For those who ignored television over the last 12 months, Stranger Things was the big TV hit of 2016. Set in a small town in 1983, it was part Stephen King and part many other 1980s films, with visual nods to everything from Stand By Me to Aliens.
With season two available on Netflix from October 27, executive producer and director, Shawn Levy, fills us in on what’s in store.
What can we expect for season two?
Season two is very much rooted in the characters and the stakes of season one. But things have changed. On the one hand, Will Byers is back but as we saw at the end of episode eight, there in that bathroom, he coughed that thing up in the sink. Something is not right. He flashed to the Upside Down.
So season two tracks what that might mean. It also explores the fact that while we might have defeated the Demogorgon, evil still exists. Evil still exists and it exists in the town of Hawkins. And season two attempts to map the presence of that evil.
What discussions did you have going into season two?
It’s been an interesting process crafting season two, for what had become kind of a cultural phenomenon of a television series. We had to quiet those outside opinions and expectations and do what feels right to us.
A lot of our conversations have had to do with balancing our desire to take it up a notch without abandoning the values and the characters that brought us here. And finding that balance between character-based intimate storylines and larger threats and bigger cool stuff. That’s been a big part of the journey into season two.
Is that what makes the show special?
I think it has something to do with the fact that as much as the show is set in a retro time period, that the show isn’t coming from a place of cynicism or irony.
There’s a certain innocence and sincerity to the storytelling which taps into a collective desire, now more than ever, for authenticity and sincerity and that our show means what we say.
We mean the feelings that we are showing and we as storytellers take the show seriously. We’re not making fun of it. We aren’t being judgmental about the setting or the characters. We’re being sincere, and people have been yearning for that kind of sincerity in stories.
Was your approach to directing different than last year?
In the course of season one, the kind of directorial style evolved, specifically in the first two episodes the Duffers had an idea that the camera would move minimally. And then when I came in, and I did episodes three and four in season one, I found these sets and these scenes kind of irresistible for camera movement.
We kind of definitely move towards increased camera movement, not flashy, show up each step of the way, you see in a lot of contemporary films. It’s very much kind of that 1980s feel of Ingmar Bergmann, Robert Zemeckis and John Carpenter, kind of creepy or poignant and little drifting moves and so we’re definitely staying consistent with the visual look that we established in season one.
How have you helped guide the series creators, the Duffer Brother, during the showrunner process?
It’s a little bit the blind leading the blind. I know a little bit about producing television but this was new for all of us, and we hooked up because it just felt like the right fit of sensibilities.
I think it helped that we always viewed Stranger Things as an eight-hour movie. In the case of season two, it’s a nine-hour movie. So the story telling, at least the way we approach it in our hearts, is long big arcs, the way a movie is.
Now it’s nine-hours that happens to end and begin at certain junctures, but the approach to that filmmaking is exactly that. It’s filmmaking. It’s not television. Clearly we live in a magnificent era of television where the filmmaking is every bit as elegant and sophisticated as you see on a movie screen, often more so.
And Andrew Stanton is joining to direct a few episodes?
What’s different about season two is that we are going to involve two other directors. We’re bringing in multiple Oscar winning Andrew Stanton of Finding Nemo to do episodes five and six.
He is such a great addition to the fold. It was a really tricky thing because we’re very protective of our show. And we rejected 50 viable filmmakers to direct episodes. But we don’t want your typical kind of journeyman or journeywoman television director.
We want someone who comes into the show as a fan, to honor the aesthetic and the tone of the show. And Andrew just reached out to say, I love this show. If you would ever consider me, I’m in, anytime, any place. He’s aware he’s done limited live action, but he came to the show with such a passion to be a part of it, we were instantly fans.