Stranger Things is probably one of the most celebrated TV shows in the history of entertainment that needs no introduction. Upon its release in 2016, it got everyone either scrambling for a Netflix subscription or glued to their couch binge-watching all weekend, instantly building a huge army of followers from every generation. It was all sorts of crazy that was impossible to comprehend – vintage game boards, eccentric kids, top-secret government experiments, spies, supernatural forces, mystifying realms, quiet small town, and a peculiar girl with superpowers all in the mix. It’s like taking a trip down memory lane while going on a futuristic and mystical adventure at the same time.
It’s interesting how much we know the series by heart but so little, or not at all, about the creative geniuses who birthed this incredible dimension. The Duffer Brothers endured a long and winding adventure at rock bottom before they were able to soar above the clouds and transform storytelling in the world of TV.
The Underdogs in the Making
Hailing from the suburbs of Durham, North Carolina, twins Matt and Ross Duffer found their passion for filmmaking at the tender age of three when they got their hands on a classic Hi8 camera. They had a deep fascination with film and books that take them on a riveting adventure may it be finding treasures, monsters, or disappearing into the unknown – the sort of thrill and exhilaration the audience crave for in a story.
Tim Burton heavily inspired and exposed them to a distinctive and whimsical world that sparked an undeniable desire to create feature-length films of their own. While their first film, Magic: The Gathering, turned out to be something the brothers deemed “unwatchable” – a story of two guys simply hitting each other with plastic swords – it didn’t stop them from capturing anything and everything especially during summer breaks.
They had a deep fascination with film and books that take them on a riveting adventure may it be finding treasures, monsters, or disappearing into the unknown…
Their talent and creativity for telling stories steered them into pursuing a degree in Film and Media Arts at Chapman University. Throughout their studies, they have written, directed, produced, and edited a succession of short films such as We All Fall Down (2005), The Big Toe (2006), Eater (2007), Saturday Night at Norm’s (2008), The Milkman (2008), Abraham’s Boys (2009), and Road to Moloch (2009).
Their thesis, Eater (2007), which was developed under the supervision of award-winning producer Mace Neufeld, bagged the Best Short award at the 2005 Deep Ellum Film Festival in Dallas and represented Chapman at Directors Guild of America’s annual First Cut screening.
Shortly after film school, they wrote a post-apocalyptic horror film called Hidden (2015) that Warner Bros. Pictures acquired in 2011 and gave them the opportunity to direct. While it only got a home release, the brothers had an epiphany that the only way they could tell the kind of stories they passionately believed in, would be by transitioning to television. As their script continued to circulate the industry, M. Night Shyamalan showed interest in the story and asked his producer to offer them a writing position for Fox’s sci-fi TV series Wayward Pines (2015). Writing on the show and being mentored by one of the most respected filmmakers in Hollywood equipped them with the necessary knowledge and skills needed to craft an award-winning series.
…the brothers had an epiphany that the only way they could tell the kind of stories they passionately believed in, would be by transitioning to television.
Stranger Things (2016) was originally entitled Montauk and was the brothers’ homage to ’80s pop culture, which was further inspired by the movies they loved growing up and the filmmakers they looked up to such as Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, Stephen King, and George Lucas. However, it was shockingly rejected by at least 20 networks for problematic reasons such as the show was inappropriate for children and storylines solely centered on adult characters, which would completely take away the essence and elements that made the show interesting. In 2014, the script got the attention of 21 Laps Entertainment’s Vice President, Dan Cohen, which he then brought to Producer, Shawn Levy. He saw the potential of the script from the get-go and immediately pitched it to Netflix. They quickly acquired the entire season and the rest was history.
The Duffer Brothers’ filmmaking career was not a walk in the park. Despite the countless rejections and setbacks, they remained steadfast, hopeful, and dedicated to their craft. Stranger Things garnered awards and nominations from prestigious organizations such as The Emmy’s, Directors Guild of America, AFI, British Academy Television, Critics’ Choice Television, The Grammy’s, Kids’ Choice Awards, Producers Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and MTV Movie & TV Awards to name a few.
Due to its overwhelming success, Netflix continues to renew and expand the show, only getting bigger and better over the years. Back in 2017, the Duffer Brothers delivered a speech at their alma mater, Chapman University, imploring aspiring filmmakers to “learn to accept failure in their careers and to not allow setbacks to derail their ambitions”.
The Duffer Brothers have definitely turned our worlds upside down for the rest of our lives, and I sure wouldn’t have it any other way.