Stranger Things: The Duffer Brothers on episode 3 director Shawn Levy
This is what happens when you're really busy making a show
Matt and Ross Duffer (Wayward Pines) are taking EW behind the scenes of every single episode in their thrilling new Netflix drama, Stranger Things, an ’80s-set supernatural show starring Winona Ryder and a slew of fantastic young stars. Here, they talk “Chapter Three: Holly Jolly”…
The original plan was for us to direct all the episodes this season. Alas, we got a little ahead of ourselves, and by the time production wrapped on the first two chapters, we needed additional time to write the final two episodes of the series. If there was ever a time when we were overwhelmed, this was it. We were editing the first two episodes, prepping episodes 5 and 6, all while writing scripts for episodes 7 and 8. We didn’t have a nervous breakdown, not exactly, but one of us did accidently break a cell phone and spill water on his computer. Just when things were becoming really unmanageable, our producer Shawn Levy swooped in like Superman and took over the directing reigns for episodes 3 and 4.
If you watch movies, chances are good you’ve probably seen and enjoyed a Shawn Levy film. He directed Night at the Museum, Real Steel, and Date Night, to name just a few. The reason we love Shawn (besides him generally just being The Best) is that he too loves that place where the ordinary and the extraordinary intersect, that perfect spot that gives you that goosebump-y feeling of wonder. It’s something really tricky to capture on screen, but when you do it, there’s really nothing better. And if there’s a shining example of that in the show, it’s Joyce with the Christmas lights.
In our original pitch to Netflix, the teenagers used Christmas lights to track the monster. Somewhere along the line, one of our writers (we can’t remember whom, but we love him or her!) suggested that Joyce instead use these Christmas lights to communicate with Will. However this idea came about, we’re just happy it did because seeing Winona react with joy, then terror, then hope to a glowing ball of Christmas lights is now one of our favorite scenes from the show. Of course, none of it would’ve worked without a fearless performer, and Winona is nothing if not that. We think that she is incredible in this episode… an episode where she’s almost entirely on her own. Not many actors can hold the screen the way she does — that’s why she’s a movie star.
The other thing Shawn does so well is wring those tears! This may very well be the most emotional episode of the season, and a lot of that has to do with the ending. Shawn picked that Peter Gabriel cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” and played it over some of our favorite shots from the show. When Jonathan hugs Joyce, their bodies silhouetted by the car headlights, and the camera slowly cranes up to reveal distant sirens… it gives us goose bumps every time we watch it.
The hope, however, is that the directorial switch goes unnoticed. We always envisioned Stranger Things as an epic eight-hour movie, and it was important to everyone involved that it remained stylistically consistent. Making this easy was our amazing crew, who worked so hard during our fun but exhausting six-month shoot. We’d like to give a special shoutout to our production designer, Chris Trujillo, and our director-of-photography, Tim Ives (who passed the torch on this episode to the also-brilliant Tod Campbell), who contributed so much to the classic cinematic look and feel of the show. They not only understood the world of the show, they brought it to life. We don’t know what we would have done without them. Talents like Shawn, Chris, and Tim make us so grateful that film is a collaborative medium.
Random trivia: Holly, the toddler, is played by twins Anniston and Tinsley Price. We’re twins ourselves, so we wish we knew who was whom in each scene, but we honestly have no idea. However, we do know that their best moments in the show are improvised. When Holly watches the family argue in in “Chapter One”… When she gets upset by Dustin and sinks into her chair in “Chapter Two”… When Joyce asks if she saw something in the wall and she confidently replies “yes”… None of that was scripted. That was all Anniston. Or Tinsley. We have no idea.
The Duffer Brothers on “Chapter Four” here.