The Duffer Brothers soak in their ‘Stranger Things’ success and promise dark things to come
The last year has been somewhat remarkable for twins Matt and Ross Duffer, better known in Hollywood collectively as the Duffer Brothers. As the creative forces behind “Stranger Things,” they gave birth to a pop culture phenomenon last summer that has become one of Netflix’s biggest hits (as far as anyone can guess, as the service does not provide streaming statistics) and an early Emmy favorite with 18 nominations, including drama series. For the Chapman University graduates, whose previous credits include the Warner Bros. horror movie “Hidden” and writing stints on Fox’s “Wayward Pines,” the industry love has been both unexpected and humbling. That recognition truly began in January with a surprise acknowledgment from their producing peers.
“I think the PGA Award, when we won that, was so shocking to me,” Matt Duffer says. “I thought, ‘Absolutely no way.’ I was barely listening when they were announcing it.”
The Duffers and fellow producers Shawn Levy, Dan Cohen and Iain Paterson were the surprise winners in the episodic drama series category at the Producers Guild of America awards, but that was hardly the end of the industry love, as the series’ cast took the television ensemble honor at the SAG Awards the following night. It was an incredible result for an underdog property focused on a bunch of kids trying to solve a supernatural mystery in the early 1980s, whose most recognizable face was Winona Ryder (an Oscar nominee whose career arguably peaked at the turn of the last century), whose soul was captured by David Harbour (hardly a household name even now with his first Emmy nod) and didn’t launch with much fanfare even if Netflix insisted it was behind the show.
“That is what they told us: They said, ‘Don’t freak out if you don’t see a ton of marketing.’ They thought this was going to be word of mouth and that this was going to build,” Ross Duffer says of the “Stranger Things” launch. “I think it built faster than they thought. I think it was faster than anyone expected, obviously. That was sort of what they were hoping for.”
The brothers knew they could have something special on their hands if the five young leads (Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp and Millie Bobby Brown) had genuine chemistry, because, as Matt Duffer notes, “If the kids don’t work, then the show doesn’t work.”
The first scene filmed was one of the first scenes of the premiere episode in which the boys are playing Dungeons & Dragons. Within minutes, the Duffers knew that aspect of the show was going to work.
“The kids just really brought it.” Matt Duffer says. “Because you thought maybe one of them was going to freeze, or they weren’t going to click together and, you know, their chemistry was incredible.”
Production has already been completed on the second season, and the brothers are now spending most of their days in a rented editing facility in the heart of Hollywood, with a premiere date of Oct. 27 looming. They are trying to keep as much about the nine new episodes secret as they can, but they say it’s darker, takes place around Halloween 1984 and puts Will Byers (Schnapp) in the spotlight.
“Noah — the Schnappster — he’s amazing,” Matt Duffer says. “We always knew Season 2 was going to kind of revolve around him, and so we cast a kid who we thought — even though he wasn’t in much of Season 1 — we thought would be able to hold his own in Season 2. He’s very much like a David Harbour child, in terms of that he really surpassed everyone’s expectations. And so I think people are going to be blown away by what he did.”
With the kids growing older (McLaughlin turns 16 in October), there is no opportunity for the Duffers to take a year off to work on something else. That also means the number of seasons it takes to tell the epic story they want to tell is also racing against the clock.
“We’re trying to set the chess pieces, so to speak, for this season to start heading towards that end goal of what it is,” Ross Duffer says. “We know what the destination is. We’re not 100% sure how long it’s going to take to travel there.”