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Amber Benson

Amber Benson & Adam Busch - "Drones" Movie - SyFy Pilot in Suspiciously Close Orbit to her Indie Film

Wednesday 4 August 2010, by Webmaster

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.

’Human Relations’ Creator Says He Never Stole From ’Buffy’ Star

EXCLUSIVE: Scott Prendergast responds to allegations from Amber Benson that his proposed Syfy show was lifted from her indie film

Scott Prendergast said he was shocked when he turned on his computer over the weekend, and saw that his new series under development at Syfy — "Human Relations" — was getting a lot of attention.

The bad part? It wasn’t getting the kind of attention he thought it would.

Amber Benson, who played Tara in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," claimed over the weekend that the synopsis of "Human Relations," which was announced by Syfy over the weekend as part of its development slate, was awfully similar to an independent film she made with former Buffy co-star Adam Busch, "Drones."

Benson, in her blog, presented the synopsis of "Human Relations" presented by Syfy, and then the synopsis of her own film, which had its trailer exclusively premiere earlier this year on Syfy.com.

"The whole thing kinda sucks for Adam and I because we poured two-and-a-half years of our life (and a little blood and gray matter, too) into ’Drones,’" Benson wrote in her blog. "But I feel exceedingly bad for our writers, Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, because this was their baby, ripped from their own brains and transplanted onto celluloid — and now they get to see someone else take their idea and with it."

The problem is, that’s not exactly true, according to Prendergast himself. The writer and producer of such projects as "Kabluey" in 2007 with Lisa Kudrow and Teri Garr, told Airlock Alpha that the concept for "Human Relations" didn’t come in January after the "Drones" trailer premiered. Instead, it was something he had been working on for quite some time.

"My show has been in development since August of 2008," Prendergast said. "It was not developed at Syfy — we brought it to them independently in January of 2010. In fact, my show is based on a script I wrote in 1995, based on a job I had in Chicago in 1995-96."

Even more, many of the characters in "Human Relations" were named after real people Prendergast worked with back then.

That doesn’t mean the ideas of having an office environment where the workers find out their bosses are aliens might not be similar. But it’s not a case of plagiarism, Prendergast said. At least not from his side.

One of the things that bothered him about Benson’s blog was the two synopses she presented that had the online media all a twitter. Syfy described "Human Relations" as "The Office" meets "Men in Black" on a show featuring an "office temp who slowly discovers that his off-kilter and odd-ball bosses at the strange high-tech ’ad agency’ where he works are really aliens working on a plan to destroy the Earth."

Benson then presented a synopsis of "Drones," describing it as "The Office" meets "The Day the Earth Stood Still," 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."

"We know where my synopsis came from," Prendergast said. "It came from Syfy as part of their [Television Critics Association] press release. What I want to know is — where did Amber’s synopsis come from?"

Some fact-checking by Prendergast and others online, including some posters at Whedonesque where this story originally grew legs, did not turn up any evidence that Benson’s synopsis of her movie existed before her July 31 blog post following the "Human Relations" release.

"I wonder if Amber wrote that synopsis of her movie — based on the synopsis of my show — just so that she could cry foul," Prendergast said. "Maybe she saw a similarity — she drew a connection because apparently her trailer was on Syfy.com — and perhaps she just made everything a little bit clearer with her word choice."

Prendergast, of course, can’t prove that, but he added that lack of proof didn’t stop Benson from making her attack against him.

Now with this attack, Prendergast is concerned that Syfy could get cold feet on "Human Relations."

"I’ve been making indie films for 10 years, and this whole thing is completely crazy," he said. "You always hear people talking about how the Internet is the wild west, and we are living in the ’misinformation age.’ I didn’t believe that until now."

Prendergast does point out that even Benson says she knows nothing about "Human Relations," and it’s highly likely that his pilot script and her movie are completely different, especially since Benson was not working with him in Chicago in 1995 when he was gathering his inspiration for the series.

In the meantime, a late-night request Monday to Benson’s manager seeking comment is pending return.