years beforehand at a Tribeca Film Festival party. The Montauk director also asserted that he later handed over “the script, ideas, story and film” to the duo and that the brothers used that material to develop what became Stranger Things.

Although attacked by the Duffers on April 3 last year as “meritless” and an “attempt to profit” from the series starring Winona Ryder and Mille Bobby Brown, plaintiff said in the complaint that the relatively untested siblings used the working title The Montauk Project during the early stages of Stranger Things.

It should be stated that when Duffers’ project with Netflix was first announced in 2015, it was called Montauk. The project was also set in Long Island (a setting later changed to Indiana) with other similarities to Kessler’s script like a missing boy, a nearby military base conducting experiments on children, and a monster from another dimension that looks like a toy.

Even though Stern refused to toss the case last month because the Duffers offered no significant evidence of “independent creation” of the idea for Stranger Things, Netflix has declared repeatedly that the brothers have the streamer’s “full support.”

Among the papers and evidence that Kessler doesn’t want in the trial is Stranger Things the full series to be presented to the jury.

“Mr. Kessler’s claims arise solely from the Defendants’ pilot script and not from the series Stranger Things,” asserts the motion in limine that was filed yesterday (read it here). “Moreover, evidence of Stranger Things will unfairly prejudice Mr. Kessler, as the distribution of the series during trial will ignite the passions of the jury. Additionally, showing the series would confuse the jury as to the ultimate issues in contention, and waste an unnecessary amount of trial time.”

“Here, the series was based on the pilot, but the series was written by an army of writers in one of Netflix’s writing rooms, the motion paperwork says. “As such, the series is no longer even Defendants’ sole creation, but rather a collaborative work product of writers. Therefore, offering the series into evidence is wholly irrelevant as to whether Defendants’ stole Mr. Kessler’s ideas from his pitch, and subsequently used them in their pilot.”

With a last-minute hearing on the calendar for later this week, the trial is scheduled to start on May 7 – just under two months before the third and latest season of the Stranger Things will launch on Netflix on July 4.

Get ready for the fireworks.

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