The Duffer Brothers Recap Stranger Things 2, ‘Chapter Two: Trick or Treat, Freak’

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Illustration: Vulture and Photo by Netflix

As a supplement to our recaps of Stranger Things 2, we asked Matt and Ross Duffer — recent subjects of a New York Magazine profile and the creators of the Netflix sci-fi drama — to get nitty-gritty about the creative decisions behind each of the season’s nine episodes. We present this information in a series that could only be called one thing: the Duffer-caps of Stranger Things 2.

In this Duffer-cap of episode two, the Duffer brothers talk about the prominent use of Ghostbusters, the challenges of doing CGI buzz cuts and shooting party scenes, and their controversial stance on the Three Musketeers candy bar.

Eleven’s Escape From the Upside Down

Ross Duffer: That [portal] is where the Demogorgon emerged when he attacked Brenner and all the government agents once Brenner captured Eleven, so the idea is that whenever the Demogorgon comes into our world — like when he kills the deer, in season one — he creates a doorway that slowly seals up. So when Jonathan ends up saving Nancy from the tree, then it seals up [in season one], that’s a portal that’s been closed. The idea is that [the Demogorgon] has recently come into the school, so he’s left a gaping wound. It’s closing and too small for Eleven to get through, but she does get through it. We set up the idea that she’s able to manipulate these dimensional openings, which is setting the stage for where we go.

Millie Bobby Brown’s (Fake) Shaved Head

Matt Duffer: That would’ve been really cruel if we’d made her shave again, wouldn’t it? I think we mentioned it to her, and she was like, “Fuck off.” She actually said that. Millie has a foul mouth. We tried to do it with, like, a cap and fake hair, and it just looked absolutely atrocious. She looked like some sort of monster. So then we ended up going CG. CG hair is really difficult to do, but because [her hair is] not wavy and flowy, it wasn’t so hard. It’s not like it wasn’t a challenge, but it was dark, and because it was a buzz cut, it turned out much better than I thought it was going to be. It’s kind of expensive, so thank God it was only for that one short sequence. We wouldn’t have been able to do that the whole season.

How They Created the Shadow Monster

Matt: We always talked about the Demogorgon as an interdimensional shark, and then we were like, “What’s something that’s more sentient?” That’s what led us to develop the idea of the Mind Flayer. We had him down as the concept of what we wanted, and we have a couple of really amazing concept artists who we work with. It’s kind of how we work with our composers: We describe the feeling we want, and they start to try stuff. Then you slowly hone it. It’s like the Demogorgon last year: You want a simplicity to the design. I think a lot of CG monsters nowadays can get too complicated, because you can do so much that you end up not even knowing what you’re looking at. I liked the simplicity. It needed to work as a shape — as a shadow.

They were illustrating the scene of Will on the trick-or-treat street when you see it rise up, so they had Will in the Ghostbusters costume. You get a few images, and that’s when the show comes into focus; one of our first images was Will dressed as a Ghostbuster with a bag of Halloween candy and a monster rising up at the end of the street.

That was one of the first images we had that got us really excited about the season, so we used that scene to develop the look of it. Then it became a whole other issue: What we wanted was that it would look like a shadow, but when you got really close to it, you would see it’s made up of all these little particles. That was where the CG got really complicated. That was really difficult.

I guess you’re right [about the legs of the shadow monster looking like vines]. I guess it all kind of ties in to his limbs, and the tunnels, and the tunnel drawings. It all ties together. I’d love to say that was intentional, but I don’t think it was.

Why Stranger Things 2 Is Set During Halloween

Ross: It started with a meeting with us at Netflix and looking at the calendar. Of course, they wanted it a year later and to hit in July, like season one, but we couldn’t figure out a way to do it mathematically. We said Christmas, they said July, and then we settled on October. We got excited because we went, “If we’re going to end up in October, why don’t we just go all out and just go for Halloween?” That started giving the season shape. It actually started out with a business meeting that led to the idea — and, of course, we got very excited by it and came up with the image of Will, and it went from there.

The Ghostbusters Costumes

Matt: I just thought we could just use Ghostbusters. But apparently, it was a whole deal to get the rights to that stuff. I was like, “I don’t know what we’re going to do if we don’t get Ghostbusters.” It all led eventually to a phone call with [Ghostbusters director and producer] Ivan Reitman, which was fucking crazy! I was so nervous about it. It was very serious. His tone was very serious. He seemed very skeptical, and he was like, “Can you explain why you want to use Ghostbusters in this?” We had this very nervous speech about what Ghostbusters meant to us. That movie was a big part of my childhood. We watched that VHS tape so many times. I had it memorized. Anyway, it was very easy for me to talk passionately about Ghostbusters, and he made us go through the exercise, but he’d already decided to let us do it. He was like, “We’re very flattered by it. Of course we’d love to have you use it.” And we were like, “Phew!”

What is their company called? Ghost Corps, and I think they own the rights. I never spoke to Dan Aykroyd, but Ivan Reitman and Dan Aykroyd, they are the ones who own it, so we had to get their permission. Ivan was like, “I love it — I’m going to have to check with Dan Aykroyd.” And we were like, “Oh my God! They’re going to check with Stantz. Oh my God!” That would be a bummer if Aykroyd blocked us, you know what I mean? But he didn’t, thank God. Understandably, they’re super-protective of the Ghostbusters brand.

It’s funny, people will be like, “Oh, you make all these cute references,” and I’m like, “Yeah, but I literally have pictures of me as a Ghostbuster [on Halloween].” It’s what I did as a kid. I was pop-culture obsessed, so of course these kids are also into it. It’s not referencing stuff that we are into. I mean it is, but these kids would be into Ghostbusters. To me, that’s authentic. That’s not self-aware. It’s authentic, it’s real, because we did it. But when we dressed up as Ghostbusters, we were growing up a little later, so they had toys, they had the trap. Like, Dustin would never be able to actually make that trap. We had to have a professional make that trap to open and shut. I love that he tells Mr. Clark, “Of course it opens and shuts!” That’s actually incredibly difficult, to get that to open and shut like that. It actually doesn’t shut, that fake trap we made — it pops open, and it takes a while to get it to shut again.

Nancy and Steve at the Halloween Party

Ross: [The Risky Business costume] was really just going back to knowing that Nancy’s obsessed with Tom Cruise, so that’s where the idea started, with Steve looking ridiculous with those glasses. What we liked about it is it’s been done before, but [then there’s the] white outfit, with Nancy trying to be innocent, and then spilling the red punch on her. She feels this guilt, and there’s actually blood from her past in terms of what happened to Barb that she can’t escape or get rid of. So it started with Tom Cruise love, and led to a more thematic place.

Matt: There’s a Tom Cruise poster in Nancy’s room. Apparently, Tom Cruise is just [like], “If you want to use that poster, you can use it for free.” He just loves that picture of himself, I guess. There were no problems getting rights to that.

But that scene was really difficult. There’s, like, a two-and-a-half-minute one shot. I’m never going to do that again — that was so dumb. We had a couple hundred kids, everything was going wrong, and we finally nailed it where the camera was right, the performances were spot-on, the extras were spot-on, but we didn’t see that [Natalia Dyer] had a red splotch on her, on her white dress. It was like our own, tiny, miniature, pathetic Children of Men moment — like, “Well, we have to digitally erase that red splotch,” which is what we ended up doing.

The Technical Side of Will’s Upside-Down Scenes

Matt: We just shoot him in the neighborhood, and then we add everything on top of it [in post-production], because that’s our philosophy: If you can do it for real, do it for real, and then you add it. So he’s actually standing on that street, and then we add the spores, the stuff falling from the sky, and we add some vines. But it’s actually very simple. The whole reason the Upside Down looks the way it does, part of it was we thought it would look cool, but mostly because we can do this effectively and cheaply. It doesn’t have to be a full CG environment.

Their Favorite ‘80s Reference of the Episode

Ross: We enjoyed the Winston argument. That was fun. Originally, it was just Will who was going to be a Ghostbuster, but why wouldn’t they all? You’ve got all four. Then you start assigning it, and of course the Winston argument inevitably sparks up. We were pretty happy with that.

Matt: That was a writers room — that wasn’t an argument, but it was just funny. Who the hell will be Winston? And we knew what would happen.

The argument they have about Three Musketeers — that was pretty much transcribed directly from an argument we had in the writers room. [Ross and I] are both on the same page. We’re very pro-Three Musketeers and no one else was into it. Everyone else was slamming it. I felt I had to really stand up for Three Musketeers. The good thing is, Gaten [Matarazzo], who plays Dustin — it’s in his top three candy bars. It’s so funny: If you ask any of these kids, “Rank your candy bars,” they have a ranking of their top ten. They put a lot of thought into it. They take it very seriously.

Get all your Stranger Things 2 questions answered at the show’s Vulture Festival L.A. panel on November 18! Tickets are available here.

Duffer Brothers Recap Stranger Things 2, Episode Two