In May 2008, we commissioned our friends, Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, to write a film for us to co-direct that could take place in one specific location because of our limited budget. Acker & Blacker gave us the script for “Drones,” a “space aliens in an office” comedy that was so smart and dialogue driven that we could get away with making it on our shoestring budget.
Fast forward to January 2010: “Drones” premieres at the Slamdance Film Festival and our trailer, to our amazement, gets an exclusive premiere on the SyFy Channel’s website that very same month. Then a distribution company called Phase Four Films picks it up for distribution to the world at large.
Things are looking pretty rosy for a tiny little indie movie produced totally outside of the Hollywood mainstream. Then last Saturday afternoon we get a tweet from a concerned fan with a link to an article detailing the synopses for all the new SyFy Channel pilots — and there, in black and white, is the synopsis for “Human Relations,” an “alien version of The Office.”
Sometimes similar ideas happen at the same time — and we don’t know the creator/producers of “Human Relations” nor have we read the pilot — but the similarities between the two projects seem strangely coincidental to us.
Just as a compare/contrast, take a look at the two synopses side by side:
From SyFy about “Human Relations”: “The Office meets Men In Black in this project featuring an office Temp who slowly discovers that his off-kilter and odd-ball bosses at the strange hi-tech “ad agency” where he works are really aliens working on a plan to destroy the Earth.”
Our film: “The Office meets The Day The Earth Stood Still…is about a guy who works in an office with a kooky, off-kilter boss/co-workers, who then discovers that he’s really working with aliens who are plotting to blow-up the Earth.”
When we were preparing to make “Drones,” we tore up the Internet and harassed every film geek we knew to make sure there were no similar alien/office comedy movies out there. We just find it hard to believe that no one involved with “Human Relations” (the writer, the producers, the network) ever sat down and Googled the words “aliens” and “office comedy” — because if they did, they would have discovered that the very network they sold their show to had premiered a trailer to a movie with the exact same concept.
For us, this is not about money. It’s about artists, in general, who take risks out of the need to express and support themselves and then have businessmen come along and co-opt that idea once all the “risk” has been removed from the scenario.
Everyone knows this sort of thing happens all the time and will continue to happen in the future. There is very little that can be done to stop it when you are not a major Hollywood player, but we felt we could not remain silent as we see it happen around us. We think it’s a missed opportunity for everyone involved.