Stranger Things has been described as a love letter to ’80s cult classics. It follows the investigation into the disappearance of a missing young boy in Hawkins, Indiana and the supernatural occurrences that plague the town.
The show is the most popular Netflix original series of all time. However, despite its popularity, Stranger Things started off with limited funds. Matt and Ross Duffer, the creators of Stranger Things, had a pretty strict budget and therefore made some interesting cutbacks regarding the show’s production. This is what inspired the minimalist aesthetics of the film and its unique visual representations.
So, how did the Duffer Brothers make the Demogorgon, the ’80s nostalgic feel, and the infamous Upside Down on a budget? They simply had to get creative. This list will look at the behind the scenes secrets that brought the retro-’80s series to your TV screen and kept the brothers within their budget.
It will also reveal other behind the scenes secrets, such as how the directors worked with the kids, how the actors got into character, and some of the setbacks that occurred during production. Basically, you’ll find out everything you want and need to know about the production of the show.
For those of you that haven’t caught up on the series, you may want to go ahead and binge watch it now before reading on, as the list does have some slight spoilers.
With that out of the way, here are the 20 Stranger Things Behind The Scenes Secrets You Never Knew.
20. The Upside Down Isn’t Scary or Mysterious In Real Life
When we’re finally introduced to the Upside Down, we’re shown a mystifying and beautiful parallel universe full of darkness, tendrils, and spores drifting in the air. It all adds to the mystery and terror of Stranger Things, but according to David Harbour, the actor who plays Hopper, the Upside Down isn’t all that scary.
“In the show it’s amazing and beautiful, but on the actual set, it’s really silly. There’s a bunch of purple piping that looks really fake and it pulsates, so it kind of feels like you’re in a haunted house. For the spores, there’s a dude with a big ‘ol pillowcase full of dandelions and a big fan. So you’re walking down the hall and then this guy is just standing there blowing dandelions at you.”
19. Brown Didn’t Know She Had to Shave Her Head
Millie Bobby Brown landed the role of Eleven while she was living in England and therefore did much of the auditioning process virtually. She did her first audition and received a callback, then did a taped audition and had a Skype conversation with Matt and Ross Duffer. It wasn’t until she was face-to-face with the Duffers at the final audition that she was told she had to shave her head.
Brown recalls the exact moment she learned about the fate of her hair, saying, “so I’m standing in the room with them, and Ross Duffer comes over to me and is just like, ‘Bzzzzzzz’ on my head, and I’m like, ‘What’s that mean?’ and Ross said, ‘Well, you’ve got to shave your head!’”
Brown originally seemed okay with it, while her mom kept pleading with her, asking her not to do it. However, Brown eventually became nervous when it came time to actually shave her hair.
To calm her down, the Duffers gave her a split-screen of her and Charlize Theron in Mad Max. She was told to have Theron’s frame of mind and use her awesome look for motivation.
18. David Harbour’s Method Acting
David Harbour plays Chief Hopper, a loner who likes to keep to himself. To get into character, Harbour liked to indulge in some method acting to make his performance more authentic and personal. Therefore, he spent a lot of time sitting alone in his apartment and smoking cigarettes. Sounds like the life, right?
Also, during shooting for the first episode, he kept his chair off to the side and separated himself from the children. He kept his distance from the kids to help them believe that he was just as intimidating as Chief Hopper. Harbour oozed the aura of “that weird angry guy” in order to help the kids get into character.
17. The Van Flipping Scene Cost Thousands of Dollars
One of the coolest scenes in Stranger Things is when Eleven flips the van in episode 7. However, this scene turned out to be one of the most stressful to shoot.
The Duffers decided that they wanted to do the scene without the use of CGI, but many sources told them that there was absolutely no way they could flip a van that large that high in the air. However, Matt and Ross Duffer wouldn’t take no for an answer. They wore down their line producer, who finally agreed to test it out.
They triggered explosives under the van to send it in to the air and the test was so successful that it was approved for shooting. However, it didn’t go so well during filming. One of their explosives didn’t explode and the van flew right into a camera, destroying it and its lenses. It ended up costing the production thousands of dollars.
The line producer was extremely hesitant to try the stunt again, but with some more wearing down, the Duffers convinced him to give it another shot. The second take went perfectly and is the scene that viewers see in the show today.
16. Upside Down Goo is Actually Edible
Barb Holland, played by Shannon Purser, was only briefly in Stranger Things, but the scene that exposed her lifeless body was epic. Have you ever wondered how they pulled it off?
First off, it took about 14 takes and each take required fresh goo. Between every take, the crew coated Purser with a new layer of goo and shot a syringe of the green stuff inside her mouth. This is because she started each take by spitting up a mouthful of the nasty-looking gunk.
Good thing the goo didn’t taste as disgusting as it looked, though. According to Director Shawn Levy, “it was a mixture of baby food, olive oil, some water, and some marmalade.” Although not something you’d want to eat every day, it’s definitely edible and nontoxic.
15. A Farting Kid Delayed Production
Boys will be boys, and that’s exactly what happened on the set of Stranger Things.
Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler), Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas Sinclair), and Gaten Matazarro (Dustin Henderson) were great friends on and off set. However, their friendship sometimes got in the way of filming, because, let’s face it, they were just kids wanting to have fun.
During the bus scene in episode 7, one of the boys decided to fart… multiple times. This delayed filming and eventually, the farts became so toxic that the crew had to evacuate the bus. According to the Duffers, these shenanigans frustrated Millie Brown (Eleven), and they had to give the boys a pep talk the next day.
The talk was basically a “generic middle school sports coach speech,” and afterwards the three boys got together and filmed one of their best scenes to date.
14. Hopper’s Trailer Cost a Whole Buck
Hopper, being the loner that he is, spends a lot of time in his trailer during the series. So, no matter the price, the trailer was a must-have. However, the trailer didn’t end up costing the crew much at all.
Adhering to their strict budget, the brothers only budgeted about $220,000 for the show’s props. Although it’s far from chump change, that money had to span across the entire season. Therefore, the prop and design crew searched for deals on Ebay, at flea markets, and at odd end sales.
Probably one of their most successful purchases was Hopper’s trailer. Reportedly, the loner’s trailer only cost the department $1 to buy– talk about a bargain.
Almost all of the props used in the show were made or bought just for Stranger Things. It shows just how far the production team could stretch their money and still make an amazing and popular television show.
13. Charlie Heaton Couldn’t Say Nancy
Everyone was rooting for Jonathan and Nancy. They have both become fan favorites and we’re all looking forward to seeing if they finally get together in season 2. However, did you know that Charlie Heaton, the actor that plays Jonathan Byers, had a hard time even saying his star-crossed lover’s name?
You could never tell from his onscreen character, but Charlie Heaton, like Millie Bobby Brown, is a British actor with a pretty-strong accent. He covers it up well, but one thing he struggled with was the name “Nancy.”
For some reason, he kept saying it with his British accent and the crew had to re-record Jonathan’s dialogue to make the word “Nancy” sound more American. This must have been pretty arduous since he says the name so many times throughout the season.
12. Puberty Struck Gaten Matarazzo
One thing that directors risk when working with child actors is the dreaded and inevitable period of puberty. Unfortunately for the Duffers, puberty struck and disrupted the making of Stranger Things.
Gaten Matarazzo, who plays the adorable Dustin Henderson, went through puberty during the show. His voice changed so much that the sound team couldn’t use him for additional dialogue recording post-filming.
Another interesting fact about Matarazzo is that he has cleidocranial dysplasia, just like his character, Dustin. This medical condition causes abnormal development in bones and teeth, and is why Matarazzo does not have front teeth.
11. The Kids Needed Help Adjusting to the ’80s
During the first episode of Stranger Things, when no one could find Will, Millie Brown asked: “why don’t we just call Will on the phone!?” From this question, it was clear that the kids needed a little schooling on the ’80s.
The kids were given homework, which required them to watch classic ’80s films like The Goonies and Poltergeist. According to Millie Brown, if you put these films in a blender, you get Stranger Things.
Brown, in particular, had to also study E.T. The Extraterrestrial so that she could embrace the character and bring it to life when she played Eleven. She was told to resemble E.T. and to particularly note how he interacts with the other kids.
They also got help from their co-stars Winona Ryder, David Harbour, and Matthew Modine, who taught the kids what it was like “in the ole days.” Now the children love the ’80s and wish that they had been alive back then to experience a time without cellphones, computers, and the Internet.
10. Millie Bobby Brown’s Glitter Bomb Delayed Filming
Matt and Ross Duffer love working with the child stars of Stranger Things. The brothers said that the kids were amazing, professional actors and sometimes they would forget that they were actually children. That is, until they did something to remind everyone.
One day, the crew was ready to start filming and Millie Bobby Brown showed up on set covered head to toe in glitter. No one knew why and all she said was “I don’t know where this glitter came from.” They all had to help get the glitter off her, and it ended up costing them 45 minutes.
On the topic of Brown’s glitter bomb, Ross Duffer said, “I’m not having this problem with any of my adult actors. David Harbour is not coming in covered in glitter.”
9. How the Nostalgic ’80s Feel was Created
From the very first episode of Stranger Things you’re transported into a world full of nostalgia. The scenes are beautifully shot and help to create the show’s retro-iconic feel. This masterful footage is the work of the creative and talented cinematographer Tim Ives.
Ives, known for filming some episodes of Power, Mr. Robot, and House of Cards, used Red Dragon and Leica lenses to capture the shots used in Stranger Things.
Then, to turn the modern-day shots into the ’80s masterpiece you see on your screens today, the crew added film grain that was scanned from ’80s film stock. This creates the nostalgic aesthetics we associate with Stranger Things.
8. Auditions Required Readings from Stand by Me
Thirty years after the release of Stand by Me, the movie is still heavily permeating through Netflix’s hit series Stranger Things.
There are many parallels between Stand by Me and Stranger Things, including the characters and plot line. For example, the pictures above show two very similar scenes. The picture on the left is from Stranger Things, while the picture on the right is from Stand by Me. In both scenes, a group of kids can be seen walking along tracks, searching for a missing child.
These similarities aren’t accidental. The Duffers drew from Stephen King as inspiration and brought in some of the movie’s elements as early as the audition process. Each of the boys auditioned by reading lines from Stand By Me. The movie was also on the list of ’80s films that the actors had to become familiar with.
7. From the Upside Down to Monstropolis
Stranger Things is a suspenseful, horror-type show with a lot of child actors. You can only imagine how terrified some of the kids were, especially with a frightening monster lurking around their set. So, how did the cast deal with calming the kids’ fears about the monster in the closet? They related it to a friendly and familiar Pixar movie.
Some of the toddlers on the set were originally terrified of the Demogorgon. However, someone had the brilliant idea to tell the kids that the Demogorgon wasn’t a bad monster, but instead a friendly monster from the world of Monstropolis in Monsters, Inc. From then on, the kids were no longer scared of it and instead saw the terrifying monster as their friend.
According to the Duffers, it was even more fitting because Milllie Brown’s little sister, Ava– one of the toddlers who was originally terrified of the monster– looks and acts just like Boo from Monsters, Inc.
6. 20 Tons of Ice Turned Georgia into Indiana
Originally Stranger Things was supposed to be set and filmed in Montauk, New York. However, the set location was changed to Atlanta, Georgia for practicality reasons, cost, and because it reminded the Duffers of their childhood in North Carolina.
Therefore, Chris Trujillo, the production designer for Stranger Things, had the difficult task of transforming present-day Atlanta, Georgia into 1983 Hawkins, Indiana. He and his team found many items at estate sales and went to cities such as Jackson, Georgia to create the look of a small town. However, the one thing that Georgia didn’t have was snow.
Trujillo and his team ended up shipping in over 20 tons of ice from an unlikely place – Florida. This snow helped transform Atlanta, Georgia into the winter wonderland necessary to create Hawkins, Indiana.
5. Holly Wheeler is Played by Twins
Holly Wheeler is played by identical twins Anniston and Tinsley Price. You may also recognize them as the character who played the young Judith Grimes in The Walking Dead.
Although the Duffers admitted that they honestly have no idea which girl is playing in what scene, they do recognize the girls’ natural talents. The brothers say that the girls are great actors, and most of their best scenes are actually improvised.
According to the Duffer Brothers, “when Holly watches the family argue in Chapter One, when she gets upset by Dustin and sinks into her chair in Chapter Two, when Joyce asks if she saw something in the wall and she confidently replies ‘yes’… None of that was scripted. That was all Anniston. Or Tinsley. We have no idea.”
4. The Sensory Deprivation Tank is Real
In episode 7, the kids create a makeshift sensory deprivation tank out of a kiddie pool. Think this sounds like a complete hoax? Think again.
The makeshift sensory deprivation tank isn’t a special effect. It was built using the cast’s scientific mind. Although it took over 1,200 pounds of epsom salt, rather than the 1,500 mentioned in the show, Brown was actually able to float in the kiddie pool. She even became dizzy from the amount of salt that was in it.
The Duffers wanted to use practical effects whenever they could. During the scenes where Eleven is in the government isolation tank, Brown was actually fully submerged underwater. She wore a 70-pound Seatrek helmet that helped her breath and stay underwater. She also wore a radio earpiece that allowed the crew to communicate with her while underwater.
3. Will’s Dead Body was a Woman
When Will’s body was pictured in the morgue, the production crew used a dummy replicated to look exactly like the actor that plays him, Noah Schnapp. They even played a trick on Schnapp’s mom by leading her into a dark closet and scaring her with the extremely realistic corpse of her son.
However, in the scene where Will’s body is found in the local quarry, the production crew decided to use a live person to make it seem more real for Harbour and the kids. This real life person though, was a stuntwoman in her 30s, instead of a 12-year-old boy. The woman, whose name is unknown, wore Will’s clothes and a short wig to make herself look like the young boy.
She stayed perfectly still in the water during shooting, and although that might not sound hard, add the freezing temperatures and it becomes downright unbearable. The crew shot the scene at 3am and the water was extremely cold.
2. Millie Bobby Brown Doesn’t Like Eggos as Much as Eleven
Eleven takes the phrase “Leggo my Eggo” to a whole new level. She is absolutely in love with the frozen breakfast waffles. Millie Bobby Brown, though? Not so much.
Although Brown likes Eggos, she says they’re not her “all-time faves to eat,” especially when she has to stuff so many in her mouth. “The waffle does taste really nice but not 15 times in a row.”
Eleven ate about 15 or 20 waffles throughout shooting, but according to Brown, she only digested about one or two total. The rest, she would spit in a bucket after filming was done.
Waffles weren’t the only thing Brown spit into her bucket. The first time the viewers meet Eleven, she’s devouring food in a diner kitchen. Brown says that the burgers and fries were so cold that she spit them into a cup after each take.
1. The Demogorgon is a Man Named Mark Steger
The Demogorgon is the epitome of science-fiction horror. It provides the mystery and fear that makes Stranger Things so captivating. However, what if we told you that the Demogogon is actually just a man in a monster suit named Mark Steger?
Last year, Spectral Motion, the masterminds behind the monster, revealed how Mark Steger transformed into the Demogorgon. First, they performed a laser scan of Steger’s body to make a suit customized for him. Originally, the suit – which takes 30 minutes to put on – was all Steger needed to become the Demogorgon. However, as the series progressed and the viewers were given better insights into the monster, the suit had to be adjusted.
Spectral Motion added eight-inch metal stilts to the costume and claws that were controlled by puppeteers. The head was also injected with 26 motors that control all of the Demogorgon’s head movements.
Do you know any other behind the scenes secrets about Stranger Things? Let us know in the comments!
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