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The Duffer Brothers on early failures before 'Stranger Things'




Ross (left) and Matt Duffer on the set of
Ross (left) and Matt Duffer on the set of "Stranger Things."
Curtis Brown/Netflix

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Unless you're living under a rock, you've probably at least heard of "Stranger Things."

It's become one of the most talked-about TV shows of the summer, and today Netflix announced what fans were hoping for — the series has been picked up for a second season.

The supernatural thriller is set in a small Indiana town in the early 1980s. The show has been compared to some of the great sci-fi and adventure films of that decade, including “E.T.”, “The Goonies” and “Stand By Me.”

Yet the show’s creators, Matt and Ross Duffer, were still in kindergarten when those films came out. So, who are The Duffer Brothers? 

"The Frame’s" James Kim went to their offices to find out how they got their start, working together on set, and how their careers almost came to a stop after their first feature film never made it to theaters. 

Interview Highlights:

On how they work with each other on set:

ROSS: As brothers, you still get in plenty of disagreements, but I think that generally we work stuff out.

MATT: We're not just brothers, we're twins, so I think we're maybe closer than most brothers.

ROSS: Right, we did film school together, we made movies together in film school, so we've been doing it so long that it feels.

MATT: And we do sometimes get sick of each other. [laughs] It's inevitable, yeah.

On making films together since they were kids:

MATT: We grew up in Durham, North Carolina, and we started making movies in the third grade. We just fell in love with movies really, really early.

ROSS: They were terrible, though.

MATT: Yeah, yeah, our first one was like an adaptation, a feature-length adaption of like "Magic: The Gathering," which was a card game we were into. [laughs] It's really, really bad.

ROSS: It's just us hitting each other with plastic swords.

MATT: We didn't have editing equipment, you know, we just were playing Danny Elfman music on a tape recorder. But it was very fun and very creative, and that's what we did every summer. We refused to go to summer camp, so we just would wander around and make these movies.

ROSS: I just remember that feeling of going out with our friends, we were all nerds, and we'd go into our backyard — maybe it was the woods, or maybe it was the middle of a tobacco field — and it'd feel like you're in the middle of nowhere. There was always this sense of, like, We're going to get into some grand adventure while we're out here, and I think that part of it was trying to recapture not just the feeling of what it felt like when we watched these movies, but also the feeling of what it felt like when we were kids and it felt like we were going on all these amazing adventures. Obviously, we didn't encounter girls with supernatural powers or we didn't find a treasure map.

MATT: We wanted to, though, really badly.

On their early success and failure in Hollywood:

ROSS: We wrote a script in college.

MATT: It was called "Hidden," and we ended up selling it to Warner Bros. So that was the first film that we wrote and directed together that nobody has seen.

ROSS: It sold in this dream scenario for someone recently out of college — there was a bidding war between studios, and it felt like we suddenly went from being unemployed to being in "Entourage" or something. [laughs] It felt like this amazing dream come true.

MATT: We had studio heads yelling at us, it was crazy, and we were 26, like, "What?"

ROSS: Yeah, it was unbelievable to us at the time, and then that ended up going from a dream experience to crashing and burning. We didn't know what the hell else we were going to do with our lives, this is all we knew how to do. We felt like we'd been preparing to do this since we were little kids.

MATT: We literally had no idea what else to do, we had no other skills. [laughs] And we're a little delusional, but you have to be, a little bit, right?

ROSS: But I remember with "Hidden," I was worried I couldn't even get a job at Starbucks.

On their first feature, "Hidden," and how it never made it to theaters:

ROSS: Looking back on it, for us, it was using that low point as an advantage. I don't think "Stranger Things" would exist without it, because it was us being disillusioned with movies, the things we fell in love with, and then seeing this other opening in television that, if we really want to tell the kind of stories we want to tell, maybe we were just looking in the wrong place.

Finding the imperfections in "Stranger Things":

MATT: I think we're very hard on ourselves and hard on our work. We're really tough on everything we do.

ROSS: Even when "Stranger Things" was finished and we couldn't touch it anymore, we saw all these problems still and we were begging Netflix to go back in and fix stuff. They were like, "Guys, stop, just leave it alone." But it was torturous, honestly.

MATT: It's still torture.

ROSS: It's still torture, all I see is the problems with it. [laughs] But I think that, in the end, when we're writing, eventually you have to let it go, but I think that it was us both learning to listen to our own voice and not worrying about what other people thought, and also just being our harshest critics served us the best.

Season one of "Stranger Things" is currently streaming on Netflix.  



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