Q&A With the Creators of Netflix's Retro Thriller Stranger Things

Twin brothers Ross and Matt Duffer created, wrote and directed Netflix's latest water-cooler show and gave us the lowdown on scoring '80s action figures and the appeal of a non-CGI monster

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Matt and Ross Duffer (Photo: Curtis Brown/Netflix)

Set in 1983 and inspired by classic sci-fi and horror movies like E.T. and Poltergeist, and with a soundtrack of The Clash and Joy Division (not to mention an epic score), Stranger Things is the ultimate throwback for us actual ‘80s babies—who remember doing laps in our local video rental store—and a virtual time machine for today’s youngs. Did we mention it’s also got a kick-ass cast of strong female characters (Eleven! Nancy! Barb! Joyce!) and Winona Ryder? Like we said, perfect.

We chatted with co-creators and twin brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, who previously wrote on Fox series Wayward Pines, about their own ‘80s childhoods, picking the perfect Stephen King-inspired font and why Tom Cruise deserves a mention.

Getting all that ‘80s memorabilia was not easy

Ross Duffer: A huge one for us was the Millennium Falcon and the Yoda [figures]. We were shooting this right before J.J. Abrams’s new Star Wars: The Force Awakens was going to come out and, understandably, Disney and Lucasfilm are very protective of it, so that was a huge process. We just kept at it because we knew that these kids in that time would have these toys. The film is set right when Return of the Jedi came out, so it was important to see that. Luckily Shawn Levy, who is one of the Stranger Things’ producers and directed two episodes, unlike us, he has friends in high places and was able to make some big phone calls and get that done. That was a big one for us just because of how hard it was to get.

Matt Duffer: Castle Grayskull from Masters of the Universe in Mike’s room was an important toy in our childhood, so I was happy that we got that. I was happy we got He-Man in the show because He-Man was huge for us; you have to fight. All the posters, too!

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Looking for things that go bump in the night (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

They owe a small victory to Tom Cruise

RD: I’m so happy that people are loving what they’re seeing because it was all a giant pain in the butt to get, tracking down the rights, and some people are very difficult about giving those rights. It was hard. Except Tom Cruise.

MD: There’s a poster of Tom Cruise in Nancy’s room and Tom Cruise has just said that anyone can use that poster: I guess he likes that poster. That was an easy one to get.

RD: So thank you Tom.

MD: Thanks Tom!

JB: Shout out to Tom Cruise.

They wanted their monster done with old-school effects, not CGI

MD: We knew we wanted to shoot it practically but it’s funny because I feel like we would have done that anyway, even if the show was set in modern times. I think that J.J. Abrams did a really nice job of it on the new Star Wars—using new technology but also building sets and relying on practical effects as much possible. It turned out to be challenging on a television schedule to get some of the practical effects to work but when we saw that animatronic head open up for the first time, it was like we were 12 years old again. I hope it just makes it feel more real. All the horror stuff we grew up watching, and maybe it’s just because we experienced those movies when we were young, but in all of those movies, monsters were either achieved through makeup and prosthetics or animatronic designs and they scared the living shit out of us. It just felt so much more real and scarier than computer graphics. So we wanted to try.

RD: One reason I loved ’80s monsters is after I watched the movie, I could go into my room with crayons or markers and I could very simply draw these monsters that I fell in love with. So I think, like we did with the title sequences, as opposed to being elaborate about it, it’s about trying to go back to something simple that if you saw it in silhouette, you would go ‘Oh, that’s the monster from Stranger Things.’ That’s something we were talking about when we came up with the design.

The Duffers hired a virtually unknown band to create the show’s epic score

RD: The score is something we started talking about way earlier than I think most of these shows do because it was just so important to us and music is such an important part of storytelling. So we found these guys that were in some synth band called Survive in Austin and we had used some of their music in our mock trailer and we’re like ‘Do you want to quit your jobs and do this Netflix show for us?’ and they were like ‘Hell yes we do!’ Last summer when we were still writing episodes, they were sending us hours and hours of music and so we built up this giant library and it’s been an amazing experience with them.

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