20 Things You Didn’t Know About Stranger Things
Phenomenon. Nostalgia-fest. Regression therapy for mid-life-crisis-facing 40-somethings.
These are just a few of the words and popular phrases bandied around when the conversation invariably turns to Stranger Things, Netflix’s throwback coming-of-age fantasy horror that has been the shock TV hit of the past couple of years.
As if the familiar pre-style guru 80s fashions, pre-BMX stunt bikes and pre-internet obsession with Dungeons and Dragons wasn’t enough to make you salivate, then the Stranger Things soundtrack is designed to blow your tiny mind.
Question is, fans, how much do you actually know about Stranger Things, the show that has inspired obsession the world over?
As Stranger Things’ third season approaches, we run down 20 things you probably didn’t know about the show.
Spoilers follow, obviously, for those who have yet to catch up with the series so far.
20. The show nearly had an entirely different title and setting
Before Stranger Things was Stranger Things, showrunners Matt and Ross Duffer pitched the show around town as Montauk.
Montauk, which the Duffer brothers pitched using a Stephen King-style booklet, was set in Long Island near what was a very real US government facility.
It was in the 1980s that a conspiracy and urban legend arose around the Montauk facility, of government experiments testing psychological warfare.
The show that the Duffers originally pitched was more or less the same as Stranger Things would turn out to be, only the location was different.
When it came to the crunch, the Duffers changed the setting to a fictional town in Indiana, realising shooting in the real location of Montauk would be too restrictive, especially in the wintertime when shooting would become more difficult.
19. The Duffers auditioned more than 1,200 kids for the main roles
As great a job as the likes of Winona Ryder and David Harbour do in the show, Stranger Things lives and dies by its young cast.
According to the Duffer brothers, in total some 906 boys and 307 girls were auditioned for the kids’ roles.
One of these hopeful youngsters, however, was earmarked for the character of Dustin pretty much from the get-go.
Recalling the time he watched Gaten Matarazzo’s audition tape, Matt Duffer has said: “When you see someone like Gaten, and he pops the way he does, you’re just like, ‘This kid, we’re putting him in the show, 100 percent.'”
Incidentally, the Duffers insisted that each would-be child cast member read parts from the iconic 80s coming-of-age flick Stand by Me as part of the auditioning process.
18. The show was nearly an anthology series, with new characters introduced each season
With season 3 on the way and bringing us back to Hawkins and all our favourite characters, it seems Netflix and the Duffers have settled on what Stranger Things is all about.
However, Stranger Things wasn’t always to be a 1980s-set coming-of-age horror series, at least not after season 1.
According to the Duffers, it wasn’t a given that season 2 would bring back Eleven, Hopper and co, with the pair considering making the show an anthology with new characters each season.
In 2016, Stranger Things exec producer Dan Cohen told Yahoo: “At one point, there was this idea of doing 80s, 90s, 2000s, and then Season 5 would be 2020, and it would catch up to present-day.”
Ultimately, the creative team became too attached to Hawkins and its resident, with Cohen telling Yahoo: “I think, at the end of the day, there was this world that we really loved and in making it, and we didn’t want to move away from these kids.”
17. Netflix commissioned the show within 24 hours of hearing the pitch
By the time they took ‘Montauk’ to Netflix, the Duffer brothers had already been rejected by almost every TV studio in town.
The problem TV execs had was the Duffers wanted to make a fantasy horror show about kids for adults.
“You either gotta make it into a kids show or make it about this Hopper character investigating paranormal activity around town,” the Duffers were told.
Then the brothers had a meeting with Netflix, who, says Ross, “just embraced the tone and they embraced what we wanted to do”.
So blown away were they by the premise of the show, Netflix snapped up the rights to Stranger Things within 24 hours of listening to the Duffers’ pitch.
16. 9 million people watched season 2 in the first 3 days of release
When Stranger Things season 1 began streaming on Netflix back in 2016, the show arrived to almost no fanfare.
The season proved to be a massive sleeper hit, however, with going on to be attain a huge cult following.
By the time season 2 came around in 2017, the fans were waiting, with millions tuning in over the first weekend alone.
In the first 3 days of release, some 8.8 million people watched season 2, dwarfing the initial weekend viewing figures of season 1.
Even more impressively, some 361,000 Netflix users were so engrossed they continued to binge-watch all 9 episodes in the initial 24 hours of distribution.
15. Each season has cost less than a single episode of Game of Thrones
To put it simply, Stranger Things has been kind to Netflix; in a September 2016 count, the show was Netflix’s third most-watched after Fuller House and season 4 of Orange is the New Black.
You’d expect, then, that Netflix, with all its billions, would be keen to sink some more moolah into the show. You would be wrong, at least so far.
After season 1 cost the streaming service a total of $6 million, Netflix only coughed up an additional $2 million for season 2 (which featured 9 episodes instead of season 1’s 8).
To put things into perspective, season 2’s $8 million budget is $2 million shy of the $10 million it cost to make a single episode of the latest Game of Thrones.
Things may all be set to change for season 3, however, with the cast getting rumoured pay rises: Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin and Noah Schnapp will have their per-episode fee increase go from $30,000 to $250,000.
14. Joe Keery was so likeable the Duffers decided to turn Steve into a good guy
Before he was partly redeemed at the end of season 1, and then revived as a good guy in season 2, Steve was conceived as Stranger Things’ secondary antagonist.
According to the Duffer siblings, the idea was that Steve would be “the biggest douchebag on the planet.”
It was actually during production on season 1 that the Duffers decided to change Steve’s arc, so that he became sympathetic by the end.
Ross Duffer has explained the change of heart was all down to the actor chosen to play the part, Joe Keery, owing to him being “much more likable and charming than we had originally envisioned.”
With regards to Steve’s personality being transformed, Ross says that “a lot of credit goes to Joe”.
13. Dacre Montgomery’s audition tape was so insane it got played in a Netflix board meeting
Looking for a human villain figure to replace Steve in season 2 of Stranger Things, the Duffers created an all-new bad boy: moustache-sporting mom-lover Billy Hargrove.
To play Hargrove, the show’s ultimate douchebag, the Duffers sent out word that they wanted unknowns to send in audition tapes. Enter Dacre Montgomery.
Montgomery, from Perth in Australia, made an eye-catching video intended to “make a bit of a splash with the Duffers, because I assumed they would be getting so many tapes.”
The tape, which finds Montgomery variously topless and singing along to music, had the desired effect:
It wasn’t just the Duffers whose attention Montgomery caught, either, as the actor told GQ in 2017.
“They were kind of like, ‘Hey man. So we saw your tape, and, you know, it caused a bit of a stir at Netflix.’ Apparently it was played in the big board meeting.”
12. The Duffers told Millie Bobby Brown to base her performance on ET
Of all the cast members who have gone on to big things as a result of Stranger Things – Finn Wolfhard got It, David Harbour had Hellboy – probably no one has made it bigger than Millie Bobby Brown.
Brown, most recently a star of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, owes it all to playing Eleven, and the odd way the Duffers asked her to play the role.
In a 2016 interview with IndieWire, Brown explained: “Matt and Ross were like, ‘Basically you’re going to be an alien.”
The Duffers told Brown “that the performance that they wanted me to resemble was E.T. and sort of that relationship between E.T. and the kids”.
This direction resulted in an otherworldly, near-wordless turn in season 1, in which Brown’s Eleven at one stage dresses up in clothes suspiciously similar to those worn by ET in Spielberg’s 1982 film.
11. Bob was originally killed off much earlier…by Will
As played by Sean Astin, Bob Newby was never going to be anything other than the same exact cuddly, down-to-earth gent he turned out to be.
Bob’s story wasn’t initially supposed to go down the way it did in season 2, however, with the Duffers originally having something much darker in mind.
Rather than him being heroically martyred by a demodog towards the end of season 9, in earlier scripts Bob died in the season’s first act.
We’ll let producer Shawn Levy tell it: “The death of Bob was initially much earlier. In fact, in an early outline, Evil Will killed him in like Episode 3.”
Astin proved to be so good in the role that he actually ended up saving Bob’s bacon, as the Duffers opted to scrap their original plans and keep the character around until (almost) the end.
10. The Duffers played a horrifying prank on Noah Schnapp’s mother
They made a TV show about kids being terrorised (and occasionally killed – sorry, Barb) by monsters from another realm – of course the Duffers are going to have somewhat twisted sensibilities.
Noah Schnapp’s mother found this out the hard way halfway through the filming of Stranger Things’ first season.
In episode 4 of season 1, the supposed body of ‘Will’, played by Noah Schnapp, is discovered in a disused quarry.
For the body, the Duffers had a ‘corpse’ built in Schnapp’s likeness by a prosthetics company, something which to the brothers seemed a good opportunity to play a sinister prank – on Noah’s mother, of course.
The Duffers wrote in EW in 2016: “We immediately took Noah’s mom aside, told her we had something to show her, and led her into a dark closet where we had propped up this frighteningly realistic corpse of her son”.
It was all good, though, after some initial shock: “Before long, she was taking pictures with her child’s fake corpse and texting the photos to all her friends.”
9. David Harbour really wanted to make Hopper the new Indiana Jones
Eleven may be inspired by ET, but the Duffers based Hopper, Stranger Things’ hard-bitten sheriff, on another Spielberg creation from the 80s.
David Harbour, who plays Hopper, wanted to take the inspiration further than the Duffers intended, however.
One of Harbour’s requests for the character was for Hopper to wear a hat similar to that of Jones, a wish that was granted. (Hopper also goes back into danger to collect his hat at one point in season 2, something Jones does throughout his franchise.)
Harbour’s suggestion that the Duffers recreate a Raiders of the Lost Ark scene wholesale was, sadly, rejected.
In 2016, the Duffers wrote in Entertainment Weekly: “He even asked if we could have a giant boulder roll after him at one point in the show. We’re still not sure if he was joking or not.”
8. Millie Bobby Brown held up production one day because she showed up to the set covered in glitter
As Eleven, Millie Bobby Brown has given a performance in Stranger Things that suggests a much more mature performer.
The Duffers were rudely reminded, however, that Brown was still just a kid at heart on one frustrating day of shooting.
In a 2016 article for Entertainment Weekly, the Duffers wrote that, though Brown was treated akin to “one of our most seasoned adult actors” by the end of production on season 1, the actor still liked to remind them she was a child.
“During the filming of this episode [episode 2], 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.”
7. Brown’s dad cried when her hair was shaved off
They probably don’t mind so much now, considering what the part has done for her career, but Millie Bobby Brown’s parents weren’t always happy about what their daughter would have to do for Stranger Things.
Brown’s father in particular didn’t like the idea of Millie shaving her head for the part, a moment that her mother captured on film.
This is how the Duffers told it in EW: “When the day of the haircut finally arrived, Millie’s mom brought out a camcorder, while her dad ran away with tears in his eyes, unable to watch.
“It was a pretty dramatic scene. But also very quick. Within 10 minutes we had shaved it all off and slapped a fake ’11’ tattoo on Millie’s wrist.”
And how did the brothers convince Brown that the buzzcut was a good idea? “Mad Max: Fury Road was about to come out, so we pulled out a magazine photograph of Charlize Theron as Furiosa and showed it to Millie. ‘Charlize looks totally badass, right?’ Millie agreed”.
6. Sean Astin requested a more violent death scene for Bob
Sean Astin was, it seems, a glutton for punishment during his time on Stranger Things.
Initially signing up to be killed by ‘Evil Will’, after Astin inadvertently kept the character alive just by being the good guy that he is, the actor sought a bloody final scene.
In season 2, episode 8, fate finally catches up with Bob, as he’s killed by a pack of demodogs at Hawkins Lab.
Inspired by Jaws, the scene was Astin’s idea, after he requested Bob go out less heroically than the Duffers had envisioned.
Said Ross in 2017: “We were not going to make it as memorable as we did, and then he kept talking about Jaws and Quint being ripped apart, and I was like, alright man, we’ll do it”.
5. Millie Bobby Brown almost quit acting before she was cast as Eleven
Surprisingly for someone so young, Millie Bobby Brown is dead serious about her profession.
At the age of just 8, Brown was so devoted to the idea of becoming an actor she convinced her parents to move the family from England to Orlando, Florida, where she would have more chance of landing auditions.
Before Stranger Things, Brown had some success – guest stints on NCIS, Modern Family and Grey’s Anatomy included – but by age 11 the young actor had already started to become disillusioned.
After failing to bag the sidekick role in Logan, the X-Men spin-off film which would ultimately star Dafne Keen, Brown considered giving acting up when the Duffers came along.
In a 2017 interview with Variety, Brown said: “I felt at one point I couldn’t do it [anymore], but then I got this and everything changed”. Now, she considers acting to be “like breathing”.
4. Eleven was supposed to die at the end of season 1
Obviously, Matt and Ross Duffer aren’t opposed to carrying out major rewrites if they feel the show calls for it.
It’s not just keeping Bob around for longer or changing Steve’s entire character, however, that the Duffers put to page on the fly.
Along with Steve, who would also have died at the end of the first season, Eleven was originally supposed to buy the farm that year.
The idea was that Eleven would sacrifice herself for her newfound friends in Hawkins in her last-episode tangle with the Demogorgon.
The Duffers later rewrote Eleven’s final season 1 scene to be more open-ended, though, no doubt when they realised they were moving forward with another season and when they understood what a find Millie Bobby Brown was.
3. We were never supposed to see the Upside Down
Throughout seasons 1 and 2, the Upside Down, Stranger Things’ monster-filled underworld, has proven a constant literal nightmare for our heroes.
But the Upside Down – known as the Nether in the Duffers’ scripts – almost never saw the light of day.
It’s not that the Nether was ever not integral to the story; what was different about the Upside Down the Duffers originally conceived was its creators’ reluctance to show it.
In the initial screenplays, the Upside Down was heard but never seen, the Duffers’ thinking being that the deadly parallel world would be more scary if it stayed always off-screen.
Before the brothers decided to show the Nether after all, it was only to be experienced through sound, heard through radios and walkie-talkies, and described by those who had experienced it.
2. The Demogorgon’s screech is a mix of seal and scraped metal sounds
Twice now, Craig Henighan, the man responsible for Stranger Things’ sound design, has won an Emmy for his work on the show.
Henighan’s awards are well-deserved, especially considering the off-the-wall creativity it took just to bring the Demogorgon to life.
According to Henighan, he wanted the Demogorgon’s vocal to be as identifiable as that of the Predator.
After some experimentation, he landed on a combination of manipulated seal recordings, human breathing and metal scraped with dry ice.
To create the sound of Dart, Dustin’s pet demodog, Henighan used his own manipulated voice, as well as the original Demogorgon sound mixed with howler monkey screeching.
1. The Demogorgon is a mix of old-school and new-school effects
When Matt and Ross envisioned a movie monster for their 80s-inspired show, they imagined a creature that pre-dated special effects.
“It has always been something of a lifelong dream to create a monster and bring it to life on-screen”, wrote the Duffers in 2016. “Not in the computer, but for real.”
One way they brought the Demogorgon to life was through animatronic work, with a machine effective enough it “terrified” some of the children on-set.
There was also, more simply, a man in a Demogorgon suit – though the brothers admit not everything they wanted could be achieved the old-fashioned way.
For scenes where the Duffers “needed our monster to do something that a man in a suit feasibly couldn’t do”, computer-generated effects were used.