On October 1st – the start of spooky season – the Duffer Brothers, creators of Stranger Things on Netflix, joined Dodge for a screening of Season 4 Episode 1 and a Q&A.
The line outside of Marion Knott Studios was down the block and around the corner two hours before the event. Every student outside was anxiously waiting to grab a seat closest to the stage. Fans were decked out in Stranger Things shirts, hoodies, shoes, and hats. One even had their Stranger Things vinyl, ready to hold it up in the air to show their love for the spectacular soundtrack. During the screening, every time the Duffers’ names came on screen in the title sequence: cheers. Every main character’s reappearance for the new season: cheers. Evil basketball all-star Jason making his first appearance: boos and giggles. When“Running Up That Hill” began to play, everyone was singing along to Kate Bush’s entrancing music.
These Dodge film production alums have come a long way since film school. Just fifteen years ago, Matt and Ross were attending their required classes at Chapman University. Now, they are writing, producing, and directing one of the most popular shows on the planet. Down after graduating and making their first film with Warner Brothers “Hidden,” they had written a pilot that would eventually be turned into the very first episode of Stranger Things. They pitched and pitched and pitched to studios who would come back to them and say “take out the kids” and “can we age the kids up a bit?” They were never going to take that note. After what seemed like forever, Netflix just happened to be looking for a young adult supernatural drama, and the Duffers’ agent was having a meeting with executives at Netflix for another client. In the industry, once someone is interested, EVERYONE is interested. Within a week of signing a deal with Netflix, they were greenlit.
“We felt like someone had let us into a party, but we soon grew fearful of someone inside saying to us ‘those two are not supposed to be here.’ Our imposter syndrome was winning.”
Eventually, they let everything loose. Season 1 allowed all their ideas to flow, not imagining what an audience might want to see. “You can’t anticipate what people want. Sometimes, they don’t even know what they are looking for.” Matt and Ross still have that mindset today. They go into developing and writing without trying to please anyone but themselves. They know that if they follow their hearts, their fans will follow them too.
Stranger Things fans are passionate, no doubt about it. The show will stand the test of time and will both scare and comfort many generations to come. No matter which Duffer Brother you like the most, if you are on team Steve or team Jonathan, the community that Stranger Things has built has changed the film industry. It has connected people across the globe like no other story on streaming. It has taught viewers lessons of found family, tryst, bravery, and love through the musical and other-worldly adventures of our favorite Hawkins Dungeons and Dragons players.
I interviewed Master Class attendee Caroline Linton – a Sophomore Broadcast Journalism and Documentary major at Dodge – and asked her about Stranger Things’ impact on her life and how Matt and Ross have inspired her as a filmmaker:
Why did you start watching Stranger Things and what does it mean to you?
Caroline: I started watching Stranger Things just a few months after Season 1 premiered. I was already a super fan when Season 2 was released. It is the weirdest thing actually – I was never a sci-fi viewer, and people who know me are aware that I am not the person who obsesses over anything. I never really care that much about keeping up on news or learning about these kinds of things but Stranger Things is the exception. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I think the human aspect is what drew me in first. Each character and plot line is breathtaking and thought out that I had no choice but to be hooked. I made it my priority to learn any and all background information and trivia facts I could. I had a themed birthday party and watch parties for new seasons. I think why it meant so much to me because my age roughly resembled that of the kids in the show, and the actors I immediately became obsessed with. Although I was not a kid in the 80s playing D&D, I felt connected to all the characters. They have gotten me through so many rocky parts of my life.
What character do you see yourself most in?
Caroline: If I really have to choose my favorite character and who I most relate to, it would have to be Max. I LOVE HER. Not only am I obsessed with Sadie Sink, but I absolutely love how her character is unapologetically herself. She is smart and witty and doesn’t back down. In my opinion, her character arc and development is the best in the entire show. SPOILER ALERT: needless to say, I was a wreck at the end of Season 4, like uncontrollable ugly crying.
How was the Q&A portion of the Master Class? What was your favorite part of the night?
Caroline: The screening and Q&A are going to be lifelong memories. I was able to be front row (!!) and watching an episode on the big screen was a Top 10 moment of my life, no joke. The Duffers were so kind and felt like mentors and friends to everyone in the audience. Their advice and recounting of their time at Chapman was so reassuring. As someone who constantly stresses about my future career, hearing them talk about their dedication to doing what they love was inspiring and reminded me why I chose this path in life.
My favorite part of the night would have to be the Duffers talking about the process of getting Stranger Things actually picked up. I never knew that they were told to take the kids out of the show by different studios. I could not imagine what the show would have become. I am so in awe of how they had this project they so fiercely believed in and were eventually able to make it happen. I am so grateful to the Duffer Brothers and Dodge for giving me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I have seriously been waiting for this moment for years and it exceeded every possible expectation!
How have Stranger Things and the Duffer Brothers inspired you as a filmmaker and creative?
Caroline: I think the biggest two takeaways from both my following of Stranger Things through the seasons and having the chance to attend the Master Class are to step out of my comfort zone – whether this is socially with friends, creatively taking risks, or professionally working towards my goals – and that once I have found that story or message I really want to tell, never let that be compromised. I think a lot in our careers – whether that be in narrative/television/documentary or nothing to do with film whatsoever – original plans can be taken off course and dreams can be muddled by outside forces. The show and this master class helped me to remember to stay true to my vision, work collaboratively with people who share similar life goals, and never be afraid to put up an extra fight if it means defending something you truly believe in. The best you can do is try. Although I may not be fighting Demogorgons or Vecna anytime soon, I will not let the battles of surviving college or breaking into the industry discourage me from pursuing my passions.
The best advice the Duffer Brothers gave: It is good not to have too many safety nets, because if you do, you will be tempted to fall into them. So many people are trying to make it in the industry. So many of them are going to give up. They are going to fall back onto whatever feels safest and easiest for them. The industry is trial and error. You try, and you must fail. Failing is a necessary part of growing. Don’t be discouraged by the obstacles and roadblocks that you find yourself before. Push through. Don’t fall back on a safety net. Do what you love. be excited about it. You will eventually find a home.
There is one more season of Stranger Things left to go. What new monsters will the Duffers pull out of their magic hats next? Who will Nancy choose? What happens to our favorite D&D player? Was the Hawkins Lab really based on Chapman’s Hashinger Basement? Is Will’s haircut going to stay the same? That insane cliffhanger? All we do know is that the Duffer Brothers are promising an emotional roller coaster of a final season. This is everyone finally coming back together, coming back to Hawkins.