Inside ‘Stranger Things 3’ Episode 4 With Director Shawn Levy (PHOTOS)

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Billy (Dacre Montgomery) inside the sauna

In this scene, the kids trap lifeguard Billy in a sauna at the community pool to determine if the Mind Flayer monster is using him as a “host.” The beast can’t tolerate heat, so they crank up the steam to see how he responds – and boy does he. What did you think when you first read it?

Shawn Levy: I wanted to do justice to this big idea. When you have huge stakes plus a contained location, you get maximum intensity. The first step was about three months of storyboarding and stunt choreography to figure out the action. Unlike most scenes in a TV series, this one was going to require multiple (shooting) days as if it was a movie.


When Millie Bobby Brown collapsed into Finn Wolfhard’s arms at the end of “the sauna test” scene it was from real exhaustion

How long did it take to shoot?

Shawn Levy: We spent darn near four entire days, ten to twelve hours each, inside a tiny stage — that gym/sauna (set) was not one inch bigger than the real thing. We had six actors and another hundred crewmembers. It was tight. It was hot. We probably did well over a hundred plus different angles to tell that story right. I shot the entire sequence with two handheld cameras for maximum energy and messiness. Millie and Dacre, two of our most powerful actors, came ready to crush it. So the intensity level was really high. At the end when Eleven collapses, exhausted, into (boyfriend) Mike’s (Finn Wolfhard) arms, that was real exhaustion.


Dacre Montgomery did the close-ups of Billy pinned to the wall with a barbell. It was the only time in the sequence that a stunt double was used for a wider shot

Are stunt doubles used for many of the shots?

Shawn Levy: With the sole exception of when Dacre gets flung back against the sauna wall, pinned by the barbell, that’s Millie and Dacre on the wires themselves. What you get when you do a shot like Millie up on wires and Dacre with his hand around her neck, is a performance that no stunt man or woman in the world can replicate. Millie is hammering with her fists on Dacre’s forearm trying to get him off her. Obviously he was neither strangling her nor lifting her off the ground, but Millie took the visceral reality of how we shot that to feed an intense acting moment.


Millie Bobby Brown (center) toned down her performance at the beginning of the scene

What direction did you give the actors?

Shawn Levy: Because Eleven uses her powers a lot, the Duffers (brothers Matt and Ross who created the show) and I constantly calibrate how intense she gets, and when. Early on she flings the sauna door closed on Billy. We did a take where she screams. My job as a director is to say: “I know you have these weapons in your arsenal, but save it. We have a lot left to shoot.  If you’re screaming in beat three, it won’t mean anything when you scream in beat thirty.” Millie is such a smart actress she instantly got it. When she does finally fling Dacre through a wall and lets out this primal yell, it has real power.


It was actor Dacre Montgomery’s idea to have Billy’s feet dragging on the floor, so director Shawn Levy shot a close-up

And Dacre?

Shawn Levy: I wanted Dacre to go batshit crazy. Within five minutes of the first day shooting in that sauna, I realized that was not going to be a problem. He came in so geared up: full of intensity and weird, interesting ideas that make his performance unique. For instance, early in the scene where Billy sees someone inside the sauna and assumes he’s going to catch the kid, Dacre did this completely strange clapping and laughing; there was none of that in the script. Also there was a moment after Billy starts to become possessed where Dacre said, “Hey, can I drag the the tops of my feet along the tile floor?” It was such a specific and visual image. I shot a full on close-up of it.


Actor Dacre Montgomery needed plenty of hydration breaks after doing multiple takes of Billy going berserk in the sauna

Is shooting something like this dangerous?

Shawn Levy: We don’t do anything that’s going to hurt these kids. The harnesses don’t injure the actors but we do get them out of them the minute we can because they are tight and uncomfortable. We do frequent hydration.


Blasting eerie music helped set the mood of the scene for castmembers including Noah Schnapp (L) and Finn Wolfhard

To keep the energy level up what do you do?

Shawn Levy: In a scene without dialogue, I play music very loudly during the take so the actors can get in the mood of that moment. Four days in a row I blasted the dark Stranger Things score from Seasons 1 and 2, so that the actors could lose themselves in the mood of this horrific sequence. Right before I would say action, Millie would say, “Shawn, can I get some music?” I hit play on my trusty little iPod and away we’d go. It’s not the theme song from our main titles. It’s the creepy underscoring from Hawkins Lab in Season 2. Or the Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) stuff from Season 1.


Eleven maxed out her power this season

Eleven’s nosebleeds: do they add complications to a shoot?

Shawn Levy: We have to stay vigilant about remembering when we should do it. With instances of Eleven using her powers, when does her nose bleed? Is it for something as simple as closing a door? Or something more powerful? We created the rules as we’ve made the past three seasons, so we collectively track it. Maybe ten percent of the time, one of us will forget and we digitally create the nosebleed.


Director Shawn Levy (right) discusses a scene from episode three with Dacre Montgomery

How did directing the “sauna test” sequence compare to shooting other scenes from Stranger Things?

Shawn Levy: The Duffers and I are superstitious, so I always direct episodes three and four. I’ve lucked out because those episodes are always where things pivot from relatively normal to completely bonkers. In Season 1, Christmas lights. In Season 2, the mind flaying of Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). In Season 3, among other things, the sauna test. Directing the sauna test was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had as a filmmaker. It’s one of the sequences I’m most proud of in my entire career. It was gratifying to create something as rich in action and mood as it is in character.

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Actress Sadie Sink, as Max, looks into the sauna at her pleading stepbrother

Do you have a favorite moment in the scene?

Shawn Levy: You think the scene is turning emotional (when Billy’s little sister, Max, played by Sadie Sink, thinks she can get through to him). Dacre started crying, Sadie started crying. Everyone on set was crying because these young actors were delivering beautiful performances. Then I had this image of the camera dropping down and going underneath the sauna bench to see that in fact Billy is faking it and grabbing a shard of broken tile in order to slice his own sister’s throat. That combination of character, emotion and darkness, that’s classic Stranger Things in one moment.

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[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for Stranger Things 3.]

We cried when Stranger Things killed off bad boy Billy (Dacre Montgomery) in the Season 3 finale.

His death was especially wrenching because the anti-hero, who in episode two became possessed by a monster bent on destroying telekinetic teen Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), redeemed himself at the last moment by giving his life to protect her from the creature.

As a tribute to Billy, we revisit the gripping showdown back in episode four between him and Eleven with executive producer Shawn Levy, who directed it.

In the gallery above, Levy gives us exclusive insider details on shooting the infamous “Sauna Test.”

Stranger Things 3, Streaming Now, Netflix