I really enjoyed Netflix’s Stranger Things, an unapologetic tribute to the works of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, John Carpenter, and other masters of suspense and horror that creators Matt and Ross Duffer grew up loving. (Here’s my initial review, and here are some spoiler-heavy thoughts on the season.)
Yesterday, I spoke with the Duffer brothers about how they drew the line between homage and straight-up thievery, why the season was only 8 episodes (a length I think more Netflix dramas should try), why actor Gaten Matarazzo deserves so much credit for making Dustin the show’s most entertaining character, what a potential second season would be like, and more. That’s all coming up just as soon as you give me this phone, two weeks advance, and a pack of Camels…
Where did you draw the line between paying homage to all those great movies and books of the period and trying to tell your own story?
Ross Duffer: The real goal was to just go back to that style of storytelling. It was us looking back to the kinds of movies that made us do what we want to do, the stuff that we grew up loving, and the Stephen King novels. And it’s trying to just capture the feel of those. That was really the goal. And a few times, with stuff like Will running into the shed, which is clearly an homage to E.T., or the typewriter thing being an homage to Jaws, we would let there be some moments that nodded at the movies that we loved and that inspired us to do what we’re doing. That was more the goal. It’s not like we’re in the writers room going, “Let’s reference this movie here and this movie there.” It’s more setting the story in motion, and then seeing where that story would go. And then occasionally, we couldn’t help ourselves with the bike chase.
Matt Duffer: The bike chase, it felt very organic to the story that there would be a bike chase. But of course, we were like, “Is this a bad idea? Crossing a line? We can’t do a bike chase.” It’s just so E.T., obviously. In that instance, I think we just gave into our weaker impulses and wrote the bike chase, and it’s out of our system. So we don’t ever have to do it again.
But were there any times in the writers room where a pitch actually got shot down as being too close?
Matt Duffer: I can’t remember. It’s not like we’re in the room spitballing scenes from other movies.
Ross Duffer: We would talk about Poltergeist, and be like, “Why is the girl and the TV so iconic? Why did that stick with people more than anything else in that movie?” It’s because you’re imbuing this very ordinary object and making that feel supernatural. So when you make that supernatural or other world extraordinary, it really has impact. I think discussions like that are what led to, for instance, the Christmas lights. Let’s take something mundane and ordinary, that most people deal with on a yearly basis, and let’s make it suddenly come alive and take on a different meaning. it was more those discussions than specifically referencing things. Obviously, production design is a different beast. Of course, we have pictures from these movies up on the wall. We’re referencing them, and as a way to make it feel like the ’80s.