‘Stranger Things’ creative team on why the Netflix show almost didn’t get made


The creative team behind Netflix's freshman sci-fi thriller "Stranger Things" continued down the Emmy campaign trail on Thursday night.

Creators Matt and Ross Duffer were joined by director and executive producer Shawn Levy and fellow Emmy nominees David Harbour (supporting actor), Carmen Cuba (casting), Dean Zimmerman and Kevin Ross (single-camera picture editing), Nora Felder (music supervision), and Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein (original title theme music) for a panel hosted by Jenelle Riley, deputy awards and features editor of Variety. The show scored a total of 18 nominations, including one for outstanding drama series.

Before hashing out the logistics of what would become "Stranger Things," the Duffer brothers said they were looking to make a feature film. The only problem? "Nobody wanted to hear movie ideas. They wanted to hear television ideas," Matt said at the event, held at the Directors Guild of America Theaterin Los Angeles.

So rather than scrap what they called their ultimate project — a Stephen King book directed by Steven Spielberg that's an homage to 1980s pop culture — the brothers decided to craft the movie for a TV space.

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Cast of 'Stranger Things' at Hollywood events
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Cast of 'Stranger Things' at Hollywood events
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JUNE 06: Millie Bobby Brown (L) and Gaten Matarazzo attend Netflix's 'Stranger Things' For Your Consideration event at Netflix FYSee Space on June 6, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images For Netflix)
Cast members Caleb McLaughlin (L), Millie Bobby Brown and Gaten Matarazzo from the television series "Stranger Things" pose during a Netflix/Fysee event, California U.S., June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Cast members Caleb McLaughlin (L), Millie Bobby Brown and Gaten Matarazzo from the television series "Stranger Things" pose during a Netflix/Fysee event, California U.S., June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
FILE PHOTO: The cast of "Stranger Things" poses with the awards they won for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series backstage at the 23rd Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo
The cast of Stranger Things accepts their award for Ensemble in a Drama Series during the 23rd Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JUNE 06: (L-R) Gaten Matarazzo, Noah Schnapp, Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard and Caleb McLaughlin attend the 'Stranger Things' FYC event at Netflix FYSee Space on June 6, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: Actor Gaten Matarazzo attends the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Expo Hall on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: (L-R) Actors Gaten Matarazzo, Noah Schnapp, and Caleb McLaughlin attend the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards Cocktail Reception at The Shrine Expo Hall on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 07: (L-R) Actors Caleb McLaughlin, Gaten Matarazzo and Noah Schnapp attend the 2017 MTV Movie And TV Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on May 7, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 08: Actor Gaten Matarazzo attends Camp IZZE to celebrate the launch of IZZE FUSIONS on April 8, 2017 in Brooklyn, New York. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Izze Fusions)
(L-R) Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, and Millie Bobby Brown arrives for the 68th Emmy Awards on September 18, 2016 at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles. / AFP / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0524 -- Pictured: (l-r) Actors Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Finn Wolfhard, and Millie Bobby Brown during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on August 31, 2016 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0524 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jimmy Fallon as Steve Harrington, Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson, Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair, Millie Bobby Brown as Jane 'Eleven' Ives, and A.D. Miles as Barb during the 'Stranger Things' parody on August 31, 2016 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
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To Ross' disbelief, networks weren't initially on board. "I haven't read it yet, but it sounds amazing. How does that not sound amazing?" Ross said he asked himself at the time.

They ended up pitching the project as a cohesive eight-hour film. "You could choose to take breaks," Levy said. "But if you opted to watch it straight through, as many people have, we wanted it to feel of one unique piece of film that happens to be on a television screen.

And while Felder admitted she wasn't initially too keen on joining the series, an added challenge came from getting "The Clash" to let the show use their 1981 single "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" The punk rock hit plays an integral role in the story, and Felder said her job was to convince the band it wouldn't be used as a joke in a project chronicling "monsters from an alternative world." For the first time, she joked, her English degree paid off. She presented the featured scenes as fostering a bond between a family. The use of the song built over time, so Felder had to continuously go back and get clearances. "You don't want anyone to think they're trivializing your music or making fun of it," she explained.

Added Matt, "I didn't know about any of this."

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'Stranger Things' cast hits SAG Awards 2017 red carpet
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'Stranger Things' cast hits SAG Awards 2017 red carpet
(L-R) Actors Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, and Gaten Matarazzo arrive for the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Exposition Center on January 29, 2017, in Los Angeles, California. / AFP / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: Actor Millie Bobby Brown attends the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Expo Hall on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: (L-R) Actors Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, and Gaten Matarazzo attend The 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. 26592_011 (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for TNT)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: Actor Noah Schnapp attends the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Expo Hall on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: Actor Finn Wolfhard attends The 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. 26592_008 (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: Actor Caleb McLaughlin attends The 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. 26592_008 (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: (L-R) Actors Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, and Gaten Matarazzo attend the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Expo Hall on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: (L-R) Actors Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, and Gaten Matarazzo attend The 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. 26592_011 (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for TNT)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: Actor Millie Bobby Brown attends The 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. 26592_008 (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: Actor Gaten Matarazzo attends the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Expo Hall on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: Actor Gaten Matarazzo attends The 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. 26592_008 (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: Actor Millie Bobby Brown attends the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Expo Hall on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: Actor Millie Bobby Brown attends the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Expo Hall on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
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Once the project was greenlit by Netflix, they saw thousands of kids from all over the world to cast the four leading roles. "The only guiding principle in those days was nobody who feels generic," Levy said. "It wasn't just about talent. It had to be singularity. It had to be kids who looked and felt authentic."

Habour praised Cuba as a casting director. Before this role, Habour said he had been typecast in a negative light — definitely not a leading character, and usually as a villain. "I have a brow; I'm uncomfortable to be around for long periods of time," he qualified.

A reception with a waffle bar and signature Upside Down cocktail preceded the panel.

Season 2 of "Stranger Things" streams Oct. 27 on Netflix.


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