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Stranger Things, released in 2016, pays homage to the 80’s and cult classics from that era. Brought onto streaming service Netflix, it took the world by storm, not only through the nostalgia of the show but also through the lovable cast, who have since gone onto be the most followed cast on social media due to the release of the show. Stranger Things takes place in the 1980’s in the fictional town Hawkins, Indiana and follows the story of the aftermath of Will Byers, played by Noah Schnapp, disappearing through the eyes of his friends Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) as they encounter a girl with psychokinetic abilities played by Millie Bobby Brown. This storyline runs alongside two others; one that shows Will’s mother Joyce, played by Winona Rider, trying to find her son with town Sherriff Hopper (David Harbour) and the other that follows the older siblings of Will and Mike as they battle with the supernatural as well as the trials and tribulations of high school. Stranger Things presents multiple different age groups to follow in the narrative arc and therefore it is interesting to see how that helped achieve a successful show and, through looking into the production and conception, what the show brought to Netflix that made it such a great hit.
Behind the creation of the show lie the Duffer Brothers: Matt and Ross. After the production of their 2015 film Hidden, which unfortunately did not see a wide release, the Duffer Brothers were unsure of what the future held for them, however they were approached by Donald De Line, a television producer, who was impressed by their script for Hidden and so offered them the opportunity to work alongside M. Night Shyamalan on Wayward Pines. Following this, as they were mentored by Shymalan, the brothers felt that they were ready to produce their own television series.
The Duffer Brothers created a three-page script and a 20-page pitch book which they took to multiple networks, all of which rejected the idea after the pitch. It was said that a plot centred around children as leading characters would not work and most networks asked for a focus on Hopper’s investigation. After going to fifteen networks, the script was brought to Shawn Levy, who founded production company 21 Laps and saw potential in the script. As he told the Beast “You knew you were in for an experience”.
Levy worked with Dan Cohen, who would become a series co-executive producer, to bring the script to Netflix. The Duffer Brothers have stated that Netflix like to ‘break the rules’ and so, as this was at the beginning of the ‘streaming boom’ and the landscape of Netflix looks very different to what it does now, they took a big risk. After reading through the pilot, Netflix purchased the whole season for an undisclosed amount and was then subsequently planned for a 2016 release.
The Duffer Brothers have been heavily influenced by pop culture, in particular the classic 80’s film and television. Among others, Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter and Stephen King have been named as main influences. The Duffers said their influences came from a thousand different places, and though there are a couple of intentional homages, ‘it’s not us trying to find moments to do an homage to stuff.’ This is shown through the series through small props that are placed around the set. They are not glaringly obvious but are positioned so that those who it will resonate with due to nostalgia will be able to recognise the items, an example being the Trapper Keeper memorabilia shown with Nancy and Barb.
The storylines of the three generations in the show were envisioned with their own mood and setting, inspired by different genres of films: the kids in adventure films, like The Goonies or Stand By Me; the teenagers in a classic horror film, like John Carpenter’s Halloween or Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street; the adults in a classic Spielberg movie, like Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Using all of these as inspiration, the series targets many demographics successfully as it breaks up the storylines into three different genres and themes.
Due to Netflix not limiting the Duffer Brothers to the typical 22 episodic format, the brothers opted for an eight episode approach. As they wanted to “tell a cinematic story”, they were cautious that a broadcast of 22 episodes would make this difficult. With an eight episode format, it allowed the brothers to fulfil their narrative development and characterization to what they had envisioned and also, due to Netflix’s distribution, allowed them to explore ambiguity within the series that would lead nicely onto the following seasons planned. Whilst talking to The Beast, Ross explained that within the writers “room” the bigger discussions, especially early on, were about how we capture the feel of these movies, he says ‘It’s taking a very ordinary object that people deal with every day, their television set, and imbuing it with something otherworldly. Discussions like that led to, for instance, the Christmas lights. Like, let’s take something very ordinary and then make it really come alive in a very different way’.
In regards to writing for the different age groups, the Duffer Brothers, who considered themselves outcasts, used personal experiences to write for the children and Barb and took inspiration from Richard Dreyfuss’ character Roy Neary in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, for the character of Joyce.
The Duffer Brothers have both noted that “everyone recognized really early on that if we had even one kid who wasn’t good, it would take the whole ship down. So we just started looking really, really early on. At that point, we just had the pilot script and we had so little material that we were actually having them audition with scenes from “Stand By Me” ”.
They were able to find a fantastic cast of four children, which the team used to shape their interpretations into the script. It was also revealed in 2015 that Winona Ryder and David Harbour had both joined the cast, which started to created a buzz for the show through the reappearance of Winona and her success in 80’s classics.
Below, a figure shows the timeline of production from the filming of the first season to 2020, where filming of the fourth season had to be pushed back due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
With this timeline, you can see that it didn’t take long for new seasons to get given the ‘green light’ by Netflix, showing the success of the show. Furthermore, you can see that they took similar amounts of time to shoot the show, and the length of the filming meant for multiple takes so that there were more options to chose from to find the right take.
To achieve the nostalgic feel, a film grain was added over the footage, captured by scanning in film stock form the 1980’s. Both brothers agreed It was ‘much more about mood and atmosphere and suspense and dread than they are about gore,’ and hence strayed away from computer generated effects for the likes of the Demogorgon. Despite this, time management resulted in having six-months of filming time left where they would not be able to test out the props and so opted for a split of practical props and computer generated animation when the creature came through a wall for example.
The sequence was created by the studio Imaginary Forces, formerly part of RGA, led by creative director Michelle Doughtey. Levy introduced the Duffer Brothers to the studio, who were happy with the concept and sent across synth music as well as book covers from the likes of Stephen King as inspiration for their chosen typography which Imaginary Forces used to create the, now well recognised, theme song and logo, shown below.
The Stranger Things original soundtrack was composed by Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon of the electronic band Survive. It makes extensive use of synthesizers in homage to 1980s artists and film composers including Jean-Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, Goblin, John Carpenter, Giorgio Moroder, and Fabio Frizzi. In addition to original music, Stranger Things features period music from artists including The Clash, Joy Division, Toto, New Order, The Bangles, Foreigner, Echo and the Bunnymen, Peter Gabriel, and Corey Hart, as well as excerpts from Tangerine Dream, John Carpenter, and Vangelis. All of these contribute to the nostalgic 80’s theme within the series and hence enhance the atmosphere within the show.
There are currently three posters out as the fourth one has yet to be revealed. All the posters have a very distinct style that, with the use of the grain and seemingly luminescent red, is reminiscent of the 80’s, but also is very popular within modern day cinema. Many posters nowadays, especially sci-fi or action films, have the cast in a triangular formation so that they are recognised within mainstream media. The posters for seasons one through three are shown just below.
The first season consisted of eight one-hour-long episodes which were released worldwide on Netflix on July 15, 2016, in Ultra HD 4K. The second season, consisting of nine episodes, was released on October 27, 2017 in HDR. The third season once again consists of eight episodes, and was released on July 4, 2019. Netflix announced on September 30, 2019 that they had renewed the show for a fourth season. With the release of Stranger Things all on the same day, it contributed to the growing “binge-culture” on Netflix and allowed people to watch the series in one go rather than the typical weekly episodic release.
Although their initial release was on Netflix, the first season was also released on a Blu-rayDVD combo pack exclusively to Target, which included vintage VHS packaging in line with the 80’s theme.
Stranger Things was quick to receive a large cult following with fans creating #JusticeforBarb as well as incredible fan art, fan trailers and fanfiction. It gained quick popularity within the fandom communities.
As well as this, it is predicted to have a very high viewership. Although Netflix don’t release the viewership numbers, Symphony Technology Group compiled data for the season. According to Symphony, within the first 35 days of release, Stranger Things averaged ratings around 14.07 million adults between the ages 18-49 in the United States, making it third most-watched season of Netflix original content in the U.S. at the time.
In an analysis in 2016, it was found that Stranger Things ‘hooked’ viewers by the second episode of the first season and it was also shown that for the third season, Netflix revealed that the show had broken viewing records for Netflix, with 40.7 million households having watched the show in its first four days, and 18.2 million already watched the entire series within that timeframe. Within its first month, the third season was watched by 64 million households, setting a new record for the most-watched original Netflix series.
The show was ranked 3rd best TV show of the year by The Guardian and Empire. It was also included on The Atlantic’s best TV show of 2017 list. Overall, Stranger Things seemed to be received well by critical audiences as well as the casual viewer, nominated for many awards and, among others, winning at the MTV Film
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