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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 nine, “The Gate,” the Duffer brothers discuss the challenges of executing the season’s three-part climax, the drama around all those kisses at the Snow Ball, and what the ending tells us about what to expect in Stranger Things 3.
The Reunion of Eleven and Mike
Matt Duffer: It was their first scene together all season. [Finn Wolfhard and Millie Bobby Brown] go to school together [on set], you can’t isolate them. That would’ve been great if we could have done that, though. It was their first scene together and they did a great job.
I’m sure we’ll talk about the Snow Ball later, but you have hundreds of extras, strangers around. The other actors, it’s like one big family at this point. The crew is a family. I don’t think that made it particularly awkward, but they would prefer — especially Millie — to only do it so many times. Millie’s always game to do something over and over again. In fact, sometimes she’ll ask to do something multiple times until she feels like she gets it right. But when it comes to the romantic scenes with Finn, she’s like, “We got that, okay? Let’s move on.”
Mike and Hopper’s Confrontation
Matt: They really put everything they had into it. David [Harbour] is one of those guys, he brings it, and he wants Finn to bring it all the way. Finn was really hitting him as hard as he could. I thought it was so weird, but Finn, where his voice was and the way he yelled, it sounded so much like Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous to me. Do you remember the speech at the end of that where he’s like, “You used her! You used her.” Finn’s like, “Oh, I hated that performance!” He was telling me: “Are you serious?” I’m like, “It’s a great performance, and yes, you sound exactly like him.” Then, David knows Billy Crudup, so we made Finn record the Almost Famous scene and we sent it to Billy Crudup. Then Billy Crudup recorded his side of it and sent it back to Finn, which I thought was really sweet.
Mrs. Wheeler and Billy
Ross Duffer: Obviously, there’s not a ton of Karen in this season. There’s a running gag we have with Cara [Buono], who plays that role — this season, she always has a glass of wine. It’s this tiny little subplot of Karen just giving up. And then with Billy, it’s just one of those things where you’re like, “When he goes looking for Max, where would he go?” The thought of them together just made us laugh. We had that romance novel [she’s reading in the tub], which isn’t a real novel, but we had an artist on our team draw the hunky shirtless character on there to look almost exactly like Billy, with a little bit of that long mullet hair. So it was like, “What if Karen’s fantasy boy just showed up on her doorstep?”
Matt: I cannot believe we got the rights to that Barbra Streisand song [“The Way We Were”]. I don’t know if the Streisand household is really into the show. I don’t know how we got it. I’m not asking too many questions. I’m just taking it.
For some reason, the show seems to work well with musicians. Metallica was super-into us putting them in the show. And so was Barbra Streisand. How do we appeal to Metallica and Barbra Streisand? I don’t know.
The Challenges of Making the Finale
Matt: In season one, we wanted all the various subplots to do their own thing, and have each of those story lines climax simultaneously. It was something we weren’t totally able to pull off. So it was more like, “This year, we get another time at bat. Let’s see if we can actually pull that off.” It was definitely a nightmare to shoot and edit and just get it to all work.
Ross: The hardest thing for us, always, is getting the story lines to build at roughly the same pace, so someone isn’t too far ahead of someone else. That’s the final challenge: getting them to crescendo at the same time and making it clear how one story line is affecting another story line. How Hopper seeing the dogs thrash is connected to them burning the fire, and trying to tell that story in as clear but visual a way as possible.
Matt: I remember the first time we saw it edited together, it was additionally complicated because so much of it was visual effects and there was nothing there [yet]. There were no vines thrashing and things like that. I was like, “I have no idea what the hell I just watched.” It was the most confusing, muddled mess, so it just took days and days of honing it until we got it to a point where it moved really fast but it seemed connected, and you could follow how each story line was connecting to the other one.
That section where we have the three story lines connected — where Will is screaming and the vines are screaming, right around where the teens are burning the tunnel hub — that 30 or 45 seconds took at least 20 hours to edit.
Closing the Gate to the Upside Down
Ross: It took a long time to figure out what the look is. I think there’s one time when [the visual-effects team] sent us a shot and it looked almost pretty, like a beautiful hell. That’s how we locked into the light pouring in and interacting with the spores. I thought it was really scary, but it was also really beautiful in a way.
Matt: That was weird because I thought on that day we’d accidentally walked onto a Black Panther stage. It was just this cave and then green screen. And that was it. That was the only scene in the show where we didn’t have anything practical. It freaked me out a little bit.
I cannot imagine shooting an entire movie like that. I get very disoriented. I don’t know where I am in space, all the shots look the same, they all have green behind them. And then you’re editing it together and it’s really difficult and it’s not pretty to look at. It’s, like, ugly. It didn’t make me want to do that again, even though I’m really happy with how the sequence turned out.
The cage was actually suspended in the air. Millie almost threw up. We had to take a big break because she was like, “I’m getting really motion sick.” Those guns — they’re extremely loud. I don’t think it was fun at all for them. We were lifting Millie in the air, David’s firing a shotgun that’s fucking loud, the cage is shaking back and forth, and Millie thought she was about to throw up. I don’t think it was fun for them.
The Snow Ball
Matt: Really early on, we knew we wanted the end at the Snow Ball, and we knew we wanted Dustin not to have anyone to dance with. That’s the worst feeling in the world, standing at a party and everyone’s dancing and you don’t have a partner. There’s nothing more painful than that. So we wanted Dustin to go through that, and we wanted Nancy to pull him onto the floor. It’s one of those ideas you come up with really early on and go, “That’s got to go into the show.”
The kissing stuff was fun because there was so much drama around it and it was so charged. It’s super-awkward. [The kids] hate it. They hate it and they love it. Deep down, I think they love it. In fact, I know they do. But there’s a lot of drama around it. Any time we make them get emotional or any time we insert romance into a scene, especially if there’s kissing — I mean, the kissing stuff, that’s a whole two-to-three-month buildup. You would think we were asking them to do something ridiculous, something really extreme. It’s just a kiss.
The boys play it off like, “No big deal.” Finn’s like, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve kissed tons of girls before,” and Caleb’s like, “Yeah, yeah I’ve got this.” But they’re really full of it. They’re just trying to act cool. Sadie and Millie hyperventilate. They go nuts.
The logistics of [the dance], you have hundreds of middle-school extras and just getting them coordinated was a nightmare. We just didn’t have a lot of time. I think we had it scheduled for one day, which with kids is actually only eight hours. I don’t know how we thought we were going to get that all shot in eight hours. When you don’t finish a day, it just feels like you’re a complete failure, so we came away feeling like we had bombed. We were behind the whole day and we just didn’t finish. Then we came back for a second day and we still barely finished. It was not fun in the sense that it was a huge pressure to get it done, and we knew we had to get it right because obviously it was the end of the season, and we needed to stick this landing.
But the kissing aspect of it was really fun because none of that was scripted. We dropped it on them on the day, and they just freaked out. Actually, maybe, did we have Max and Lucas kissing in the script?
Matt: No, we didn’t have that. I think it was Mike and Eleven who kissed first. We were shooting them dancing and resting her head on his shoulder, and Millie came up to me and said, “It just feels weird that we’re not kissing. Like, wouldn’t we kiss?” I said, “Let me think about it,” and I told her, “Okay, you’re going to kiss.” Then she freaked out, and I was like, “You just suggested it to me!” Deep down, she wanted to do it.
She was very nervous about it, and then we did it. Then just to make things worse, all 150 or 200 extras just applauded! That’s a weird thing, I think. I think [Millie and Finn] would have rather they not applauded, but they applauded. Then Sadie [Sink] did it. She had never kissed before, and I don’t think Caleb [McLaughlin] had ever kissed anyone before. It’s weird to have your first kiss in front of hundreds of people and have it recorded on camera. I get why that would not be the most fun thing in the world. It was great fun for us, though. Millie loved it. She was like, “I got through it, and now I get to watch someone else suffer through it.”
We only did the Finn/Millie kiss twice, and the Sadie/Caleb kiss we did like ten times, because we could just not get — we got the kiss but we did not get Caleb’s reaction because our Steadicam operator kept missing it. We had to do it over and over again. So Sadie got a lot of practice with kissing.
Ross: There was less drama about [Dustin and Nancy dancing]. Gaten’s reactions during some of that were pretty genuine. That was just a moment we had always wanted to build in there, and I think it was a bittersweet ending for Dustin.
’Every Breath You Take’ and What the Ending Tells Us About the Upside Down
Matt: We always wanted to get that [song] in there. It felt like it worked for the romantic part, but also there’s something creepy about the song — “I’ll be watching you” — that led into our final reveal of the Mind Flayer over the gym. This is something that’s still there, still watching them. I like that it had kind of a dual meaning. I’d just been trying to find a place for that song since season one, so I really wanted it. Netflix was passionate and really wanted it in, too. It was not super-cheap, but I’m glad we got it in there.
Ross: At the very end, we’re flipping into the Upside Down. It’s like they shut the door on this thing, but it’s still there on the other side. Beyond it still being there on the other side, it now knows about Eleven, who didn’t even know this thing existed. She basically slammed the door on its face, and it’s not thrilled. We really wanted to hint that this thing is still out there, and there’s still danger, while at the same time, giving ourselves freedom for season three to build out the story as we wanted and not lock ourselves in.
Don’t Forget About That Demodog in the Fridge
Ross: We’re working on season three, and I hadn’t even thought about that yet. That’s a good point, thank you.
Matt: That’s going up on the board.
Favorite ’80s Reference in This Episode
Ross: Diner was a huge movie for us growing up, which is why we make a not-so-sly Diner reference at the end.
Matt: It’s when [Dr. Owens] offers Hopper his sandwich. He’s not asking for the sandwich, [like Paul Reiser’s character does in Diner]. I was like, “Paul, is it too subtle?” but he liked it. Diner is one of those movies where I feel like, it changed comedy. I don’t think Seinfeld would exist without it. I don’t think Judd Apatow would exist without it. It’s a landmark movie.
Ross: It really was a movie about nothing. I think that’s why the studio at the time had no idea what the hell to do with it, because there was no real plot. But that’s what was so great about it. It was just these guys shooting the shit in the diner.