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 five, “Dig Dug,” the Duffer brothers discuss director Andrew Stanton, the challenges of shooting Hopper’s tunnel entrapment, and whether Eleven will see her mom again.
On Episode Director Andrew Stanton
Matt Duffer: Randomly, we had Andrew Stanton call our producers — I didn’t know him at all, no one knew him — saying that he was a fan of the show and he wanted to direct if there were open directing assignments, which was crazy! We are huge Pixar fans and huge fans of Andrew. In fact, we taught ourselves how to write by watching Toy Story repeatedly. It’s structurally amazing. I always talk about the Toy Story script and the Back to the Future script in terms of having this incredible story structure and just being great movies. Like, perfect movies. So it was like, “Hell yes, we’d love Andrew to do it,” and what an amazing opportunity. That was actually more exciting than anything. Let’s see this guy we’re a fan of, let’s see what he does with the material.
The Challenges of the Tunnel Scenes
Matt: The tunnels were all built. We built all of them — not me, specifically, but our production designer. That was really cool.
They were in little pieces and they rolled around. They were extremely heavy, but you could hook them onto one another. It was kind of like the drawings: At one end of the tunnel, you take a left turn, then you take 30 minutes, then you give it a right turn and make it look like a completely different part of the tunnel. We actually ran out of stage space because Black Panther took over half of our stages. So we ended up in the warehouse that was in episode seven, that was where we shot all the tunnel sequences. We had all these huge tunnel sets in this giant, abandoned warehouse.
Sometimes we’d try to blow real spores at people, but it becomes a bit of a headache, so a lot of the spores were added digitally. Everything else was filmed practically. All the vines in the tunnels are practical — not the moving vines. If they’re moving and grabbing someone, it would look ridiculous when we tried to do that practically, so we did those digitally.
We’d have a couple of vines yanking [Hopper] down so David [Harbour] had something to pull against, but then the rest of them were added. That was one of the hardest things to do. We’ll never do that again.
It’s really complicated to do a visual effect like that, because you have so many things interacting with him. [The vines] are supposed to be pulling on his pants and on his shirt, but his shirt’s not reacting, the pants aren’t reacting the right way. It can get very complicated and expensive. Episode five was one of the last episodes finished, because it just took forever to get those visual effects in a place that we’re all happy with. That was maybe the most challenging visual-effects sequence. You wouldn’t know it now that it’s finished. I hope it doesn’t show that it’s as sweaty as it was.
Dustin’s Lies About the Family Cat
Matt: Well, he’s got to get [his mom] out of the house, you know. But it’s kind of overly cruel, isn’t it? I just imagine her wandering for the rest of the season, just looking for this cat. How long does it take her to come to terms with the fact that her cat is dead?
I don’t know, I’m not a cat guy. I’m much more of a dog guy, so it wasn’t too hard to write, honestly. She gets a new cat at the end. She’s fine.
The Inspiration for Eleven’s Mom
Ross Duffer: It’s based very loosely on the MK Ultra experiments. They were doing crazy stuff with mind control. And then there’s Altered States, which is experimenting with LSD and other more extreme drugs to see what it can do. It all revolved around the Cold War and trying to get a little bit ahead. So it’s loosely based on that, and the idea that that’s where Dr. Brenner comes from. You get someone like Terry Ives from a university and she enrolls in these experiments. And it starts to mess with her.
Matt: There was a point where the government, in the ’70s, was really interested in some of these mind-altering drugs and what kind of effect they could have — whether they could have any medical benefits, any military benefits. Then, at a certain point, they just shut it all down. Before they shut it down, the idea was that Terry Ives was one of these subjects. People like that actually truly existed. A lot of that information is declassified, so you can actually read about it. It’s not a crazy conspiracy theory that we’re throwing out there.
Will Eleven See Her Biological Family Again?
Matt: Yeah, they’ve connected, so it feels weird that she’ll never go back to visit her mom or her aunt again. I didn’t shoot this episode, but we had worked with the Amys before. We call them the Amys: Amy Seimetz, who plays Becky, and Aimee Mullins, who plays the mom. I think it’s something that is definitely worth coming back to. I mean, it’s a really difficult situation. You’re realizing that the mom is just reliving a nightmare over and over and over again, so she’s trapped in the prison. The question is, is there a way to get her out of that, or is it a state she’s going to be locked into for the rest of her life? And is that a life worth living? Those are all interesting questions that are worth exploring.
Bob and the Tunnel Map
Ross: I don’t think [we included the map because of] Sean. As soon as we came up with the idea of the map, we knew we had to get Bob involved in that.
Matt: [Bob’s line about pirate treasure] is so nerdy. It’s a bit of a groaner, but I like it anyway. Some critic gave us shit about it, but it’s fine.
Even if it’s a dorky side of myself, I’m not going to lie and prevent myself from doing it because I’m worried that some critic is going to give me slack for it, you know? I’m just going to be a dork.
Max’s Meta Line About Season One Seeming ‘Derivative’ and ‘Not Original’
Matt: That’s the kind of thing we try not to do, but we did it there! [Laughs.] It’s like we’re so restrained, we just do [that kind of thing] a couple of times, and every time it gets called out. The only reason I put that in was because I thought it was kind of funny. It was like, “Okay, we’re aware of some of the criticisms leveled at the show.” Obviously, we didn’t shy away from doing that stuff again. It did feel, in the moment, that Max might in fact say that. It didn’t feel not authentic to me that she would say that. She’s not aware that she’s in the show. He’s telling a story and there are aspects of it she’s seen, because she’s a pop-culture junkie as well, that she recognizes. That’s how I convinced myself that it was okay.
Their Favorite ’80s Reference in This Episode
Ross: This is one Andrew added, which is the little moment when they’re getting Hopper out of the tunnels where he leaves his hat and then he goes to grab it at the last second. A lot of the stuff in the tunnels is very Indiana Jones, with the torch and all of that, so that was Andrew. He can’t help himself either! He’s doing the same thing we’re doing, which is just giving a little wink to those films and how inspirational they are.
Get all your Stranger Things 2 questions answered at the show’s Vulture Festival L.A. panel on November 18! Tickets are available here.