Montauk was a television drama concept created by the Duffer Brothers, and the original iteration of their hit Netflix show Stranger Things. This early version has much in common with Things, but differs in various ways; most notably, it was planned to be set in Montauk, Long Island rather than the fictional Hawkins, Indiana.
The Duffers produced a script for the show's first episode, which contains much of the same material as The Vanishing of Will Byers. The brothers also created a mock-up Stephen King-style booklet, used in pitches to television networks to help illustrate the intended tone and feel of the series.
Introduction and Influences
The pitch book introduces Montauk as an eight-hour sci-fi horror epic taking place in Long Island in 1980. It details how it's a “love letter to the golden age of Steven Spielberg and Stephen King”, drawing inspiration from the supernatural classics of the era.
The following is the story verbatim from the pitch book:
- We begin at Camp Hero in the fall of 1980, a few months before the base will be shut down by the U.S. Government. A mysterious experiment has gone horribly awry. And something has gotten out.
- On this very night, a young boy, Will Byers, vanishes into thin air. His disappearance has a potent effect on the small town community, particularly on his best friend, Mike Wheeler, his brother, Jonathan, his mother, Joyce, and the reluctant chief of police, Jim “Hop” Hopper. We will follow each of these characters as they grapple with and investigate Will's disappearance.
- As they peel back the layers of this mystery, they will all arrive at the same shocking conclusion: Will was abducted by supernatural entities which were inadvertently released during an experiment. These entities exist between dimensions and have begun to feed on life from our world – Will's disappearance is only the beginning...
- Over the course of the series, the “tear” or “rip” that separates their world from ours will begin to spread across Montauk like a supernatural cancer. This cancer will manifest itself in increasingly bizarre paranormal ways. Electrical fields will be disrupted. Strange fungi will grow on structures and people. A heavy fog will drift in from the Atlantic. The temperature will plummet. Food will rot. Gravity will fluctuate. People will glimpse bizarre entities in their homes and businesses. There will be an escalating number of “vanishings.” The entire town will become “haunted” – and in grave danger. If people can disappear... can an entire town?
- In order to save Will and the town, our heroes will have to outsmart Federal Agents, and tap into the preternatural abilities of a mysterious child telepath named Eleven, who has recently escaped from Camp Hero. Eleven will ultimately give them access to this “in-between” dimension, a nightmarish reflection of our own, where they will find themselves face to face with unimaginable horrors – horrors from which some of them will never escape. Those who do will be forever changed.
The pitch book explains that the show would be structured like a film, separated into three acts. Act One (episodes 1-3) would've depicted the disappearance of Will Byers and the effects it would have on the community. Hopper's investigation would be obstructed by federal agents, while Mike would bond with Eleven. Jonathan would become fixated on a supernatural “tear” he discovered in his shed, and Joyce would have made supernatural contact with Will. The act would conclude with all characters coming to the realization that Will was abducted by supernatural forces and “taken into a realm which exists beyond human senses.”
Act Two (episodes 4-6) would've focused on the town of Montauk becoming increasingly “haunted,” and the previously peripheral characters Mr. Clarke and Terry Ives playing major roles. Mike would have traveled into the alternate dimension and brought back proof that Will was still alive. The second act would've ended with all of the separated characters and storylines coming together.
Act Three (episodes 7-8) would've involved the characters working together to outsmart the military, entering the alternate dimension and saving Will, and closing the “tear” for good.
While the book states that the series would conclude with no loose ends, it also gives details on a potential sequel. The sequel would take place ten years later in the '90s, with the dispersed characters reuniting when horror re-emerges in the town of Montauk.
Tone and Style
The pitch book gives guidelines on the show's style and tone. The visual style would be energetic and cinematic with bold framing. The cinematography would be dark and constantly on the move with fast pacing.
Period details would be featured to give the show a fun nostalgia factor, but not to overwhelm the story and characters. These guidelines were the same for the show's music, with classic songs only being heard from radios and televisions, while most of the music would be original.
The pitch book gives short descriptions of each of the major characters, giving details on their backstories in addition to a basic outline of each character's arc. The characters are grouped into four groups: The Kids, The Outsider, The Teenagers, and The Adults.
- Mike Wheeler is twelve. He is a cute kid, but a birthmark on his left cheek leads to much bullying and near-crippling insecurity. He has never had a first kiss, much less a girlfriend. He escapes his insecurities through reading fantasy novels, spending time with his three best friends (Lucas, Dustin, and Will), and retreating into his own vivid imagination. The Dungeon Master of his Dungeons and Dragons group, he writes sprawling adventures with fantastical monsters. When he finds himself on a real adventure, facing real monsters, he will discover a courage he didn't know he had. By the end, he will even kiss a girl.
- Lucas Conley, twelve, is Mike's best friend. He lives only a few houses away. He is scrawny, short, loudmouthed. Initially a source of comic relief, his character will darken and deepen over the course of the series. His wealthy parents are in the midst of costly divorce; vitriolic arguments are a daily occurrence. As a result, he will grow angry, and destructive. His attitude will land his friends in danger more than once and put his friendship with Mike to the test.
- Will Byers, twelve, is a sweet, sensitive kid with sexual identity issues. He only recently came to the realization that he does not fit into the 1980s definition of “normal.” His innocent choices, such as colorful clothes, prove a constant source of bullying. Like Mike, Will escapes through fantasy gaming, where he can be himself, uninhibited. He has a close relationship with his mother, Joyce. His brother, Jonathan, helps raise him in lieu of their father, who abandoned them four years ago.
- Dustin Henderson, twelve, is the “King Geek.” He is overweight and wears oversized glasses. His supportive parents are nerds themselves and are supportive of his choices and hobbies. However, Dustin finds less acceptance at school, where he is often bullied for his weight and interests. He frequently bickers with Lucas; their arguments are good-natured at first, but escalate as the stakes rise.
- Eleven was an orphan with telekinesis. Her preternatural abilities have been linked to genetic mutations caused by her mother's drug use. When she was just two years old, she was taken for experiments by a clandestine faction of the U.S. Military. She has subsequently lived out a majority of her life in a small cell beneath Camp Hero. During this time, she and a group of other children (One to Ten) were subjected to a series of painful, dangerous experiments. Her powers proved greater than the other children, and she began to receive special attention from Agent One. Outside of Agent One, she has little experience interacting with others and has no memory of the outside world. When she escapes the laboratory at the start of our series, she finds herself experiencing real life for the first time. This proves both terrifying... and thrilling. If Mike is the Elliot of our show, Eleven is our “E.T.”
- Jonathan Byers, sixteen, is mysterious, quiet, with artistic leanings and a lifelong love (and talent) for photography. He finds his social life constantly stifled by his responsibilities to his family. He works at the local movie theatre to help his mother pay rent; the rest of his time is spent taking care of his kid brother, Will. While he loves his family very much, he also feels burdened by them. He has no friends at school and has never had a girlfriend. Over the course of the series, he will begin a relationship with Nancy Wheeler. This will force him to open up and, for the first time, let someone in.
- Nancy Wheeler, sixteen, is an awkward, booksmart teen who is in the early stages of becoming a woman. But with her newfound looks comes unexpected pain; her first fling with Steve, a popular teen, leads to heartbreak and humiliation. This experience will unexpectedly lead her into the arms of another: Jonathan. With his help, she will experience love for the first time... and find herself.
- Jim “Hop” Hopper, early 40s, is the Chief of Montauk police. He grep up in Montauk but moved to the city immediately post-graduation. He made a happy life there, but it all shattered when a tragic car accident killed his four-year-old daughter. He retreated to his hometown and now lives a hedonistic lifestyle in a shack by the beach. He drinks heavily, chain smokes, and abuses Tuinal, a potent barbiturate popular at the time (which has since been banned). Hopper took the job of Chief not to help others but because it required little of him. After all, nothing bad ever happens in Montauk. Or so he thought. This changes when Will goes missing. In order to stop this evil from spreading, Hopper will have no choice but to confront the darkness of his past.
- Joyce Byers, early 40s, is the single mother of Will and Jonathan. She struggles to raise them while holding down two low-paying jobs with long hours. She chain smokes, speaks with a thick Long Island accent, and has blunt manners. Despite all this, she is a loving mother who would go to incredible lengths to protect her boys. Over the course of the show, Joyce's desperation will lead her into an unexpected and rocky relationship with Hopper.
- Mr. Clarke, 35, is the rock star of the local middle school. Charismatic, charming, handsome, and whip-smart, he is the closest thing our series has to Indiana Jones. Mr. Clarke will become increasingly essential as the show moves forward, as he will be key to solving the mystery of what has happened in Montauk. He will ultimately help our heroes breach the Tear in Act Three.
- Terry Ives, 40, mentioned only passingly in the pilot, will play an important role in episodes to come. An anti-social hermit and local movie theatre projectionist with the looks of a serial killer (balding hair, big oval glasses), Terry is a conspiracy nut and has been investigating Camp Hero for a decade. Although initially derided by Hopper and others, he will become an unexpected, albeit reluctant, hero in the dark days ahead. He might even make a friend or two along the way.
Differences from Stranger Things
The most notable and obvious difference between Stranger Things and its original incarnation is the setting. The Duffer Brothers originally wanted the show to take place in Montauk, Long Island (and for the show to correspondingly be titled Montauk) because they desired to recapture the "coastal-town Amity feel" in Jaws.Furthermore, the pilot is clearly heavily influenced by the books of Preston B. Nichols, such as The Montauk Project: Experiments in Time, which was also set in Montauk. Stranger Things and his books cover a great deal of common ground, such as monsters, portals and children with psychic powers.
The setting was changed to the fictional Indiana town of Hawkins due to production reasons, filming in Atlanta. The Duffers would warm to this decision, as Atlanta felt more like "Anywhere, USA" and reminded them of their childhoods in North Carolina. Ross Duffer said they were also "excited" by the change for another reason; since Hawkins is "this little fictional world that we've made up, we can do stuff that didn't happen in real life".
While it is clear the pilot would evolve into "The Vanishing of Will Byers", the script also contains similar scenes to "The Weirdo on Maple Street". The script puts emphasis on some kind of electrical storm which has yet to be seen in the show. The Monster's victims originally bled from the nose and ears when in contact with it, in a similar fashion to Eleven bleeding when she exercises her powers. The script also suggests multiple monsters were planned for the first season.
Due to the setting change and the actors cast, some characters had to be re-written. One of the most altered characters was Joyce Byers. Originally, Joyce would have a Long Island accent, wear too much make-up, and be a lot more aggressive. When Winona Ryder was cast, the Duffers decided to instead base her character on Roy Neary in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Steve Harrington was also changed drastically from the pilot script. Due to Joe Keery's portrayal being more likable than the Duffers had planned, they rewrote his character from being a complete jerk to a guy being in the wrong crowd who eventually changes. Terry Ives was originally male, implied to be a conspiracy theorist, and had no direct connection to the lab, its experiments or Eleven. Dr. Brenner doesn't appear in the pilot script, with three agents taking his place - however, his introduction was likely planned later in the season.
Other changes were more subtle. Originally, Mike would have a birthmark on his cheek which bullies would tease him about. Mike would also have a crush on classmate Jennifer Hayes. Lucas' original surname was Conley, and he originally had a crush on Nancy. Nancy also seemed to be less compliant, sneaking out instead of staying home. Eleven was thought out as being more feral, being described as “more like an animal than a child.” The script's descriptions of each character's appearance were more or less disregarded.
- While Stranger Things takes place in early November of 1983, the pilot takes place in early October of 1980. One of the reasons the year was changed to 1983 is because it was a year before the film Red Dawn was released, which focused on Cold War paranoia.
- However, the second season will take place during October, albeit around Halloween.
- It is possible the Duffer Brothers have re-incorporated their early concept of an electrical storm into the second season, as hinted at by the episode titled “The Storm” and the Super Bowl teaser.
- Camp Hero (or the Montauk Air Force Station ) was built to originally be a coastal defense station disguised as a fishing village.
- It is also where an alleged series of secret experiments were conducted by the US government. These experiments involved developing psychological warfare techniques and time travel. These allegations are believed to have originated from the book The Montauk Project: Experiments in Time, which the author, Preston B. Nichols, claimed to have recovered repressed memories of his involvement in the experiments.
- When Mike talks to his father in an early scene from the pilot, he is trying to watch CHiPS, which was a TV series that originally aired from September 15, 1977, to May 1, 1983. A near identical scene appears in "The Vanishing of Will Byers", with Ted trying to watch Knight Rider instead. This change likely occurred due to the show's shift from 1980 to 1983.
- In the show, before Will leaves to go home, he tells Mike he rolled a seven and that his character was defeated by the Demogorgon. This scene is absent from the script.
- Also in the show, Will wanted Dustin's X-Men 134, while in the script he wanted Dustin's Uncanny X-Men 269. This would've been an anachronism, as that issue was released on October 10, 1990.
- The boys having a policy about “using reflections” could be a reference to how the Upside Down is a “dark reflection” of the real world. However, this concept was dropped and isn't in the show.
- Hopper's fan-favorite line, “Mornings are for coffee and contemplation,” is not in the script.
- Before the boys were called to the principal's office, they are sitting in the science classroom where Mr. Clarke mentions the TV series Cosmos and quotes Carl Sagan.
- Cosmos: A Personal Voyage was a thirteen-part TV series partially written by Carl Sagan that originally aired from September 28 – December 21, 1980.
- When Benny is introduced, the script says “Benny Hammond”, however when he later tells Eleven his name, as well as when Connie Frazier says his name , it says “Benny Henderson.” This is either an error, or indicative that the Duffers had not yet settled on Benny's full name. It's worth noting that Dustin's surname is also "Henderson"; it's possible that Benny and Dustin were originally planned to be part of the same family.
Montauk Pilot written by the Duffer Brothers
- ↑ "Netflix Orders Mystery Series 'Montauk'"The Hollywood Reporter. April 2, 2015.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 "Stranger Things’ Duffer Brothers on ’80s Cinema, Fighting Over Kid Actors, and How They Cast Winona Ryder" Vulture.July 15,2016.
- ↑ "The Stranger Things creators want some scares with their Spielberg" A.V. Club. July 13, 2016.
- ↑ "‘Stranger Things’ Finale: Duffer Brothers Talk Cliffhangers, Death and Season 2]" Variety. July 18, 2016.
- ↑ "'Stranger Things': How Two Brothers Created Summer's Biggest TV Hit" Rolling Stone. August 3, 2017.