The Duffer Brothers Preview Stranger Things Season 2 and Discuss Their Whirlwind Year
Twins Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer (known professionally as the Duffer Brothers) had a 2016 that most writer-producers only dream of: The first TV show they created, Netflix’s Stranger Things—the ’80s-set story about the mysterious disappearance of a young boy and the supernatural-tinged search to save him—quickly became one of the most buzzed about series of the year.
Though Netflix doesn’t release ratings, the show permeated the cultural discussion enough that it was parodied on Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show, inspired a slew of cosplay and Halloween costumes and picked up two Grammy nominations (for the soundtrack), a pair of Writers Guild Awards nominations and have been named TV Guide Magazine’s 2016 Producers of the Year. The brothers, who also wrote and produced for Fox’s Wayward Pines, reflect on their whirlwind year.
What was the first project you ever worked on together?
Ross Duffer: Our parents got us a Hi8 video camera in the fourth grade. We started making little short films. They weren’t very good. [Laughs] But over time, they got a little bit better. Every summer from then on, we made a big movie with all of our friends.
What is the division of labor like, especially when you’re writing and directing?
Matt Duffer: We do everything together. We’re pretty dysfunctional apart. If we’re outlining, we outline on Google Docs together without speaking and it weirds people out. When we write the scripts, we each write separate scenes and then swap back and forth. In production, most of the ideas we’ve worked out ahead of time, and we take turns talking to talent. We’re twins; we’ve been side-by-side our entire lives. We talk over each other, but other than that, it’s pretty easy to understand. We have disagreements, but it’s typically worked out before we come to the set.
When did you realize Stranger Things had become a cultural phenomenon?
Ross: We knew it was connecting to some extent the morning after it aired, to see how many people had finished the show [and were commenting on Twitter]. There was the realization as people told each other to watch, and it snowballed and got bigger and bigger.
Matt: I’m still shocked when we’re parodied on SNL or by Jimmy Fallon. Every time something like that happens, I’m in disbelief. I think we’re out of crazy things to happen. But it’s super gratifying. [As we’re working], it feels like it’s a small, very intimate group of people who are involved. It doesn’t feel like that many people are going to watch it.
What was your take on the popularity of Barb (Shannon Pursuer), who was killed in the parallel dimension the Upside Down?
Ross: Most of the stuff, people were reacting the way we were expecting them to. Barb, certainly not. We love Shannon, but she had, like, 25 lines the whole show! But that’s great. It couldn’t happen to a better person. We all were in shock. There were murals and graffitis, like “Barb, Rest in Peace.” That blew my mind.
What can you preview about Season 2?
Matt: We’re really excited about it. A good part of the story is focused on Will. He was obviously in the Upside Down for a while, so it is about what kind of effect it had on him when he came out of it. Season 2 is more of a gradual build. It feels different, and we like that it has a different build and structure.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you were starting out?
Ross: It was so much rejection at first; being more prepared for that would have been great. What we learned that really helped was to be our harshest critics. Once you learn that lesson, that’s when good things start to happen. [Also], the bulk of the time [should be] spent getting the story right. Most of our focus is on structure and talking things through. If something’s not working, throw it out.
What advice do you have for young writers?
Ross: If something deep down is nagging you about the story or the character, don’t run away from that, but confront it head-on.
Matt: And outline your story; be as hard on your outline as you are on your script pages. The advice that’s a little cliché is do what you love and hope other people will see the passion in that.
What do you hope next year brings?
Matt: We’re just hoping the second season gets a positive reception. We’re not expecting the same sorts of results, but we’re trying to treat the process exactly the same way and do what interests us and excites us. We’re hoping that resonates again. It’s different working on it, knowing a lot of people are going to watch it.
Ross: We’re just trying to do the best sequel we can do. We’re excited about it, so we hope people will embrace it.
Stranger Things, Season 1 now streaming, Netflix