STRANGER THINGS poster | ©2016 Netflix

STRANGER THINGS poster | ©2016 Netflix

Twin brothers Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer, known professionally as the Duffer Brothers, have made their first TV show, Netflix’s STRANGER THINGS. Set in a small town in 1983, STRANGER THINGS evokes films of that era by Steven Spielberg. There are young boys on bicycles (Galen Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Finn Wolfhard), searching for their lost friend Will (Noah Schnapp), whose mother (Winona Ryder) is frantically trying to connect with her son through unusual means, a mysterious young girl, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), with strange powers, a transdimen

sional rift, a monster, and more.

STRANGER THINGS deftly reconstructs the joys of Eighties movies, and has become a resounding hit with a second season in the works. Meanwhile, the Duffer Brothers sit down at the Beverly Hilton Hotel to talk about what they have wrought so far.

ASSIGNMENT X: Did you come up with the idea for STRANGER THINGS and then get into business with Netflix?

ROSS DUFFER: Yeah, we pitched it . We had one episode written, we had a look book, we had a lot of visual images we chose of [genre] movies. So it was trying to evoke the tone of the show. And then we cut together a little fake trailer that was about two, two-and-a-half minutes of a lot of our favorite movies, so they could really see what the whole show was going to be. So we pitched it, and they wanted to do it.

MATT DUFFER: Yeah. Netflix was always the goal, we always talked about it with [fellow executive producer/director] Shawn [Levy] as, that would be a dream home for us. We certainly weren’t expecting it, because we weren’t David Fincher or Jenji Cohen or all these other people they were working with, in terms of experience level [laughs]. So for them to put that amount of trust in us and give us the freedom they gave us was really a dream come true.

AX: Were you influenced at all by J.J. Abrams’ 2011 movie SUPER 8, which also had that Eighties kids and aliens and drama aspect?

ROSS DUFFER: Oh, we loved SUPER 8.

MATT DUFFER: I love SUPER 8, but SUPER 8 also had J.J. Abrams, who I think is great, is also influenced by so many of the same movies and books that we were. I remember after I got out of SUPER 8, I turned to Ross, I was like, ‘J.J. Abrams should do [the remake of] IT.’ I really wanted him to do IT. Of course, he didn’t end up doing IT, but I saw some Stephen King influences in there. Everyone only talked about the Spielberg influences, but I saw the Stephen King influences, too. So we grew up loving a lot of the same stuff. I think that’s why our show has so many of the same sensibilities. But there’s a specific sub-sub-genre of kids confronting terrifying supernatural forces, not that many examples of it, and SUPER 8 is one of those.

ROSS DUFFER: Yeah, and I think that certainly helped open the door. It was a successful movie for everyone, and that’s something that doesn’t have stars. Obviously, it had Spielberg and J.J.’s name on it, which helped, but it certainly helped the case for our show.

MATT DUFFER: That is a good question. It’s like, if SUPER 8 didn’t exist, would [Netflix] have bet on the show?

ROSS DUFFER: We’ll never know.

MATT DUFFER: We’ll never know. Probably not.

AX: Were you H.P. Lovecraft fans as well?

MATT DUFFER: Yeah. We did talk about Lovecraft, just when we were talking about our approach to horror, and we talked about Clive Barker, we talked about videogame references – we talked about a ton of references, but really what we got from when we were talking about Lovecraft, it’s just the fact that we wanted this to feel very bizarre, very unknowable. We didn’t want anyone sitting down and explaining it, we wanted to experience it all from the point of view of these ordinary people, and we wanted a certain mystery and ambiguity to the horror, just because we feel like if you were to encounter something from an alternate dimension, it would be beyond comprehension. I think the weirder it is and the more beyond comprehension it is, the scarier it is.

AX: Do you find, apart from the homage to Spielberg and Stephen King in that decade, that there is something about the Eighties that just makes it easier to tell stories set then?

ROSS DUFFER: Well, certainly for supernatural or horror things, just in terms of cell phones and Internet, it makes things very easy for characters nowadays. So it’s certainly nice that you don’t have to write the scenes like, ‘I can’t get a signal.’ [laughs] I hate those scenes. I love the idea of these kids, the freedom – there’s no way for their parents to contact them, and I think that that certainly lends a level of danger that to me is better.

MATT DUFFER: We grew up later than that, but I believe in 1983 that kids would go out in a group on their bikes and their parents wouldn’t know where they are, and that was something that was allowed, and that was permitted, and that was even encouraged. So for this kind of story, where a bunch of kids go on an adventure, it feels like the perfect time and place to set that kind of story.

AX: How did you wind up with the number of lead kid characters that you did?

MATT DUFFER: I can’t remember – it was so early on. It felt like four was a good number, so we started with four, we lose one, obviously, and then he’s replaced with Eleven.

ROSS DUFFER: I think the way you can have three kids – what we want is that triangle ping-ponging in terms of the dialogue, that it’s not just two talking. And obviously, looking at something like THE GOONIES, that’s even more [kids], but I think looking at these other movies and the success, a lot of it is the rapid-fire succession with which these characters bounce off of one another, and those personalities bounce off each other, so I think three ended up being a good number for our number of boys. Three and one outsider.

AX: And what do you most hope people get out of STRANGER THINGS?

MATT DUFFER: I just hope people have fun. I hope people have fun watching it, I hope they connect to the characters, and I hope it moves them to discover some of these great books and movies that we fell in love with from the Eighties.

ROSS DUFFER: That sounds good. The intention always was, ‘Can we do a summer blockbuster of old? The stuff that we grew up falling in love with, can we do that again?’ So at its heart, it is something we just wanted to be escapist entertainment, something you could sit down with your whole family, you can enjoy some popcorn and watch the movie. Hopefully, it’s transcending, it’s not just genre fans that are enjoying this. We have these three generations [of characters], and we hope that people of all different ages can fall in love with these characters. That’s the hope.

MATT DUFFER: Because we were such movie fans, and it was like the ultimate drug when we were kids and when you watched something and experienced something really great with your friends, and a lot of these experiences were on VHS, but it was the most magical feeling in the world. So if we give that feeling to a couple kids, then we win.

This interview was conducted during Netflix’s portion of the Television Critics Association Summer 2016 press tour.

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Article: STRANGER THINGS creators The Duffer Brothers on hit Netflix series – Exclusive Interview


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