How did The Duffer Brothers shock the world and create an overnight television sensation? As with most stories, it starts with a well-laid foundation, all transcribed on the page in the first Stranger Things script.
In this article, we’re going to dig into the pilot script for Stranger Things to see how The Duffer Brothers created a knockout hit for Netflix. By the end, we’ll show you how they used plot, dialogue and setting to convey an enrapturing film-world.
The Stranger Things Script
Click to view and download the entire Stranger Things script PDF below.
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WHO WROTE THE Stranger Things SCRIPT?
Written by Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer
Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer are twin brothers who often collaborate on projects as writers, director, and producers.The Duffer Brothers are notable alumni of Chapman University's Dodge Film School. Before creating Stranger Things the duo worked on the film Hidden and the TV series Wayward Pines.
Script Structure of Stranger Things
In 1942, a mysterious research facility named Camp Hero was built in Montauk, New York. Flash forward to 1980 and something paranormal is going on there. A monster breaks loose.
A group of 12 year old boys: Will, Mike, Lucas and Dustin, are playing Dungeons and Dragons when Mike’s mother Karen says it’s time to wrap things up. On the bike ride home, Will is captured by the monster that escaped from Camp Hero.
Plot Point One Foundation
Will’s mother Joyce is preparing to go to work at her second job. She tells her other son Jonathan to make sure Will is awake to go to school on time, but then they both realize that he never came home the night before.
Plot Point Two Foundation
Police Chief Hopper prepares to go to work, rising from a graveyard of empty beer cans and cigarette butts.
Plot Point Three Foundation
Mike’s sister Nancy finds a note in her locker from Steve which says to meet her in the bathroom. Steve comes on to Nancy then invites her out to the beach that night.
Will’s family and friends grow concerned over his disappearance. Joyce implores Hopper’s help in finding her son. Hopper interviews Will’s friends at school and tells them to go directly home after school.
A bloodied young girl in hospital scrubs is running through a forest. She arrives at a diner and is caught attempting to steal raw fish. The diner’s owner Benny feeds her and calls child protective services.
Plot Points One and Two Combine for Build Up
Hopper’s investigation leads him back to Joyce’s house on the beach. He follows the tracks to a shed out back where he presumes Will was taken. Hopper calls for a search party.
Plot Point Three Build Up
Nancy and her best friend Barb go to the beach party. Steve wisps Nancy away.
The young girl at the diner reveals that her name is Eleven. Secret agents then arrive and kill Benny. Eleven escapes out the back door.
Mike, Lucas and Dustin bike around looking for Will while Hopper leads an official search rescue. At the beach, it’s implied that Steve takes Nancy’s virginity.
Joyce receives a phone call and thinks that she hears Will’s voice. Barb is captured by the monster. Mike, Lucas and Dustin run into Eleven in the woods.
Hopper’s radio begins to malfunction. The sky above Camp Hero begins to look stormy, then an electrical blue light strikes.
Stranger Things Script Takeaway #1
Stranger Things Plot
The story structure for the Stranger Things script is much different than say―a sitcom or feature film. One reason why is because the Stranger Things pilot takes on the huge task of establishing an ensemble cast.
Every pilot should show the transition between one state of being to another. This switch can be physical, metaphorical, or mental; it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that something has to change. This helps the audience connect to the characters by making us feel like we’re unravelling what’s going on with them.
Let’s take a look at a scene where The Duffer Brothers use character concern and confusion to build mystery.
Stranger Things Script - Joyce and Hopper
Here we see two characters who represent polar opposites of the “concern” spectrum. Joyce is manic and panicking about the disappearance of her son. Meanwhile Hopper is distant and disinterested.
The Duffer Brothers also use this scene to give backstory to Joyce (her ex-husband Lonnie is absent) and establish a middle ground between Joyce and Hopper (Hopper calms Joyce down/ Joyce raises Hopper’s level of concern.) Through this, The Duffer Brothers create a strong dynamic between the characters, all built on the back of the plot.
Stranger Things - Joyce Byers
When building a plot with an ensemble cast, it helps to establish groups and couples to connect plot points together, just like it’s done here in Stranger Things.
Stranger Things Script Takeaway #2
Stranger Things Dialogue
When writing a period piece, one of the first things you should ask yourself is: “what did people talk like in the year [blank]?”
Stranger Things begins in 1980, a time of social rebellion. It also has a bunch of characters who are kids. Mainly, this is to say that the 12 year old boys in the show probably shouldn’t talk like sophisticated adults; instead they should sound like rebellious juveniles.
In this next excerpt, we see how Mike, Lucas, Will and Dustin go from speaking nerdy DnD vernacular to openly challenging one another with brutal insults fueled by pre-teen hormones.
Stranger Things Script - The DnD Kids
This scene works exceptionally well at establishing the group character dynamic. Why? Because everything feels authentic, even for adult audiences. We all remember what it felt like to be a kid trying to be cool. As such, this dynamic plays as universally relatable.
Stranger Things - Pilot Opening
The opening to Stranger Things essentially establishes these four by character tropes: Mike is the leader, Will is honest but meek, Lucas is shoot-first act later, and Dustin is the group clown.
It’s remarkably simple, but leaves tons of room for the tropes to be supported and subverted later in the story.
Stranger Things Script Takeaway #3
Stranger Things Setting
The Stranger Things script established 1980 Montauk, New York as the setting but the show ended up changing it to the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. Does this setting really change anything though? The short answer is no, but a deeper dive reveals that it did have impact.
Stranger Things is a stylized version of the 80’s; halfway to the point of a spoof. There are neon lights, men and women with big hair and synth-beats in spades. The original script took place in a coastal town, and the scene descriptions were grounded in much more realism than how they ended up in the show.
This next scene where Will tries to escape the monster is a great example of how the setting change subtly affected the show.
Stranger Things Script - Will Tries to Escape
First things first, I’m no geography expert, but I don’t think there are many beaches in Indiana. In the script, Will runs across the Montauk beach to his house that has been “battered by ocean winds.” In the show, this segment doesn’t happen.
To me, the change in geographical setting is significant. In the script, the story is certainly supernatural, but the setting is grounded in a landscape that feels quaint and distant; like a ghastly sea-side town. In the show, the setting becomes more stylized, sensational and subsequently more supernatural. I wouldn’t say that one vision is better than the other but there is a definite change in visual tone, especially as the series goes on.
Stranger Things: Building a Fictional Setting
Not entirely due to its change in setting but partly because of it, Stranger Things changes its tone drastically from the script of episode one to where it is today.
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