Demogorgons, Dreams, and Duffers: The Making of ‘Stranger Things’

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“Stranger Things”—a pastiche of ’80s horror films set in one Anytown, USA—grabbed hold of the zeitgeist in the summer of 2016 and hasn’t let go since. There are many reasons why the Netflix show caught on, from its sense of nostalgia to its talented young leads who have become bona fide stars in the years since the premiere. But it all began with the vision of creators Matt and Ross Duffer.

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What is “Stranger Things” about?

Stranger Things

The sci-fi/horror drama follows a group of young friends living in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, in the 1980s: Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas Sinclair (​​Caleb McLaughlin), Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), and the psychokinetic Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown)—and starting in Season 2, Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink).

Along the way, they discover troubling scientific experiments, battle paranormal creatures, and venture into an alternate dimension known as the Upside Down. The show also follows Will’s mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder), and chief of police Jim Hopper (David Harbour) as they help the kids in their fight against the supernatural forces that threaten Hawkins.

The first four seasons of “Stranger Things” received critical acclaim, including 12 Primetime Emmy Awards. Production on Season 5 began in January 2024, with a likely release set for early 2025.

Who created “Stranger Things”?

Stranger Things

The Duffer brothers conceived of the series following their 2015 indie horror flick, “Hidden”—a project that was deeply influenced by the work of M. Night Shyamalan. After the movie caught the attention of the filmmaker, he reached out to the Duffers and enlisted them to join the writing team of “Wayward Pines,” the Fox series he was executive producing at the time. Shyamalan mentored the brothers throughout the first season. 

During that time, the two novice writers began to hatch the idea that would become “Stranger Things.” Their pitch: “What if Steven Spielberg directed a Stephen King book?” The Duffers told the Daily Beast that multiple networks turned them down, believing that an adult show starring children wouldn’t work—that is, until they approached 21 Laps founder Shawn Levy.

Who are the producers of “Stranger Things”?

Stranger Things

The show is produced by Monkey Massacre Productions and 21 Laps Entertainment, and Upside Down Pictures is joining the team for the upcoming fifth season. 

“You knew you were in for an experience,” Levy told the Daily Beast of his reaction to the script. He and co–executive producer Dan Cohen floated the idea of bringing the project to Netflix at the start of the streaming boom. 

The team began by putting together a pitch. “We had this big two-and-a-half-minute trailer that had about 20 or 30 of these [’80s horror] movies kind of woven together to try and tell the story of ‘Stranger Things,’ but obviously all these images or ideas were in our heads,” Matt Duffer told the Daily Beast. “Those are the movies that we grew up on, and they’re so much a part of our DNA.”

What’s the writing process like for “Stranger Things”?

Stranger Things

Despite having a strong sense of the vibe they were going for, bringing it across in the scripts was another matter entirely. “When you get into the writers’ room and you’re working on individual episodes, actually very little time is spent referencing other movies,” Matt told the Daily Beast. “Mostly, you’re just trying to tell the story, letting the characters guide where everything’s going. Otherwise, it would just be a jumble and a mess.”

Ross said that the writers began by establishing the iconic aesthetic of the series. “The bigger discussions, especially early on, were about how we capture the feel of these movies,” he said. “It’s taking a very ordinary object that people deal with every day—their television set—and imbuing it with something otherworldly.”

What was the casting process like for “Stranger Things”?

Stranger Things

Putting together the ensemble was a particularly challenging prospect, considering that casting director Carmen Cuba needed to find child actors who could carry the show’s adult material. 

“Everyone recognized really early on that if we had even one kid who wasn’t good, it would take the whole ship down,” Matt told the Daily Beast. “So we just started looking really, really early on.” Ultimately, he said, “We found four kids that we just fell in love with. Some of them matched the characters in the script, and some of them didn’t, really.”

Along with casting Brown, Wolfhard, Matarazzo, Sink, and the rest of the series’ young stars, the team also needed to find the perfect actors to take on the adult principal roles, which ultimately went to Harbour and Ryder.

“Being able to experience the young actors with this very present sense of what, at that age, a person is like, how deeply they think and feel, how connected they are to their younger selves, and yet how fragile they are while transitioning into that next independent phase, was special for me,” Cuba told us. “What was great about this process was that we were able to find kids who had so much of their own individual traits and energy that they shaped their own characters organically. And we had enough time before shooting that the writers could [tailor] the story to the actual actors we cast.”

“We never really operated with respect for the conventional rules,” Levy told us. “We just knew what our characters felt like when we sat across the table from those actors, and we wanted to take that shot. My point is, the greatest idea in the world for casting is often not the obvious thought.”

What’s the production process for “Stranger Things”?

Stranger Things

Production on the show takes place in Atlanta. Here’s what a day on set generally looks like: 

  • Run-throughs: First, the team rehearses the scenes that are filming that day, during which “everyone’s acting at usually about 30%, and no one’s actually bringing it,” Matt told us. The brothers will then determine camera placement and give any necessary notes to the actors, careful not to micromanage.
  • Lighting: Next comes 45 or so minutes of lighting setup. “We’ll call cut after the first take, because the first take is never good,” Matt said.
  • Retakes: The Duffers like to keep their notes fairly simple, along the lines of: “Say that line again!” “Bigger!” and “Energy times 10!” Matt said. “You can’t get all intellectual about it. I’ve found that kind of stuff never works.”

Ready? Here is how you can get cast on ‘Stranger Things’!

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