“Human Relations” is a proposed Syfy series that takes place in an office environment run by aliens. “Drones” is an independent movie co-directed by former “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” actors Amber Benson and Adam Busch that involves aliens running an office environment.
But that’s where the similarities end, and Syfy is clearing the air.
“‘Human Relations’ is an original concept that was brought to us by Scott Prendergast, a respected independent filmmaker,” Syfy said in a statement issued to the media. “It was in no way inspired by ‘Drones.’ We pride ourselves in our professional integrity and take suggestions of plagiarism very seriously.”
The statement is intended to put an end to the controversy surrounding the two projects, started July 31 by Benson on her blog, which pointed out what she described as “coincidences” between the two projects. Mark Stern, Syfy’s head of original programming, told Airlock Alpha that the cable channel waited this long to respond because it had to make sure Benson’s claims were without merit first.
“Our initial concern was if there was any truth to this,” Stern told Airlock Alpha late Thursday. “If that were the case, that would be an important thing for us to know. I talked to Scott, and he laid out the genesis of the idea, and it’s clearly his, that he had been working on it for years. And that’s all we needed to know.”
After inferring Prendergast took from her “Drones” concept, Benson changed her approach Wednesday, telling Airlock Alpha that it wasn’t Prendergast who was guilty, but Syfy itself.
“I didn’t feel like he was our enemy,” Benson said of Prendergast. “If there is an enemy at all, it’s Syfy. They’ve been guilty of that in the past, you know, where they like an idea, and they tweak it a little bit and reuse it. I didn’t want that to be the case for ‘Drones.'”
Benson, however, did not elaborate on any specific examples of Syfy taking and tweaking ideas. In fact, the cable channel has a history of doing the exact opposite of that, Stern said.
“To be honest, if we wanted to do a television series based on her film, we would’ve approached her to do that,” Stern said. “There is no reason for us to go off and create our own version of this. Why wouldn’t we have just approached her about doing it, instead of saying, ‘We need to go find Scott Prendergast and have him adapt it.”
Stern pointed out several examples of where Syfy has approached outside groups for their ideas, most prominently “Sanctuary,” which got its start as a web series before Syfy developed it as a series with its original cast and crew.
Prendergast maintained from the beginning that he first started developing what would evolve into “Human Relations” in 1995 when he worked in an office in Chicago. The idea was shelved for some time, but then resurrected a couple years ago after he got his feet wet in independent films like “Kabluey,” and then pitched it to Syfy last January.
Benson said that Syfy.com was hosting a trailer for “Drones” at the time, and has used that as a link between the two productions. She also told Airlock Alpha that Prendergast should’ve just come out and said how the two projects were different, even though she acknowledged that Prendergast most likely never saw her independent film which is still finalizing a distribution deal.
Stern, however, is now familiar with both projects — having learned about “Drones” himself over the weekend when the controversy erupted — and the two couldn’t be any more different.
“Without getting into too much detail on ‘Human Relations,’ it does get very outrageous in terms of the approach, and that’s why we likened it to ‘Men In Black,'” Stern said. “It gets a lot more alienish — is that a word? For me, watching Amber’s movie, it’s a little more ‘Office Space.’ It’s a smart, satiric office comedy, but ‘Human Relations’ is much broader than that.”
There are still a lot of obstacles that have to be overcome before “Human Relations” moves from Syfy’s development slate to an actual series on the cable channel, but Stern made it clear this controversy will have no effect on the fate of the show.
“I feel badly for Scott,” Stern said. “It’s horrible for Scott knowing he didn’t rip [Benson] off, and have his name dragged through this mud. He’s worked his ass off on this thing for years.”
He also has some sympathy for Benson as well. “I certainly understand her concern, especially if this feels like there must be someone looking over her shoulder, but that is absolutely not the case here,” Stern said. “We don’t work that way, and it didn’t happen here.”