11 Insights Into the Making of Stranger Things 2

Strangers Things 2 spoilers below.

So, you just finished your binge of Stranger Things 2, and are trying to decide whether or not that odd aftershow, Beyond Stranger Things, is worth your time. I mean, you’ve already devoted 9 hours of your weekend to this season. There are Halloween parties to attend, families to stop ignoring, work responsibilities to be addressed. Do you really have the time to sit through 7 episodes of host Jim Rash staging roundtable discussions with a rotating selection of Stranger Things cast members, writers, and producers?

Oh, who am I kidding – you’ve probably already watched Beyond Stranger Things, haven’t you? How could you not? Stranger Things 2 is such a massively entertaining season of television, the rare sequel to easily surpass the original, that anything tangentially related to it is compulsory viewing. However, just in case you haven’t gotten to Beyond Stranger Things yet here are 11 interesting bits of Stranger Things 2 trivia Jim Rash was able to pry out of cast (just about everyone other than Winona Ryder) and crew (primarily the Duffer Brothers and executive producer Shawn Levy):

1. The season was always going to end at the Snow Ball dance.The Duffer Brothers starting planning Things 2 and putting together a writing staff before season 1 had even premiered. They did so at the behest of Netflix even though a second season renewal hadn’t come through yet. Either way, one of the first things they put up on the writer’s room whiteboard mapping out the season was the dance at the end. From the get-go, they knew Things 2 would end with everyone at a school dance.

With their ending in place, they had to work backward and figure out how to get there. For a while, they toyed with the idea of holding off Eleven’s reunion with Mike and the rest until the dance, thinking that would make for one of the great dance entrances of all time. However, they eventually realized it would overshadow everything and not allow for the sweet Eleven/Mike moment they were hoping for.

2. Sadie Sink didn’t know she would be kissing Caleb McLaughlin until the day of filming

When Max kisses Lucas during their dance that’s really Sadie Sink and Caleb McLaughlin awkwardly kissing as a Steadicam operator circles around them to capture the kiss on one side and Lucas’ reaction on another side. The exact timing had to be right, and it very rarely was, which led them to film the kiss as many as 20 times (McLaughlin says 20; the Duffers say more like 7). By comparison, Finn Wolfhard and Millie Bobby Brown’s kiss only took 2 takes, partially because he whispered “I’m coming in” under his breath to her each time to help with the timing.

Sink anguished and anguished over her kiss. It wasn’t actually in the script for her to kiss him, but she knew it was a possibility. So, she’d worry about it to Brown during their sleepovers, because, oh, yeah, they’re just kids. Neither Sadie nor Caleb had ever kissed anyone before. Now they’ve kissed each other, maybe 20 different times, and it was super awkward because the extras on hand would applaud every time. Plus, their parents were on set.

3. Nancy’s speech to Dustin is based on something an older cousin once said to one of the Duffer brothers.

Even with demodogs, shadow monsters, that unexpected Warriors episode for Eleven, and too many James Cameron homages to count, one of Things 2’s most effective scenes comes from two people simply talking to each other about life and dating while Cyndi Lauper plays in the background. If this show works for you then all of the supernatural and horror imagery and 80sism are but window dressing for the more engaging story about a group of outcasts growing up together. As such, my heart absolutely melted in the finale when Nancy rescued a rejected, crying Dustin at the dance and gave him the “you’re gonna drive them nuts” speech.

Just as the dance was always on the whiteboard as the ending of the season, this scene between Dustin and Nancy was always going to be there. That’s because one of the Duffers reveals on Beyond his older cousin Joanna gave him that very same speech when he was that age, and it always stuck with him. She did not, however, give that speech to his brother, who appears to have had no idea that’s where the story idea came from.

4. Directors Andrew Stanton and Shawn Levy played film scores on set during non-dialogue scenes to help the actors channel the right emotion.

It’s a trick Levy has used for years. He used it on the season 1 episodes he directed and again on Things 2, playing old John Williams scores for the actors, like when Steve has to fight the demodogs in the junkyard. Pixar’s story wiz Andrew Stanton was new to the show this season, but when he directed episodes 5 and 6 he also liked to have music on the set to help shape the performances.

5. Dustin and Steve’s bromance came about accidentally.

One of the most delightful surprises of the back half of Stranger Things 2 is the Dustin-Steve bromance. Cut off from his suddenly vanished friends, Dustin is in desperate need of help with his demodog situation, and Steve just happens to cross paths with him while clearly on his way to apologize to Nancy, having no clue, of course, she’s off on her own little sidequest with Jonathan. Their buddy pairing quickly yields comedy gold as well as some surprisingly effective character development, with Steve going from the show’s most selfish character at the start of season 1 to one of its most selfless by the end of 2. And, frankly, I could watch an entire episode of just Steve giving Dustin dating and haircare advice, and then Dustin turning around to teach a bewildered Steve about science and D&D.  

It’s a story so perfectly developed that you can’t imagine the season without it.

Funny thing about that: the Steve-Dustin bromance came about by complete accident. When the Duffers mapped out the season, there was no Steve-Dustin partnership. They knew Dustin was going to be cut off from the group and need help from someone, and they knew Steve and Nancy were going to break up at that party. They did not, however, know who was going to help Dustin or what Steve was going to do after the breakup. They had two characters with huge questions marks hanging over their heads, and it suddenly dawned on them the solution to the problem was to pair them together.

Even then, they viewed the partnership as a primarily comedic one. It was Joe Keery and Gaten Matarazzo’s performances which led them to take it to a deeper place, one where we actually end the season with Steve acting as Dustin’s almost big brother.

6. Most of the foreshadowing throughout the season was lost on the kids until literally the moment they heard the Duffers and Shawn Levy talking about it on Beyond Stranger Things.

The Police’s “I’ll be Watching You” wasn’t just picked to close out the season as a logical 1984 hit that would be popular at a school dance; it was also picked for the way the infamously stalkery chorus foreshadows exactly what the Mind Flayer is doing at that very moment, hovering over the school in the Upside Down, watching the kids.

Dragon’s Lair isn’t just random game for the kids to play at the arcade in the premiere; its “rescue the princess” plot and the fight Dustin and Lucas have over it is a preview of the love triangle they’ll soon be in with Max.  

Similarly, Dig Dug isn’t another random video game for Lucas, Max and Dustin to fighter over; it’s a hint of the literal digging Hopper will have to do as well as the underground tunnels they’ll all soon be exploring.

Those are but three of the various dramatic flourishes which are acknowledged and explained in Beyond, and one of the more adorable parts of the discussion is the way it always comes as a surprise to the kid actors, most of whom hadn’t picked up on it until that very moment.

7. The Duffers were held back a year in kindergarten for not socializing enough.

The Duffers come by their identification with and empathy for the show’s motley band of outcasts honestly. It’d be easy to assume otherwise, that maybe focusing the series primarily on a group of science-loving, D&D-playing friends is but another Spielberg/King affectation. After all, the first season is set in 1983, and the Duffers weren’t born until 1984. So, what do they know, really, about being a kid in the early 80s?

But through their appearances on Beyond Stranger Things, we learn the Duffers have a put a lot of themselves into these characters. The kids, for example, play Dragon’s Lair in the Strangers Things 2 premiere to foreshadow the looming love triangle and adventure, sure, but also because the Duffers remember playing that game in arcades when they were kids, even though by that point Dragon’s Lair was nearly a decade old. Dustin’s calling the game an overpriced piece of shit is what the Duffers remember yelling at it in the arcade.

However, for the Duffers it goes beyond projecting their own childhood memories about video games, toys, and movies onto these characters. It’s not even just about the kids; it’s everyone on the show. In their view, Stranger Things is a series about outcasts, some of them adults, others teenagers, obviously the kids, but all of them thematically unified by their placement outside of the various in-groups of the time. The Duffers gravitate toward these characters because they’ve felt like outcasts since childhood.

In one telling moment, they somewhat inadvertently admit they were actually held back a year in kindergarten for not socializing enough with others. Apparently, through their first year in kindergarten, they only talked to each other. Because when your twin brother is your best friend and he likes all the same things as you why bother talking to anyone else.

This school-mandated attempt at forced socialization didn’t seem to stick, though. As Charlie Heaton reveals in Beyond, Things 2’s scene of Jonathan and Nancy spending their school lunch break eating atop the hood of his car was originally scripted to take place in a more traditional lunch setting on school grounds. It was changed to mimic how the Duffers used to eat lunch at high school, namely on the hood of a car in the parking lot away from everyone else.

8. Bob’s death was almost gorier.

You were too good for this world, Bob Newby, and you didn’t deserve to die such a horrible, though ultimately heroic death.

Of course, Bob had to go precisely because he was so nice. It’s the Barb principle – the Duffers’ preferred method of establishing stakes is through killing off the nicest, most innocent person in the supporting cast. It’s all part of their M.O. of adopting the cinematic language of the 80s classics they love, but re-arranging some of the letters in the process to keep us on our toes.

It could have been worse. Originally, Bob was to unleash a torrent of blood from his mouth when the demodog delivers the death blow. They filmed it but cut it, fearing it was perhaps a bit too far.

Bonus fact: The demodogs are completely digital, but Sean Astin acted opposite of one of the show’s female writers who was simply visiting the set before getting roped into playing the first demodog which attacks Bob. They didn’t put her into a demodog suit, though. Instead, she wore normal clothes and simply attacked Astin and performed the hand motions they knew they wanted. Having her there helped Astin immensely. She showed up to simply observe from afar and left covered in fake blood.

9. Last season they had one part-time employee handling the visual effects; this year, an entire department.

Season 1 Season 2

Prior to Stranger Things, the Duffers had made one small movie (Hidden) and written for one season of TV (Wayward Pines). They hadn’t done enough to be disabused of some of their more idealistic notions about film and TV production yet. So, when they insisted on doing practical effects as much as possible in season 1 they quickly learned the limits of what they could actually pull off on their budget. The guy-in-a-Demogorgon-suit they had on set in season 1 just couldn’t cut it on its own, not without some digital flourishes in post, and they weren’t really staffed for that kind of work. They did the best they could.

Stranger Things 2’s production was a completely different story. They had an entire department devoted to visual effects, an absolute necessity given their heightened ambitions. So, the actors had to do more green screen acting this time around and/or act opposite nothing at all, such as Steve with the entirely CGI demodogs in the junkyard. Other times they at least gave the actors some practical reference point, like rubber doll placeholders or a silver ball for Dart that were later animated over.

10. They ship certain couples just like the rest of us

Stranger Things 2 continues season 1’s primary love triangle (Jonathan/Nancy/Steve) and introduces several more (Bob/Hopper/Joyce, Lucas/Dustin/Max, briefly Eleven/Mike/Max), and some of the cast members have strong feelings about how the triangles should play out. David Harbour, for one, lobbied the Duffers to end the season with Hopper and Joyce together, only relenting when they pointed out how awkward it would be to make a move that fast after Bob’s death. Charlie Heaton, Natalia Dyer and Joe Keery all seem to agree Jonathan and Nancy ultimately belong together. Joe doesn’t even think Steve needs to have any kind of confrontation with Jonathan over it because, as he puts it, “It was kind of obvious to anyone, even Steve, how they felt about each other.” Millie Bobby Brown, though, is a loud and proud Stancy (Steven/Nancy) shipper.

11. Bob was almost killed by Evil Will.

Bob was always going to die. Even before they cast Sean Astin, Bob was a goner. He just got to hang around a little longer because Astin turned what had been written as a stereotypically clueless step-dad figure into a lovable loser, like some kind of adult version of one of the kids. The Duffers loved the performance so much they made Bob the key to figuring out the mystery over Will’s vine drawings.

And then they killed him.

Originally, they’d planned to kill him off by episode 4. Instead of becoming demodog puppy chow, he would have been somehow killed by Evil Will, a somewhat fitting ending since it’s his well-intentioned, but misinformed advice which leads to Will being possessed by the Mind Flayer in the first place. They didn’t share this information with Noah Schnapp, though, who reacts with extreme surprise and maybe slight disappointment upon hearing that in an early draft of Things 2 he would have gotten to kill someone on screen.


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