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Matt and Ross Duffer are headed for trial next week defending themselves in a lawsuit that claims they took the idea for their Netflix hit Stranger Things from a man they met at a film festival party in 2014, and they’re asking the court to narrow the range of information presented to the jury.
Charlie Kessler in April 2018 sued the brothers, claiming Stranger Things is based on his short film Montauk and a feature script titled The Montauk Project and that they breached an implied contract with him.
On Tuesday, the Duffers filed a series of motions asking the court to preclude testimony and evidence on several topics they think aren’t relevant and could prejudice the jury against them.
First, the Duffers want the court to bar any reference to Kessler’s scripts. They contend Kessler has no evidence that he “disclosed anything in his screenplays to the Duffers, beyond whatever he said at the party” and he’s hoping the jury will speculate that “because he sent a version of his Montauk Project screenplay to one of hundreds of agents who work at the Paradigm talent agency, at which another agent who then represented the Duffers also worked, the Duffers accessed his screenplay by osmosis.”
They also want to keep Kessler from introducing any testimony or evidence that he emailed a Paradigm agent, because it could mislead the jury. The Duffers argue that the agent to whom Kessler sent the script subsequently sent it to a “reader” who reported back that it wasn’t worth pursuing and it wasn’t distributed to anyone else in the agency.
The Duffers are also asking the court to preclude any testimony or evidence about Kessler’s “subjective intent,” specifically that his purpose in allegedly disclosing his ideas was a “desire to form a partnership.” And they want to bar any references to an email that Kessler claims Kerry Orent sent to Netflix in 2015 informing the streamer that the idea for Stranger Things was stolen. The Duffers say Kessler hasn’t been able to produce a copy and Netflix has no record of receiving such a message.
Finally, they don’t want the jury hearing about Kessler’s involvement with a Rosa Parks project or the Rosa Parks Foundation. They argue he’s trying to associate himself with an American icon to play on the jury’s emotions which could cause them to reward his “laudable, but irrelevant conduct.”
Meanwhile, Kessler asked the court to exclude any evidence related to the Stranger Things series. He argues that his lawsuit centers on the Duffers’ unlawful taking of his ideas, which he alleges they then used to create a pilot script titled Montauk that Netflix bought. “After the purchase of the series, Netflix executives made numerous edits to Defendants’ pilot, and then employed an entire writer’s room to again rework the pilot into an extended series,” states the filing. Therefore, Kessler argues. the series itself is irrelevant, and offering it into evidence could “ignite the passions of the jury.”
Previously, the Duffers filed motions in limine seeking to preclude testimony about their alleged copying of other works, their insurance coverage and their compensation and net worth. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Stern granted the motions to exclude information about their insurance coverage and net worth, as they were unopposed. The rest are set to be heard just prior to the start of trial, which is currently scheduled to begin next Tuesday.