“DON’T FREAK – THIS BOOK IS SUPPOSED TO LOOK WORN AND TORN.”
That’s the label on the cover of the new making-of book Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down, the official companion guide to the first two seasons that — like the Netflix series itself — is designed to look like an artifact of the ‘80s.
Written by Gina McIntyre, a former movies editor at Entertainment Weekly, the book looks like something that has been passed around a library since around 1983, with a plastic wrap around the tattered cover, a used bookstore price tag, and a scrapbook interior tucked with all kinds of surprises, maps, artifacts, and even a Morse code decoder. (The cover design is by artist Kyle Lambert.)
Here’s what went into the creation of Worlds Turned Upside Down …
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Gina, the first thing that happened, I was walking by the book editor’s desk, and I saw this … object sitting there. This Stranger Things book, that looks like it’s about 30 or 40 years old. What was the original concept, even before the finished product?
GINA McINTYRE: The look of the book was absolutely there from the start. The idea was to really give a companion piece, an inside look at how Stranger Things came to be. It looks at the beginning of the Duffer Brother’s interest in becoming filmmakers when they were really just kids, and goes through a lot of their inspirations, their love for Steven Spielberg movies and things like that. And then some other perhaps lesser well-known inspirations, and things that really influence the show.
You showcase the VHS movies that they watched, and it looks a little like an ad in a magazine that might be selling a VHS player, and then the tapes that you could order along with it. How did you work with your editor and your designers to come up with those concepts?
It was a lot of just going back and forth, and bouncing around ideas, pulling from what you see onscreen in the background, when you see these little pieces of 1980s pop culture. I think it’s interesting when you’re of an age where you can remember a lot of those things, and remember going to the video store, and what those VHS covers looked like. And you remember going to the bookstore and seeing the used Signet paperbacks, and all of that. So, it was trying to channel as much of that as possible.
Those paperbacks you feature are the Stephen King novels that influenced them, and you show the older covers from the ‘80s. There’s also a bookmark from a used bookstore. And then your book takes the format of a Dungeons & Dragons guidebook. It keeps changing formats on you.
Absolutely, there are yearbook-style pages in there as well. One of my favorite things in the book is that the chapter about the Upside Down is upside down. You have to actually physically turn the book. I feel like Stranger Things fans are people who love that show with such devotion, and they want to get lost in that world sometimes. Putting the book together was like, how can we recreate that experience?
There were other parts that are almost like a news story, where you’re talking about MK Ultra, the actual CIA experiments that were done on people using psychotropic drugs in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
It’s interesting sitting down to tease out all those threads, and, “Okay, what can we really put together to highlight the fact that MK Ultra was a real thing?” There’s so much in Stranger Things, and I think one of the brilliant things about the show is the way that it weaves together realism and fantasy, and so it was a lot of fun to kind of try to attempt to do the same thing in telling the story of the show.
What was the process like of reporting this? It is very much like the work you would do when you were working for Hero Complex at the Los Angeles Times, or here covering movies for Entertainment Weekly.
Yeah, it’s very similar. I have to say that [show creators] Matt and Ross Duffer were so great about making themselves available and really diving deep into their memories of making the show, their memories of being kids, their memories of what inspired them. They were similar conversations that you would have if you were writing a magazine piece.
It’s an authorized biography, in a way, of Stranger Things, but you delve into some of the criticism of the show, too, particularly “The Lost Sister” the episode from season 2, that some people liked and others strongly didn’t. Was that a touchy subject to explore?
It is true that not everyone loved that episode, and I think they’re aware of that, but I also think that they really believe it was an important thing to do, and it was an important thing to try. I admire them for sticking with that, and being open, and talking about why they wanted to do it. It is a fantastic showcase for Millie Bobby Brown, who’s an amazing actress. And you get to see her in a new light. Not everything is going to be for everyone. But I do also think it’s important to take a creative risk. It would be very easy to just play it incredibly safe, and try to recreate exactly what you did the first season. I think they wanted to really branch out.
What was the most interesting thing personally to you, that you discovered while researching this book?
Re-watching so many of the episodes, going over specific scenes, really diving more deeply into the episodes, I was just so impressed with the acting. The acting on that show is amazing. Those kids are incredible. David Harbour is great, so is Winona Ryder. And I think, when you’re watching it the first time through you’re so caught up with, “Oh, this is great. I love the ‘80s vibe.” And the camera work is really impressive, and the direction. But the thing that I really came away with was just how emotionally resonant some of those scenes are. There’s the famous psychic tantrum between Millie Bobby Brown and David Harbour in the cabin, and that is Oscar-caliber acting, you know? I mean, in this case, it’s Emmy-caliber acting. [Laughs]
What’s on the horizon for you? You have a Star Wars book that’s coming out — can you tell us the premise and give a bit of a preview?
It’ll be out later this year. It’s called Star Wars Icons: Han Solo. It is a complete biography of the character, from the early drafts of George Lucas’ first scripts, all the way up through the [Solo: A Star Wars Story] movie, and beyond the character’s legacy in popular culture. His appearances in the Star Wars novels, and comic books. It’s pretty comprehensive.
The last thing I need to ask you, so the title of the Stranger Things book is Worlds Turned Upside Down. Conscious Hamilton reference, or just a coincidence?
[Laughs] I think it’s a little of both, honestly.
I just am constantly singing it in my head when I read the title.
There you go. Well see, that’s not a bad thing.