You may not know who Matt and Ross Duffer are, but you’ve definitely heard of their work. This summer, the twin brothers’ Netflix series, Stranger Things, quickly became a phenomenon as viewers discovered its charming child actors, callbacks to classic films from the 1980s, and riveting story — and we have these filmmakers to thank.
“We were pretty ordinary kids growing up in the suburbs of North Carolina, and when we watched these films and read these books, it made us feel like our rather normal lives had the potential for adventure,” they wrote of the series premiere for EW. “Maybe tomorrow we would find a treasure map in the attic, or maybe one of us would vanish into the television screen, or maybe there was a clown in that sewer grate down the street. The feeling was powerful and inspiring. There was nothing better. We wanted to capture that feeling again with Stranger Things.”
Now that the world has fallen in love with Eleven and the hunt for the Demogorgon, it’s time to get to know the men behind the hit.
1. They’ve Been Making Films Since the Third Grade
During an interview with North Carolina publication The News & Observer, the Duffers recalled their love for movies emerging in kindergarten or the first grade, citing Tim Burton as their first “director obsession.” But in the third grade, their parents set them on a road to Stranger Things by gifting them a Hi8 video camera.
“We just started filming anything and everything,” Matt said. “And then, each summer, we made a feature-length movie. The first one was kind of unwatchable, but progressively, they got a little better and better.”
2. Their First Movie Was About Magic: The Gathering
This “unwatchable” attempt, as it turns out, was based on the card game Magic: The Gathering, which is not to be confused with the movie in development in 2014. “It’s just us hitting each other with plastic swords,” Ross told KPCC’s The Frame.
Matt added: “We didn’t have editing equipment, you know, we just were playing Danny Elfman music on a tape recorder. But it was very fun and very creative, and that’s what we did every summer. We refused to go to summer camp, so we just would wander around and make these movies.”
3. They Made Short Films Together in College
While studying film at Chapman University, the Duffers collaborated on a string of short films. One was about a family fleeing a plague in 1666 called We All Fall Down, which won Best Short at Dallas’ Deep Ellum Film Festival in 2005.
Another (shown above) was Eater, their senior thesis based on the Peter Crowther story about a cop working a night shift while a cannibal inmate is on the loose. Having been named Marion Knott Scholars, the Duffers developed this film under the guidance of The Hunt for Red October producer Mace Neufeld.
4. They Sold Their First Movie Shortly After Graduation
Also at Chapman, the brothers developed the idea for Hidden, a horror-thriller about a family taking refuge in a bomb shelter away from a deadly viral outbreak. In what seemed like a dream scenario, the brothers’ script prompted a bidding war in Hollywood in 2011 after they graduated in 2007. Warner Bros. eventually won the rights, but the film never made it to theaters, instead receiving a home release.
“Looking back on it, for us, it was using that low point as an advantage,” Ross had said. “I don’t think Stranger Things would exist without it, because it was us being disillusioned with movies, the things we fell in love with, and then seeing this other opening in television that, if we really want to tell the kind of stories we want to tell, maybe we were just looking in the wrong place.”
Watch the trailer above.
5. They Worked on Wayward Pines
Though it’s still unclear why Hidden fell off the map, the script caught the attention of M. Night Shyamalan. Impressed by their work, the suspenseful filmmaker gave the Duffers writing and producing jobs on his Fox series Wayward Pines. Together, the Duffer Brothers penned season 1 episodes “The Truth,” “Choices,” “A Reckoning,” and “Cycle.”
“That became our training ground, and M. Night Shyamalan became a great mentor to us,” Ross told Rolling Stone. “By the time we came out of that show, we were like, ‘OK, we know how to put together a show.’ And that’s when we wrote Stranger Things.”
6. Their Original Idea for Stranger Things Was Montauk
Last year, Netflix announced development on Montauk, a show set in the 1980s about the search for a missing boy in Montauk involving “top secret government experiments, terrifying supernatural forces, and one very strange little girl.” Sound familiar? That’s because the producers later changed the setting to the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, and retitled the series Stranger Things.
“It was really going to be impossible to shoot in or around Long Island in the wintertime,” Matt told The Hollywood Reporter of the change. “It was just going to be miserable and expensive. We’re actually from North Carolina, so when we wound up in Atlanta and I started scouting Atlanta we got excited about it, because it looked actually much more like our own childhoods.”
7. They Tried Directing the It Remake
It took quite some time for Warner Bros. to wrangle a cast and director for their new adaptation of Stephen King’s It, and the Duffers wanted in. “We asked, and that’s why we ended up doing [Stranger Things], because we’d asked Warner Bros.,” Matt told THR. “I was like, ‘Please,’ and they were like, ‘No.’ This was before Cary Fukunaga. This was a long time ago.” In the end, the story became a major inspiration for the Netflix series.
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