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Matt and Ross Duffer have little experience with expectations. The 33-year-old twin brothers, writers and directors of 2016 Netflix breakout Stranger Things, had barely worked in Hollywood when their throwback horror series became a hit out of nowhere. Season two is another matter. Still wrapping postproduction ahead of their Oct. 27 release, the Duffers spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about how how Things will evolve, how trailers have them feeling a little conflicted and why they think they’ll know when to call it a day.
Is there any truth to reports you’ll film seasons three and four simultaneously?
Matt I think it came from an actor. It honestly could not have been Netflix. They know, the way that Ross and I work, that it would destroy us mentally. It was not a realistic proposition ever.
But does the fact that these kids are aging put any pressure on you to work at a certain pace?
Ross It’s better to adjust the narrative to fit the ages than to try to rush the process. They grow so fast, we would have to move at such a speed to keep them young. Even over the course of these nine episodes, you can see them getting older. That’s something that plays over a week. We want to move as fast as we can, but it’s not really dictated by the kids.
Matt Even if I had the choice to freeze them in time, I wouldn’t. We don’t want to be repeating ourselves. This show is going to naturally evolve and feel different year to year, and that to me is a good thing. I like that we’re able to watch them grow. Look at Harry Potter. How powerful was that to grow up with those kids? For me, that made that series especially potent.
Do you need this cast to make Stranger Things — or could it exist as an anthology?
Ross It’s not Star Wars. You’re not really creating this giant universe. Right now it’s very specific to this town of Hawkins and these kids.
Matt The title means it could carry over into other supernatural-style stories that aren’t specifically related to these events, but it’s hard to know. We’ve spent maybe 10 minutes talking about that.
Ross You see a lot of that in Hollywood. It’s dangerous because everyone is trying to create these universes that span multiple films, but they haven’t even built the foundation. Star Wars had to be built. We’re looking at those mistakes.
Matt Let’s do one good series. Then, if we don’t manage to mess that up, we can talk beyond that. We don’t have that J.J. Abrams gene — for good or bad.
When a project is successful now, even if it’s intended as a one-off, the immediate response is to make more. What’s your take on that?
Matt It’s so hard to strike a chord with audiences that, when it happens, everyone is coming to you immediately to do it again and again. They don’t want to leave it alone. In our case, as soon as we started developing with Netflix, it was always supposed to be a multiseason arc. As long as it’s creator-driven, I don’t really have an issue with it. So if Steven Zaillian thinks there is more that he can mine from The Night Of, I say, “Hell, yes!” I’m into that. Big Little Lies is the same thing. You fall in love with these worlds and these characters, so I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s also not a bad thing to just leave things alone.
Are you able to take any kind of break between seasons?
Matt These companies and these audiences are expecting movie-quality work, and that’s what we all want to put out — but at the same pace that you would put out traditional television. Now, we do have shorter seasons, but we’re still talking about eight or nine hours. Everybody is turning it around in about a year, a year and a half. Everyone is pushing, you know, raising the bar because you have like things like Game of Thrones. Some of those visual effects sequences are rivaling or surpassing really what you’re seeing in the movie theaters. We really want to be doing that, too. We’re all figuring it out. I think it took Game of Thrones a while to figure it out.
You had to add some cast this season. How did you land on Sadie Sink?
Matt I hope I’m not making this up, something like 700 girls auditioned. I think we screen-tested three or four with the kids. Some of them were really good, but at first we made a little bit of an error. We initially forgot that our kids had aged like a year or a year and a half, so we put them with these girls who were all clearly too young for them. They were like perfect matches for season one, but didn’t work for season two. So Sadie stuck out. She was perfect for this character, the chemistry with the rest of the cast seemed spot-on, so it was kind of a no-brainer.
Do you worry about giving too much away in the trailers?
Ross The first trailer doesn’t show as much as you might think, because marketing only had the first couple of episodes with a few shots from later stuff when they put that together. There were just a few things where we had to be like, “No, don’t do that.” It’s becoming a debate as we move forward. Whether it’s through social media or another trailer, how much do you give away? What can the fans piece together with this information? We want the fans to be surprised as much as they can when they actually watch the show. We also want to get new people to watch the show.
Matt The most important thing we can do is preserve the experience of the show. It’s not about necessarily making the coolest two-and-a-half-minute experience. One reason why season one worked was because it was a discovery for a lot of people. They knew nothing when they started watching. I don’t think many people have even seen that trailer, but I definitely want to be careful. I’m not into trailers that tell you the full story. I do not like the approach to trailers, which is like, “Let me summarize the entire movie for you before you go in!” Some people seem to like it. But, to me, it’s like reading the last page of a book before you start the book. What did you see in the trailer that you thought maybe was too much?
Maybe the confirmation that Eleven is still around.
Ross I think when you see the full season, it’s clear that most of the show is not in that trailer. I have a problem with trailers, because I love them too much. I’m one of those nerds that watches them on repeat. There’s a danger to that. I think it’s very safe to watch the trailer through once. If you watch it multiple times, then it can start to damage the experience. But it’s hard for me to scold people for doing that, because I do the same thing.
Were you at all involved in getting the “Thriller” rights for that first trailer?
Matt No. (Laughs.) Talk to Shawn Levy. I would never even have thought to try for that. We don’t put Prince or Michael Jackson in the show, because they’re notoriously difficult to get rights. I think we were told “no” about 20 times, but Shawn would not let it go. I kind of had taunted him. I was like, “This is the only thing you told me you’re going to try to make happen that actually you failed to make happen.” He took it as challenge. It’s actually pretty amazing that he was able to make that happen. Now I think he can do anything.
How will you be feeling on Oct. 26?
Matt This a very different feeling than last year when we were afraid that it was going to get lost. Now we know that people will watch and, of course, everyone has expectations. We will be scouring social media to see the response.
You’ve been in touch with Stephen King about his influence on the show. Any feedback from Steven Spielberg?
Ross I’m going to have to plead the Fifth on that.
A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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