How Watching Stranger Things Can Make You a Better Filmmaker
Stranger Things has become a pop culture phenomenon and the show’s creators, The Duffer Brothers, have taken nostalgia and used it in a way to tell a very original story but a tale that rings familiar in our collective past.
Watching the show is a film school in its own right. Let’s dive into just a few things you can learn as a filmmaker by watching Strangers Things.
Stranger Things: How To Introduce A Character
Several terms can be used to describe Netflix’s Stanger Things; scary, heartwarming, nostalgic, and maybe a little overrated. But the strongest quality that has made the series so successful and has helped it earn its cult-like following is its 11 characters. Despite this high number of characters, it is fairly easy to get to know all of them before the end of the first season, which is just 8 episodes.
Stranger Things allows viewers to identify the basic traits of each character once they appear on the scene. There was no need for any back story of any of the characters nor did they have to spend time trying to develop their traits and personalities.
The writers of Stranger Things, The Duffer Brothers, used a technique called The Character Bounce Effect. They use this effect in the first episode of the film to let the audience know who the characters are and how they play in the story.
The season kicks off with the boys playing in their basement. The boys then break into an argument. This scene reveals that Mike is the one creating the conflict for the boys as he is the dungeon master. Dustin freaks out easily as they lose the dice setting him up as the comic relief. Lucas shows a sense of urgency from the way he argues, setting him up as the type of character he ends up being throughout the season. Will does not have a sense of input but relies on what the other boys say for his next move. This opening scene lasts about 45 seconds, but in such a brief period a fair amount is known about four of the seasons’ eleven characters. In this scene, characters are bounced off each other’s unbelief and perspective resulting in a greater understanding of who each character is, hence the term “character bounce effect”.
Although Chief Hopper doesn’t mentality go against anyone specifically, his opening scene leaves the audience with a clear sense of disappointment through his unhealthy habits and him ignoring the media on his way out the door.
The character bounce effect is also used in the two most important characters in the season; Joyce and Jonathan. These two gets into an argument over Jonathan not coming home and taking a shift while his mum was working the night before. Their argument reveals that Jonathan has a sense of caring for his family while Joyce is pretty anxious in dealing with her family considering how small the mistake was and how upset she got at the moment.
For Barb and Nance, the audience gets to know more about them when Nance brings up her relationship with Steve. Barb is worried that the new relationship will separate their friendship. Nance can be seen as unaware and possess a lack of understanding when arguing, while Barb exhibit disappointment and logic. These traits are evident in these characters in all 8 episodes of the season.
For Steve, he gets into an argument with Nance over going to class and the urgency of the situation. This reveals him as a jerk who has little sympathy for no one but himself.
Eleven gets across her perspective in any argument without even talking, this reveals how she makes connections with the other characters throughout the season.
Little is known about Dr. Brenner by the end of the season, this is not because he played a smaller role or didn’t get as much screen time. But in his case, the character bounce effect is used in the opposite way to give a mysterious vibe to a character. In his opening scene, he is surrounded by people who work for him and none of them go against his orders, therefore no opposite perspective was provided.
People’s true color is revealed when something they disagree with is brought up. And in the 30mins of the first episode of Stranger Things, this happens to every character through their interactions.
For season 2 to be as successful as the first season, these characters must be forced to deal with new things that are against their beliefs or new beliefs must be discovered about these characters.
The Art of Transition: Stranger Things
A transition is a cut between two scenes allowing the audience to zip line from one storyline or character to another. If done correctly it can help keep a strong pace and relevance in any television series or film.
To discuss Transition in the movie Stranger Things, three aspects would be looked at very closely; sound, imagery, and foreshadowing.
There are several scenes where sound based transitions are employed, such as between Hooper’s car starting and Mike’s waffles popping out of the toaster. By injecting similar sounds, it allowed the creator to put a thread between two disconnected scenes. It is used to sew two scenes together.
Also, in the search party conducted by Hooper, the yell for Will is converted and drowned by the sound of music from a passing car in Wilkins High School. It helps to act as a connector between the search party scene and the scene where Jonathan, Will’s brother, places posters about his missing brother.
Sometimes transition through sounds can simply act as a way to tell a story in the space of mere seconds. An example is where Jonathan is driving to his father’s house, bearing an indecisive look of whether to go or not. The song in the background blends with that of the following scene where Jonathan is jamming with his brother. You can cut out the dialogue, the character movement and everything else yet the transition alone is sufficient to reveal that the two brothers were close.
A transition is a simple concept which is hardly ever used to its full potential. If film makers can accept creativity through transition, there will be a spike in audience connection with the final product.
Transition sometimes require imagery to be more effective, which is perhaps the most difficult to do because it requires the audience to analyze and inject their own thought.
A strong image transition can be found when Jonathan was in his color development studio with gloomy shades of black and red surrounding him. The camera focuses on the red light in the studio which then transitions to the red light in Jonathan’s house. The room is much brighter than the photo development room. The house being lit up represent Joyce’s attempt to find Will with pure maternal instinct while the darkness in Jonathan’s development room represents revenge. This transition simply passes across a message of how two people deal differently with loss and sadness.
Foreshadowing as a transition technique is difficult to achieve as it requires hindsight and audience memory, it is hard to take note of it on the movie’s first watching.
The most effective use can be seen as Steve is trying to patch up his relationship with Nancy. She is seen swinging a bat. The violent imagery ends with one final swing of the bat which transitions into an argument between Joyce and her ex-husband. That was an appropriate transition compared to if the previous scene with Nancy was a peaceful one and was followed by the loud argument. This would cause a distortion, as a scene of calmness is followed by that of loudness.
The swinging of the bat helps foreshadow the violent scene that was to follow, preparing the audience.
Transition can be used to stunning effect, they can be used to connect audience to a character without dialogue, they can thread two disconnected scenes, they can also be used to prepare the audience for what is about to happen.
Title Sequence: From Stranger Things to Se7en
If you haven’t seen Netflix’s breakout smash Stranger Things you are missing out. Being a huge fan of the show I noticed the amazing opening title sequence that takes you back to the glorious 80’s. Then I began to think about the importance typography and design in creating a feeling in film. The remarkable title sequence was created by legendary title house Imaginary Forces.
Title sequences should be used to create mood, tone, tell a story and of course list the credits. Take a look at this mazing mini doc by VOX on the opening title sequence of Stranger Things.
The Stranger Things logo probably looks strangely (no pun intended) familiar, returning you back to a time when Stephen King reigned supreme. The show’s creators, Matt and Ross Duffer, said that they were directly influenced by King in the creation of the show’s logo, having sent tons copies of Stephen King’s novels to Imaginary Forces.
The font use in the creation of the title sequence is ITC Benguiat, and it’s hallmark of the era that Stranger Things is paying homage to. It was used on the cover of countless Stephen King novels, The Smiths used it on the cover of their album ‘Strangeways’, and it was the title font for those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books you loved growing up.
The glorious 1980s revived retro typography from various art periods in a way that brought new meaning to their use. By reintroducing them again in 2016, as the Stranger Things team did so remarkably, we are reminded of the power of typography, the transcendental property of design, and the nostalgia that lives forever in our hearts.
Indie filmmakers should take notice of the power of design in title sequences, posters, and website design when creating new content. Typography is a very powerful tool in the indie filmmaker’s toolbox.
If you haven’t watch Stranger Things yet, here’s the skinny on the show: This thrilling Netflix-original drama stars award-winning actress Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers, who lives in a small Indiana town in 1983 — inspired by a time when tales of science fiction captivated audiences.
When Joyce’s 12-year-old son, Will, goes missing, she launches a terrifying investigation into his disappearance with local authorities. As they search for answers, they unravel a series of extraordinary mysteries involving secret government experiments, unnerving supernatural forces, and a very unusual little girl.
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