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The first season of Stranger Things premiered on Netflix on July 15, 2016. It consists of eight episodes ranging from forty-two to fifty-five minutes in length. 

Set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana in 1983, the season is about the disappearance of Will Byers and the ensuing search for him by family, friends and the local authorities.

Imagined by its creators as an eight-hour blockbuster film, it was inspired by and pays homage to classic genre films of the 1980s — in particular the films of Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter, as well as the novels of Stephen King. The season received critical and audience acclaim and was praised for its directing, acting performances, title sequence, and synth-heavy score.

Synopsis

When a young boy vanishes, a small town uncovers a mystery involving secret experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and one strange little girl.

Plot summary

November 6, 1983. Hawkins, Indiana...

Young Will Byers is cycling home from a disappointing "Dungeons & Dragons" campaign at a friend's house, when a terrifying figure suddenly appears... Will tries to escape and hide, but he is abducted...

Will's friends Dustin, Lucas and Mike begin investigating his disappearance; while looking for Will in the local forest, the boys find a girl with a shaved head in a hospital gown, who they let stay in Mike's basement. They learn her name is Eleven, discovering she has psychokinetic abilities.

Will's mother Joyce becomes transfixed by supernatural events affecting the house electricity - she's convinced Will is communicating with her. As these strange events continue, she witnesses the same monster that took Will, which threatens her on numerous occasions. Meanwhile, police chief Jim Hopper grows suspicious of the nearby national laboratory after he finds a torn piece of hospital gown outside the lab grounds. Mike's older sister Nancy attends a pool party hosted by her new boyfriend Steve, begrudgingly accompanied by her best friend Barb. Jonathan, Will's brother, witnesses the events of the party, taking photos. While alone, Barb is abducted by the Monster.

Hopper researches a Dr. Martin Brenner, the laboratory, and a woman who claimed her daughter was taken by scientists. Steve discovers Jonathan's photographs and destroys them, but an anxious Nancy retrieves the fragments of a photo showing Barb. She goes back over to Steve's house, to look around for Barb - she briefly sees the Monster run through the woods, scaring her and prompting her to flee. What appears to be Will's body is discovered in a quarry, however Eleven proves Will is still alive, manipulating several radios to project the sound of Will's voice. Examining Jonathan's photo of Barb, Nancy realizes the monster is also visible. Jonathan realizes that Nancy's description of the creature matches his mother's: a humanoid figure with long arms and no face. They team up to learn more about the creature, in the hopes of saving Will and Barb. The two teens look around Hawkins, hoping to find the creature and potentially kill it.

A suspicious Hopper finds and cuts open Will's body, discovering it to be fake. He heads to the laboratory and breaks in, finding Eleven's bedroom and a huge, sprawling gate to an alternate dimension before being knocked out by agents. He wakes up in his own home and finds it bugged. After pulling together all their knowledge and speculation on the supernatural events, the boys search for a hypothetical Gate to the other world, which they've now nicknamed the Upside Down. The boys eventually realise that a fearful Eleven - afraid of the lab and the Upside Down - has been misguiding them while exploring through Hawkins. A fight breaks out, resulting in Lucas being injured by Eleven and the group splitting up.

Throughout the season, Eleven experiences a series of painful flashbacks to the experimentation conducted on her by Dr. Brenner at the laboratory. This culminates with a flashback to an experiment in which she was placed in a sensory deprivation tank. Within an altered psychic state, she accidentally opened the Gate to the Upside Down after making contact with the creature. After sharing what they know, Hopper and Joyce track down Terry Ives, learning more about Eleven and Dr. Brenner. While Lucas attempts to once more find the Gate, Mike and Dustin find Eleven. Lucas sees agents leaving the laboratory, realising they are on their way to capture Eleven. Mike, Dustin, and Eleven narrowly escape, reuniting with Lucas.

Joyce and Hopper return to Hawkins, sharing their knowledge of the creature with Nancy and Jonathan. Joyce, Hopper, Nancy and Jonathan contact and eventually find the kids, formulating a plan to make a sensory deprivation tank to enhance Eleven's powers - this way, she can psychically view Will and Barb without entering the Upside Down. The group break into Hawkins Middle School and set up their makeshift tank there. Using the tank, Eleven discovers Barb to be dead and Will alive, hiding in Castle Byers, his makeshift fort. Hopper and Joyce break into Hawkins Laboratory to pass through the Gate and save Will, but are apprehended by security. Nancy and Jonathan resolve to kill the monster. In the Upside Down, the monster breaks through Castle Byers, taking Will.

Interrogated by Brenner, Hopper gives up Eleven's location in exchange for access to the Gate. Hopper and Joyce enter the Upside Down, discovering the creature's nest, where an unconscious Will has been strung up with a tendril extending down his throat. After detaching and killing the creature, Hopper and Joyce attempt to revive Will, and Hopper remembers the moment his daughter died - he's determined to spare Joyce from the same grief. Will is eventually revived, and the three return through the Gate. Meanwhile, Nancy and Jonathan set up a trap at the Byers house before cutting their hands to attract the creature with their blood. Steve arrives, intending to apologize to Jonathan and Nancy following a previous argument. The monster attacks - although Nancy, Jonathan and Steve successfully injure and trap it, it escapes to the Upside Down. Agents storm the school, but Eleven kills many of them, crushing their brains. As Brenner recovers a weakened Eleven, the wounded monster, attracted by the bloodshed, enters the school and attacks Brenner. The boys escape with Eleven and hide in a classroom, but the monster finds and attacks them. Eleven pins the creature against a wall and says goodbye to Mike. In a painful and self-destructive act, Eleven dissolves the creature into a thick mist in which she too vanishes. Will is hospitalized and reunited with family and friends. Hopper is reluctantly picked up by a black government car.

One month later, Nancy has gotten back together with Steve, and they've both befriended Jonathan. Hopper leaves food in a concealed box in the woods. Will coughs up a slug-like creature in his bathroom sink and has a momentary flash into the Upside Down.

Cast and characters

Main cast

Recurring cast

Episodes

# Image Title Director Writers
1
The Vanishing of Will Byers S01-E01 SS 001
"The Vanishing of Will Byers" The Duffer Brothers The Duffer Brothers
On his way home from a friend's house, young Will sees something terrifying. Nearby, a sinister secret lurks in the depths of a government lab.
2
The Weirdo on Maple Street - school scene
"The Weirdo on Maple Street" The Duffer Brothers The Duffer Brothers
Lucas, Mike and Dustin try to talk to the girl they found in the woods. Hopper questions an anxious Joyce about an unsettling phone call.
3
Holly, Jolly
"Holly, Jolly" Shawn Levy Jessica Mecklenburg
An increasingly concerned Nancy looks for Barb and finds out what Jonathan's been up to. Joyce is convinced Will is trying to talk to her.
4
The Body S01-E04 SS 001
"The Body" Shawn Levy Justin Doble
Refusing to believe Will is dead, Joyce tries to connect with her son. The boys give Eleven a makeover. Nancy and Jonathan form an unlikely alliance.
5
The Flea and the Acrobat - the tank
"The Flea and the Acrobat" The Duffer Brothers Alison Tatlock
Hopper breaks into the lab while Nancy and Jonathan confront the force that took Will. The boys ask Mr. Clarke how to travel to another dimension.
6
The Monster - Nancy hides
"The Monster" The Duffer Brothers Jessie Nickson-Lopez
A frantic Jonathan looks for Nancy in the darkness, but Steve's looking for her, too. Hopper and Joyce uncover the truth about the lab's experiments.
7
The Bathtub - Joyce comforts Eleven
"The Bathtub" The Duffer Brothers Justin Doble
Eleven struggles to reach Will, while Lucas warns that "the bad men are coming." Nancy and Jonathan show the police what Jonathan caught on camera.
8
The Upside Down - Hopper in hazmat suit
"The Upside Down" The Duffer Brothers Paul Dichter · The Duffer Brothers
Dr. Brenner holds Hopper and Joyce for questioning while the boys wait with Eleven in the gym. Back at Will's, Nancy and Jonathan prepare for battle.

Development

Conception

The Duffer Brothers were excited by the boundaries of television being pushed in a more cinematic direction and started talking about what kind of show they would most like to see.[1] They talked about doing something in the vein of the classic films they loved growing up: Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, as well as Stephen King’s novels and their adaptations, which they felt were so great and resonant because they “explored that magical point where the ordinary meets the extraordinary.”[2]

Pitching

In 2015, Dan Cohen, the Vice President of 21 Laps Entertainment, brought the Montauk pilot script to Shawn Levy. Though the company has a policy to only get involved in television if it’s "irresistible," the Duffers were brought to Levy's office and he "fell in love with it, completely bought into the boys and felt like they were worth betting on."[3]

Netflix was the first buyer they pitched to, because it fit the Duffers' vision of the show as an eight-hour movie and gave them creative freedom. The company bought the season the morning after the pitch.[3]

Casting

The first role the casting team was looking to cast was Joyce Byers, and they wanted someone iconic for the role. Casting director Carmen Cuba’s first idea was Winona Ryder. The Duffers were very excited about this as they had grown up on her movies in the ‘90s and felt that they had not seen enough of her lately.[1][2] They sent Ryder the pilot script; she liked it, and they had a meeting the same week. The four-and-a-half hour meeting was mostly them getting to know each other, as Ryder was a film nerd herself and got along well with the brothers. She agreed to be Joyce the next day.[4]

The minute Netflix gave the green light, the casting team started looking for child actors as they knew it would be a difficult task.[5] They auditioned 906 boys and 307 girls who were made to read select scenes from the first episodes as well as a few classic scenes from Stand By Me.[1] They saw dozens of kids who were exceptionally good, but they would not cast them as they were looking for a certain authenticity.[6]

The finalists were flown to Los Angeles, where they read together to test their chemistry. The kids that were selected to be the main roles were the only ones the Duffers felt could hold up the show on their own: Noah Schnapp (Will), Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin), and Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas) from New York, Finn Wolfhard (Mike) from Canada, and Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven) from the United Kingdom. Over the summer, the kids formed a group and began incessantly texting each other. They were a close-knit group by the time they arrived in Atlanta for filming.[4]

The Duffer Brothers have admitted that many of the characters started out as more stereotypical, but the actors influenced and informed the characters: Dustin was initially much more of a cliché nerd character without an interesting personality, but from the moment they saw Gaten’s audition tape, they wrote the character around him; Mike was originally a soft-spoken dreamer like Mikey from The Goonies, but Finn's fidgetiness and fast talking made them adjust Mike’s voice.[7][8]

The most difficult role to cast was Eleven, because she had to convey many emotions with very little dialogue. The Duffers were worried that a child actor might have trouble staying in character in a scene when they are not talking, but that concern went away when they met Millie Bobby Brown. They said “Millie’s something special, alright, with a downright spooky preternatural talent. She inhabits every moment so intensely, with some alchemy of intelligence, preparation, and instinct.”[9]

A day after Wolfhard was cast as Mike, they got a call saying he was working on a deal to star in Cary Fukunaga's It. However, the movie fell through, and he was kept on Stranger Things.[5]

Production

Filming

The filming of Stranger Things lasted for six months.[10] They spent eleven days filming each episode.[11]

The first scene they shot was the Dungeons & Dragons scene from the first episode. The Duffers were concerned about how the child actors would work together on set, but to their relief “Our boys flew through the scene effortlessly and energetically, and their chemistry was electric; they felt like they had known each other their whole lives.”[4]

Duffer Brothers Directing Chapter 2

The Duffer Brothers on set for "Chapter Two."

Initially planning to direct all of the season’s episodes, the Duffer Brothers found themselves overwhelmed by the time production wrapped on the first two chapters; they were editing the first two episodes, prepping episodes five and six, while at the same time writing scripts for episodes seven and eight. That is when producer Shawn Levy was brought in to take the directing reins for episodes three and four.[10]

When writing the final episode, the Duffers started to panic because they knew it would push the limits of the crew on the show. Production for the final episode consisted of long days and nights with little sleep and a large amount of stress, and the Duffers credited the enthusiasm of everyone on the show for making “the impossible possible.” They later stated “This was by far the most challenging episode to pull off. No other episode even comes close.” To create snow for the winter scenes, over twenty tons of ice were shipped from Florida.[12]

Special effects

Having grown up on genre films before computer graphics, it was important to the Duffers that the horror elements were done practically. Something about the effects being so tangible in films like Ridley Scott’s Alien, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser was especially terrifying to them when they were kids.[13] They anticipated to use eighty percent practical effects and twenty percent computer graphics, but in the final product “it was probably more of a 50/50 split.” [6]

Monster concept art

Concept art for the monster by Aaron Sims Creative.

The visual artists at Aaron Sims Creative were hired to help them design the Monster and the look of the Upside Down. The Duffers spoke to them at length about the creature designs of H.R. Giger, Clive Barker, Guillermo del Toro and Masahiro Ito. “We all felt their monsters were so effective because of their strangeness. If you were to encounter a being from another planet or dimension, we imagine it wouldn’t look like anything you’d expect. The more bizarre, the more frightening.”[13]

From early on, they knew they wanted their monster to be a person in a suit with animatronic elements, so the monster could interact with actors in real time.[14] Spectral Motion, who had previously worked with Guillermo del Toro, were brought in to build the monster. They had only about two months to complete the creature, meaning there was almost no room for error. The robotics engineer designed the animatronics so the movement of the head petals moved in unpredictable patterns, never repeating themselves. The Duffers stated that “it felt organic. Creepy. Real.”[13]

Stranger Things - VFX Breakdown - 'Breakthrough'00:12

Stranger Things - VFX Breakdown - 'Breakthrough'

The visual effects of Aaron Sims Creative in the finale.

Aaron Sims Creative was also put in charge of the visual effects.[13] Full computer graphics were used when an actor in a suit could not perform certain stunts, like the monster breaking through walls.[15] Nearly forty percent of the final episode had some type of visual effects enhancement. The visual effects team was working on shots until the last possible moment with the final shots turned in just two weeks before they aired on Netflix, most of them not even entirely complete.[12]

The Upside Down was created through a mix of practical and visual effects. Many of the vines and growth were actually moving and pulsing with visual effects brought in when they filmed something like a city street.[14]

The fake corpse of Will Byers used in episode four was built by Justin Raleigh from the company Fractured FX.[16][17] The van-flipping scene was also achieved practically, using explosives. When first trying the stunt on location, one of the explosives did not go off and the van destroyed a camera, costing the production thousands of dollars. To make Millie Bobby Brown float in the kiddie pool, they actually used 1,200 pounds of Epsom salt.[18]

Music

Main article: Music

The Duffers always wanted the music to play a major role in the show, deciding very early on that they wanted an entirely electronic score. They were charmed by existing electronic soundtracks, as they were very modern and cutting-edge, while also inevitably evoking the sounds of ’80s music (most notably Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, and John Carpenter). The Duffers felt that having a synth soundtrack would do exactly what they wanted to achieve with the show: It would feel both modern and nostalgic at the same time. Some of the show’s biggest inspirations, such as E.T. or Jaws, feature a soaring, orchestral "John Williams" style score, so the Duffers thought that a synth soundtrack would play nicely against expectations.

The Duffers first discovered the synth band S U R V I V E when they heard one of their tracks in Adam Wingard’s film, The Guest. The Duffers reached out to the band and asked if they were interested. Two band members, Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, agreed to score the project. Kyle and Michael first started composing music in summer 2015, sending “sketch” tracks inspired by the characters, tone, and story.

Over the course of the year, over 13 and a half hours of music was accumulated from Kyle and Michael. Though not all of this music made it into the eight-hour first season, it gave the Duffers a huge library to pull from as they edited.[19] Season 1's score was eventually released in two parts: Stranger Things, Volume One, and Stranger Things, Volume Two.

Post-production

With Netflix launching every episode simultaneously, they were allowed the opportunity to revisit each episode at the end of post-production to make sure it all fit. They did early cuts on episodes one to four before they finished shooting. They then edited five to eight and went back to the first half and made tweaks when they knew the whole picture.[11]

In May 2016 they had about a month to go before turning in the final product to Netflix. They were done editing the video footage and were working on coloring and sound mixing while waiting for visual effects shots.[2] The visual effects artists were working on shots until the last possible moments. The final shots were turned in just two weeks before airing on Netflix, and most of the shots were not entirely complete.[12]

Marketing

Trailers

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "How Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter and Stephen King Influenced Stranger Things" IGN. July 7, 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Stranger Things interview – Duffer Brothers on Netflix's new supernatural show" Irish Examiner. May 18, 2016.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "‘Stranger Things’: Shawn Levy on Directing Winona Ryder, Netflix’s Viral Model" Variety. July 22, 2016.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Stranger Things premiere: The Duffer Brothers introduce their new Netflix series" Entertainment Weekly. July 15, 2016.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Stranger Things' Duffer Brothers on ’80s Cinema, Fighting Over Kid Actors, and How They Cast Winona Ryder" Vulture. July 15, 2016.
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Netflix's Stranger Things: Shawn Levy interview" Den of Geek. July 15, 2016.
  7. "'Stranger Things' creators explain it all about season 1" HitFix. July 27, 2016.
  8. "Interview: The Duffer Brothers & Shawn Levy of 'Stranger Things'" Cut Print Film. 2016.
  9. "Stranger Things episode 2: The Duffer Brothers on finding their Eleven" Entertainment Weekly. July 16, 2016.
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Stranger Things: The Duffer Brothers praise episode 3 director Shawn Levy" Entertainment Weekly. July 17, 2016.
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Interview: ‘Stranger Things’ Producers on Influences, Marketing, the Possibility of Future Seasons and More" Slash Film. July 21, 2016.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 "Stranger Things finale: The Duffer Brothers reveal 'most challenging episode' of season" Entertainment Weekly. July 22, 2016.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 "Stranger Things episode 6: How the Duffer Brothers created their monster" Entertainment Weekly. July 20, 2016.
  14. 14.0 14.1 "‘Stranger Things’ Finale: Duffer Brothers Talk Cliffhangers, Death and Season 2" Variety. July 18, 2016.
  15. "Exclusive 'Stranger Things' Art Reveals 'Upside Down' Secrets and Barb's Alternate End" Screencrush. August 22, 2016.
  16. "Stranger Things episode 4: How the Duffer Brothers were inspired by Stephen King" Entertainment Weekly. July 18, 2016.
  17. "Stranger Things: the Duffer brothers share the secrets of their hit show" Empire. July 27, 2016.
  18. "Stranger Things episode 7: The Duffer Brothers on the 'most fun' episode of the season" Entertainment Weekly. July 21, 2016.
  19. "Stranger Things episode 5: The Duffer Brothers explain the show's soundtrack" Entertainment Weekly. July 16, 2016.

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