In the last couple of years, Netflix has established itself as a powerhouse production company. What started as a mail-based movie rental service has rapidly become an epicenter of creative and innovative filmmaking. The most recent title to bolster the clout of the multinational entertainment company is the overnight sensation and smash Summer hit, Stranger Things.
Much like Netflix itself, the eight-episode series Stranger Things came out of nowhere and shocked the nation with its unique story, aesthetic and characters. Thanks to Netflix's partnership with twins Matt and Ross Duffer — professionally known as the Duffer Brothers — the internet has a new obsession.
While it wasn't quite their directorial or screenwriting debut, Netflix took a chance on the relatively unknown brothers and entrusted them to deliver on the promised potential of their original series. As it turns out, the brilliance of the sci-fi mystery thriller could only come to fruition under the Netflix banner.
In a recent interview with The Seattle Times, Matt and Ross Duffer discussed the process of developing the series. After being met with over a dozen rejections, the Duffer Brothers found that Netflix immediately understood their pilot, the 20-page pitch book that came with it, and their insistence on directing it together.
Matt: There were a lot of things going against it. We just weren’t established. And we were very intent on showrunning it and directing. And we were told you cannot put kids in the lead roles of a show that’s not intended for a kid audience.
The first week, I think, we had 15 pitches, and it was all passes. There was a moment where we’re like, 'Oh, I think people aren’t getting it.' And then the next week, offers started to come in, and luckily Netflix understood it right away.
In a period when movie studios are noticeably focusing on reboots, remakes, sequels and spinoffs, and ignoring mid-budget projects with the potential for dramatic returns, Netflix has turned its attention toward more original projects with relatively moderate budgets. Thus proving that you don't need a budget of $150 million to create something wonderful.
After establishing themselves as a hub for innovative content, and with names Kevin Spacey and Marvel to back them up, Netflix has since started using their authority to buoy the careers and projects of up-and-coming talents. Stranger Things is a result of this action. This seems to be, as Ross describes it, the second phase of Netflix's long-term plan.
Ross: What we didn’t realize is that Netflix — they never said this, but just looking at it — they’re sort of moving into Phase 2, in which Phase 1 is, they’ve got the David Finchers and the Jenji Kohans, very successful people with proven track records. And they had so much success with that, with things like 'House of Cards' and 'Orange Is the New Black,' that they’re able to roll the dice on some younger voices.
Rolling the dice — the Dungeons & Dragons dice, to be precise — on Stranger Things may have been a risk for Netflix, but it resulted in massive yields. The eight-episode series has since garnered rave reviews and hit peak internet virality after its release weekend.
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With a talented cast — mostly comprised of young, unknown actors — portraying relatable characters; an air of mystery and adventure; a terrifying, otherworldly beast; and a plotline that pays homage to storytelling greats like Steven Spielberg and Stephen King, it's no wonder Netflix saw the value in gambling on Stranger Things.
In large part, the success of Stranger Things can be attributed to its pacing and it's binge-ability — a quality characteristic of Netflix. In its earlier iterations, the Duffer Brothers wanted Stranger Things to be a film. It wasn't until meeting with Netflix that they could decided not only their ideal format, but to also let their series play out without being restricted to a standard 13 or 22 episode run.
Matt: The cool thing about TV is you have a lot more time. (But) you’re not stuck now with 22 episodes. It’s almost impossible to tell a cinematic story when you have that many episodes.
Ross: This is almost really the first time that I can think of in history that people are able to come up with a story, and they’re able to go, how long should this be? Should this be six hours? Should this be seven hours? Should this be 11 hours? And Netflix is very good at not dictating how many episodes it should be.
Not only were they afforded the rare chance of pacing the show the way they wanted, but Neflix also gave them the ability to tell the story they wanted with the characters they wanted — a shockingly rare scenario in Hollywood as of late.
Matt: If you’re doing a movie, the minute you put a monster in it, it becomes a horror movie. And if it’s a horror movie nowadays, it’s basically a haunted house ride. You’re trying to get jump scares every six, seven minutes. You just don’t have the time to spend with characters. We love monsters, but if it was a movie, it would be all about the monster. But a place like Netflix, they actually care a lot more about the characters. So we’re able to tell these very character-driven stories and also appease our childlike sensibilities by putting a flesh-eating monster in it.
As we can see now, the fruits of the Duffer Brothers' hard labor far exceeded any expectations. Furthermore, it proves that Netflix is doing what few other studios seems to be — trusting their filmmakers.
There has yet to be any official announcement on a second season for the Netflix original series, but with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings telling The Guardian “[they] would be dumb not to," Stranger Things Season 2 seems all but confirmed.
If Stranger Things marks the beginning of Netflix's "Phase 2," I can't wait to see what they have in store for us.