Stranger Things: Revisit the Duffer Brothers' season 1 insights
Get ready for the hit show's return by going behind the magic with the co-creators themselves
It’s almost time to go back to the Upside Down. But before you dive into Stranger Things 2, premiering Friday on Netflix, refresh your memory by looking back on how it all began. When Stranger Things debuted in the summer of 2016, co-creators Matt and Ross Duffer took EW behind the scenes of every episode of their ’80s-set supernatural series, sharing their insights on everything from casting to Christmas lights. Read on for some highlights, as well as links to the Duffer Brothers’ full blogs.
“Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”
“We’ve found that the key to finding good kid actors is actually rather obvious: You just have to audition pretty much every kid in the world who wants to act,” the Duffer Brothers said of finding the perfect cast. “With our great casting director, Carmen Cuba, leading the way, we auditioned 906 boys and 307 girls.”
The Duffers went on to reflect on the first scene they shot, which was also the first scene they wrote for the show: the kids playing Dungeons and Dragons. “We held our breath, called action, and… it clicked,” they recalled. “Our boys flew through the scene effortlessly and energetically, and their chemistry was electric; they felt like they had known each other their whole lives.”
Read their full breakdown of the series premiere here.
“Chapter Two: The Weirdo on Maple Street”
For episode 2, the Duffers reflected on casting Eleven and working with breakout star (and eventual Emmy nominee) Millie Bobby Brown: “Eleven was the most difficult role to cast because she has to convey many emotions with very little dialogue,” they explained. “Then we met Millie Bobby Brown, and we weren’t so concerned anymore. Millie broke out in a 2014 British show called Intruders, which we hadn’t seen at the time, but one of our idols had.” That idol? None other than Stephen King.
The Duffer Brothers also looked back on a moment that reminded them how young their star still was: “During the filming of this episode, Millie showed up to set covered head to toe in glitter, halting production for 30 minutes. To this day, the origin of this glitter remains a mystery, but it seems like something that could only happen to an 11-year-old girl.”
Read their full breakdown of episode 2 here.
“Chapter Three: Holly, Jolly”
Stranger Things’ third episode featured Joyce’s (Winona Ryder) memorable discovery that she could talk to missing son Will (Noah Schnapp) through holiday lights. “In our original pitch to Netflix,” the Duffers revealed, “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.”
The brothers credited Ryder’s “fearless” performance with pulling it all together: “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.”
Read their full breakdown of episode 3 here.
“Chapter Four: The Body”
The Duffers’ paid homage to their idol in episode 4. “This episode is called ‘The Body,'” they explained. “That’s our not-so-subtle nod to Stephen King’s short story The Body, which was the basis for Rob Reiner’s classic film Stand by Me. We love that story and that film with all of our boyish hearts, and its DNA is written all over the show.”
The co-creators weren’t the only ones drawing on pop culture touchstones; actor David Harbour (Chief Hopper) was too. “David loved Hopper because he felt that the role harkened back to an old-school type of Hollywood hero,” the Duffers said. “Hopper’s not a superhero. He’s screwed up, he screws up, he’s not afraid to make an ass of himself, and he solves problems with both his brains and his fists. A bit like, yes, Indiana Jones. In fact, one of David’s first requests was for Hopper to wear a hat at almost all times.”
Read their full breakdown of episode 4 here.
“Chapter Five: The Flea and The Acrobat”
For episode 5, the Duffer Brothers gave EW the scoop on the show’s ’80s-inspired soundtrack. “We always wanted the music to play a major role in the show. Very early on, we decided that we needed an entirely electronic score,” they explained. “So we felt that having a synth soundtrack would do exactly what we wanted to achieve with the show: It would feel both modern and nostalgic at the same time.”
To make sure they weren’t going too far against the grain, the Duffers made a mock trailer with clips from classic films. “We then scored this fake trailer with John Carpenter music, using some of our favorite songs from The Fog to Escape From New York. As soon as we heard John Carpenter’s eerie synth drones play over shots from E.T., we got major goosebumps. It worked, big time. (For the record, John Carpenter music makes E.T. scary as hell).”
Read their full breakdown of episode 5 here.
“Chapter Six: The Monster”
“It has always been something of a lifelong dream to create a monster and bring it to life on-screen. Not in the computer, but for real. To build it,” the Duffer Brothers said. To create their animatronic monster, they encouraged concept artist Aaron Sims to push boundaries: “If you were to encounter a being from another planet or dimension, we imagine it wouldn’t look like anything you’d expect. The more bizarre, the more frightening.”
But not everyone on set was comfortable with the finished product. “There were some toddlers on set: Millie’s little sister, Ava, as well as Anniston and Tinsley, the twins who play toddler Holly,” the Duffers shared. “As you can expect, these little girls were all terrified by the monster. Finally someone had the clever idea to tell them that the monster was not a bad monster at all; rather, he came from the world of Monstropolis in Monsters, Inc. And it worked!”
Read their full breakdown of episode 6 here.
“Chapter Seven: The Bathtub”
The Duffer Brothers were especially excited about episode 7. “We feel a lot of affection for this episode, because it’s a little bit… bonkers,” they enthused. “And, at least for us, it’s the most purely ‘fun’ episode of the season. Our three disparate story lines collide as our teens, kids, and adults all finally team up.” And one of those pairings resulted in one of their favorite lines of the season.
Read their full breakdown of episode 7 here.
“Chapter Eight: The Upside Down”
The scope of the season 1 finale came with some challenges. “This was by far the most challenging episode to pull off,” the Duffer Brothers told EW. “No other episode even comes close. In our original pitch to Netflix, we envisioned the show as a big summer popcorn movie.”
To give that movie a worthy conclusion, the Duffers put the focus on the heart of the show: “We made a choice to temporarily take off our producer hats and let the story and characters guide us — even if that meant putting our leads in another dimension for most of the episode, and writing in not one, not two, but three monster attacks.”
Read their full breakdown of the season 1 finale here.
Stranger Things 2 premieres Oct. 27 on Netflix.
Netflix’s hit sci-fi series follows a group of kids in the '80s battling supernatural forces in Hawkins, Ind.