The Duffer Brothers Talk ‘Stranger Things’, ’80s Movies, and Atlanta Filming
Getting excited for this Friday’s premiere of Stranger Things on Netflix? We promise it won’t disappoint you! In fact, we’re calling it our favorite show of 2016!
Set in Hawkins Indiana in the 1980’s, Stranger Things chronicles the search for a young boy who vanishes into thin air under highly suspicious circumstances. His mother (Winona Ryder) opens an investigation into the boy’s disappearance with local authorities that unravels a series of mysteries involving top-secret government experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and one very strange little girl. A love letter to the ubiquitous cult classics of the 80’s, Stranger Things is a coming of age story for three boys that draws this quaint community into a world where mysteries lurk beneath the surface.
We had the opportunity to chat with Matt and Ross Duffer, series creators, when we visited the set in February in Atlanta. Take a look at our interview with them below!
Can you talk a bit on how this project came to be and where the inspiration came from?
We love genre movies. We love supernatural things, but with film it’s very hard. In two hours, they no longer want you to focus on character. Then on television, we were seeing all these great stories about character, and the child in us is like, “Can it be that, but also with a monster in it?” That was sort of the genesis of can we make an A-level show, and then also playing to serve our childhood fantasies. But TV, even the great stuff, to us, there were a few shows that were cinematic but then … I think it is was when we saw what Cary Fukunaga was doing and Soderbergh – not that we’re comparing ourselves to those guys, but we’re seeing that these shows were becoming more and more cinematic, that it wasn’t only about the writing. It was about the visuals, and then we started getting excited about it. Then we were like nope, we know nothing about television. We had no idea how to do this.
We had this idea but we weren’t doing anything with it and then two weeks later we got a call about Wayward Pines. We’ve never gotten a call about television in our lives. We’re like, well we’ll just do that. We’ll learn the ropes and so we did that and sort of figured the whole thing out and then we wrote this on spec.
Then Netflix was just, it was just… Good timing. I mean we did a little Look Book. We did a little trailer for it and then we just pitched it around, but we never in a million years expected Netflix. We’re not David Fincher. You know what I mean? It was not – They weren’t like, the Duffer brothers.
I think it was something that they were looking for, and they liked the pilot. I mean the goal, we thought we saw an opening in something that wasn’t being done. There is genre stuff like The Walking Dead, but this is different in a lot of ways. It’s trying to pay more homage to the movies we grew up with in 80s and the late 70s.
Can you talk a little bit about the decision to film here in Georgia?
We’re from the South, so were the movies that we loved growing up. There was something, at least when we kids, that we instantly related to the characters and all these people, and then something extraordinary happened, and it just blew our minds.
I think there’s so many different looks here. We were able to get that look. I know Prisoners was another big one that shot here, that inspired us when we watched it. That was another one … One of many things that sparked this idea, and just the atmosphere of it, and the trees.
I think even more it kind of looks like where we grew up, and you wanted it to kind of be like… This forest, I just remember with our friends, just leaving our houses, and marching in the woods, and going on an adventure. We’ve been on a couple things in Vancouver, and it was just like something about it feels off to me. I think it’s more just because I didn’t grow up in that environment. It almost looks too beautiful, in a way. There’s something ordinary about this place that I love. I don’t know.
How’s it been working for Netflix?
Answer : It’s awesome. It’s amazing. I mean, the amount of freedom they give us is insane. Just support. They want to do something different. You’re not given the notes that I feel that traditional…
I think you kind of … You, in the initial meeting, you kind of agree … Everyone agrees on what they want the show to be. Then moving forward, they don’t contradict it and you don’t contradict it. If you ever do, or they ever do, there’s a conflict, but there never is because everyone comes in. I think a lot of other networks, they buy shows and then they try to mold it into what they want it to be, as opposed to Netflix’s idea is just, “Why don’t we just buy what we like right away, and then just make it.
It’s like the scary things about … Stuff in the show, or stuff in other shows that we do might scare certain companies away, to them they embrace, whereas this… We have kids in it, but there are real stakes…
There are kids, but it’s not only for kids. It’s hopefully for everyone. I think that maybe a network might be more apt to just want to make … If it’s with kids in it, it’s for kids. We got a lot of that when we first started pitching to producers. It’s like can’t it just be about the sheriff? Or if you’re going to have kids in it, can it just be the kids? Either just a kid audience or it’s just an adult audience.
I remember when I was a kid, I could feel when stuff talked down to me, like, “Oh, we’re making this safe for you.” Where the stuff we responded to, whether Stand By Me, or whatever, felt real, and I understood these people, and they reacted in ways that I believe. It didn’t feel like adults writing kids. It just felt like kids behaving as kids do. That’s at least what we’re trying to do with this.
It’s more like you’re making art as opposed to making a product.
I hope so. It’s hard. You’re putting these kids in these extreme circumstances, and we’re trying to have them react in believable ways. It’s not just about them having fun and goofing around. It’s about them … Their tears. It gets intense.
The idea is, if a kid is watching, it feels edgy to them because it feels like … We basically feel like we’re trying to make it for … Something that appeals to us, but then I like the idea that a kid could watch it, and it feels like adult entertainment with kids they relate … Their age that they relate to. I don’t know.
Can you talk a little bit about the supernatural element to it, and what people can expect with that?
Yeah, I mean, it’s not like … We try not to be too heavy with it. It’s kind of like a sprinkling of it every episode. I always feel like … We talked about the less you see, the better. Then we actually built a monster, and that way you can’t shoot it very much.
We watched Alien a lot in preparation for this, and you very rarely see it, and when you do, it’s really in close-ups. I remember reading an interview. Ridley Scott is like on the set. They were going, “Why are you … We built this expensive thing. Why aren’t you filming it?” It’s so much scarier, because you’re only seeing pieces of it, and little bits of it. We’re trying to do it as old-school as possible. Also this is an eight hour event, and we try to structure it as much like a big film as possible, and less like a TV show. It’s not … It’s ramping up, and building to this climax that happens really in eight, where everything goes crazy, but really it’s a little more, a little more, a little more, until it reaches this …
The first episode is just like a shadow and noises. The idea is you get to see a little bit more until it builds. It’s more like an undercurrent of supernatural.
When it hits … The goal is when it hits that it has impact. You’re waiting for it, and usually in every episode there’s something big that happens, but when it does hopefully it feels like there are actual stakes to it. Again, it’s just … It’s like if the kids in Stand By Me are just, for most of the show, they’re just talking and hopefully coming of age, and then every once in a while, you hit them with this stuff. Even if you look … Spielberg was obviously a big reference, but Stephen King was also one, in that … It’s really about, if you look at his work, his best books, it’s really about the evil of man, and what that is. The horror is always just representative of something else. That’s hopefully what it is, that’s it’s bringing out all these problems in these characters, but it’s not really about the monster, if that makes sense. It’s just a catalyst.
We’ve got a little bit of It in there too. That was the idea, because TV, you can kind of … I thought we could strike … You can’t do … I guess they’re doing it now as a movie. After like 15 years. The idea is that you could structure it almost … TV almost feels more like reading a book, in a way, because you can pick it up and put it down. I like Netflix, because it’s available to you all at once, like a book is, and you can pick it up and put it down whenever you want, so the idea of, “Could we construct this like … ” You want it to feel like, “I’m 13 years old, and I have one of those big Stephen King books, and I’m reading it.” That’s the goal. You can invoke even a little bit of that feeling. That’d be awesome.
I mean, hopefully we’ll terrify some 12 year olds with this. That would be great.
That’s an interesting point, because some of the references you’ve made, as well as just the general idea of making something scary that everybody can watch, how do you gauge that? Is there a limit that you put on yourself of, “That’s too scary. That’s too much. That’s going to be too much for younger audiences,” or whatever, or do you just … ?
I think, if it’s not playing into the gore factor, I think that it’s … Again, it’s not constantly hitting you over the head with this stuff, so I think that it’s a fine line for sure. You want to scare the 12 year olds who are watching this, but … There was something when I was watching It as a kid that felt … or Poltergeist, there was something dangerous about it. Maybe I shouldn’t be watching this.
That’s the thing. You want it to feel like these kids are actually in danger, that it’s not safe. When we were watching stuff as kids, that’s what really spoke to us. Even Goonies, they shove his hand in a blender. It was scary to me.
We’re pushing it. I think because the horror is not about the violence, that I think will be … It’s not like Clive Barker, like hooks aren’t going into people’s skin…. There is a little Clive Barker. A little bit. It’s not disgusting. The trailer we made, it was a hybrid of … It had a bunch of John Carpenter and Wes Craven, and ET and Stand By Me and Nightmare on Elm Street. Then it was all scored to John Carpenter. It was like, “When we put John Carpenter on ET, this is sweet.” This is kind of the tone. That worked really well.
How do you strike that balance of pleasing genre fans? They’re going to look… It’s so hard to really nail that down, like who’s … Who are you going to please the most?
I know. I have no idea. The goal, when we wrote this, it was not calculated. We were just writing what we really wanted to see. The show that I want to watch on TV … I love TV, and I’m loving what’s on there, but the show that I really want to watch isn’t on there. We just wrote that, and luckily it’s worked out so far, so fingers crossed. You can’t think about that stuff too hard. It will drive you crazy.
I’m hoping that the genre fans do embrace the sort of old-school approach to it, that it’s okay that it’s not scaring them every second, that it slows down and you get to know these people. I’m hoping that works for everyone. That’s the goal.
Can you guys talk a little bit about the casting and what you were looking for with your leads?
I mean, the main thing was … There was Winona [Ryder], which was like the first big piece that slotted into place, and she just is someone that we wanted right away, and she’s Winona. Then that sort of gave the show a bit of an identity right away. Then the big thing was just finding these kids. With that, you just audition the hell out of everybody who’s interested.
Stranger Things premieres on Netflix on July 15!This Coverage Is Sponsored By: