Stranger Things

IMDB:Stranger Things

The original title of the television show was Montauk.

Seasons Type Genre
2- Serial Drama/Fantasy/

Horror/Mystery/Sci-Fi/Thriller

Scene Count
Pilot Screenplay
89 102

Signature Elements

Blended Genres

Stranger Things is a blend of several genres making it a show that appeals to a broad target market.

Stranger Things uses two popular sci-fi concepts (Monsters/Aliens + Superpowers) with the structure of a mystery. Add in the fantasy aspects of another realm, the horror of a scary monster kidnapping people and the drama every child/teenager goes through growing up and you have a successful incorporation of all genres.

A missing child can be a dramatic concept for a show on its own, but instead of terrorists or kidnappers, it is a monster who has taken him. The show successfully uses mystery to reveal certain aspects of each genre evoking enough curiosity to continue watching.

Children Main Cast

It is rare to see a main cast of children in a mainstream show. And by children I mean actual children, not actors with youthful looks hired to play teenagers. The only show off the top of my head is Game of Thrones, which also had several other adult main characters.

This allows Stranger Things to not only appeal to a younger audience, but because it is set in the 1980’s, adults can also relate as most of them were the same age as the main cast around that time. It appeals to children’s sense of adventure and adults memories of what adventures they had.

Nostalgia

Stranger Things is set in the 1980’s which immediately gives it a nostalgic feel showing all the things the older generation used to enjoy. And as mentioned, the cast are children, so a lot of the narrative will be from their point of view.

The earlier time frame also eliminates the convenience of technology that can plague most stories. There are no cell phones, or Internet to use as a plot device. This likely makes a mystery easier to write and more believable without all the options technology offers.

Stranger Things is also a show designed to elicit feelings of nostalgia. It’s set in a simpler time where the kids with the most imagination had the most fun. The show is an adventure kids all wish they had back when life was all about having fun.

Main Characters

Mike Wheeler


Mike

12.. He is a cute moppy haired kid, classically good looking except for a BIRTHMARK on his left cheek.

Will Byers


Will

12.. Soft-spoken, gentle.

Dustin Henderson


Dustin

He wears glasses, is overweight, not quite fat,
but he’ll get there someday.

Lucas Conley


Lucas

He is very small but his loud mouth more than makes up for it.

Eleven


Young Girl

A young girl, 10…She makes an immediate impression on us: Her hair is buzzed close to the scalp. Her feet are bare. Her skin is pale. She wears a tattered white hospital gown spattered with BLOOD. She more like a wild animal than a child.

Jim Hopper


Hopper

… or “Hop”, early 40s.

Joyce Byers


Joyce

His mom…late 30s. She wears a peach waitress uniform and too much makeup. She has a Long Island accent, which comes out even strong when she curses.

Nancy Wheeler


Nancy

This is Mike’s sister, 16, girl-next-door pretty.

Steve Harrington


Steve

17, wealthy, athletic, charm to spare.

Other Characters:

Jonathan Byers

16, Will’s older brother. He is lanky with dark hair to his shoulders. He’s quietly handsome… but he wouldn’t believe it if you told him.

Mr. Clark

30s. He is magnetic, smart. Handsome too. The girls ogle.

Karen Wheeler

Late 30s, Mike’s mom. Short blond hair, conservative blouse, blue jeans hiked high above her waist.

Character Differences

The Boys
Mike’s birthmark is taken away.
Dustin was supposed to be the classic heavy nerd character, but they went in a different direction when the actor was cast.

No mention of ethnicity in the screenplay allowing for a diverse group of kids.

Karen
Karen has long brunette hair in the show not short blonde hairh.

Joyce

In the screenplay, Joyce is a vulgar and reactionary person. Although her son is missing, she isn’t someone easy to emphasize with despite the obvious love for her child.

In the pilot, Joyce’s character is more empathetic and less vulgar. There is more humility to her character. The Long Island accent and too much make-up is also dropped.

Steve

In the screenplay, Steve is a one dimensional character with a jock stereotype. He is alluded to be being drunk and horny in every scene he is in and his only motivation is to have sex with Nancy. He gives off a very rapey vibe and if he wasn’t a jock, the scenes would be dramatic for an entirely different reason.

In the pilot, Steve is still a jock but there is more substance to his character. He chooses to study with Nancy instead of dragging her out to a party. He successfully charms Nancy into getting intimate instead of forcing himself on her, which makes him a more likable character. It is alluded to that he is a player, but wants to be more with Nancy.

Location Change

Screenplay Pilot
Montauk Hawkins

Act Breakdown

Excel Breakdown Pilot Screenplay
Stranger Things Screenplay Breakdown Stranger Things Screenplay
SCREENPLAY PILOT

Storylines:

The breakdown will be refer to the three story lines:

A: Will is missing
B: Eleven on the run.
C: Nancy and Steve.

Act 1
Structure

Added:

Scientist runs away and almost gets away on the elevator before being killed.

Cut:

Scientists bodies litter the floor of the lab.

Main Points

A mysterious creature kills a scientist in a secret underground lab.
The four young boys are introduced.
Will is abducted by the mysterious creature.

Breakdown

A:
The scientist who bursts through the door is initially killed right away along with several other scientists. However the pilot is changed to have the scientist chased and killed/taken in the elevator. Both the scientist and Will are chased by the monster and after thinking they are safe, the monster sneaks up on them and takes them.

The chase scene is more suspenseful than seeing a bunch of dead bodies. The audience knows the monster is inherently dangerous so the aftermath wouldn’t have made much of an impact. Having the scientist being chased generates suspense, and shows the monster’s power. For all we know, the scientist could have been a main character, and we don’t find out until the monster catches him that he isn’t.

B: Nothing Changed.

C: Nothing Changed.

End of Act 1:
Screenplay: Will is taken by the monster.
Pilot: Will is taken by the monster.

Script Notes

In the screenplay, the lab is called Camp Hero.
In the pilot, the lab is called Hawkins National Lab.

In the screenplay, the scientist is killed as soon as he bursts through the door.
In the pilot, the scientist makes it to the elevator before he is killed.

In the screenplay, the boys are playing in Mike’s room.
In the pilot, the boys are playing in the basement.

In the screenplay, Lucas just watches Nancy in the reflection of her mirror before she gets up and closes the door.
In the pilot, Dustin offers pizza to Nancy before she gets up and closes the door.

In the screenplay, Lucas comments that Nancy knows his name and they talk about her new boyfriend Steve.
In the pilot, Dustin comments that Nancy isn’t the same anymore as she used to be cool and hang out with them.

In the pilot, before the boys ride home, Will tells Mike that the roll was 7 and the Demogorgon would have got him. This demonstrates Will’s honest nature and foreshadows him actually being taken by a monster.

In the screenplay, Will is distracted by the weather before seeing the figure.
In the pilot, Will is distracted by his bike’s headlight which flashes on and off.

In the screenplay, Will runs through a beach on his way home.
In the pilot, Will runs through a forest road.

In the screenplay, as Will is watching the figure outside through the window, it disappears.
In the pilot, Will doesn’t continue watching the figure, he sees it for a moment and then runs.

In the screenplay, the creature breaks into the shed and causes Will to freeze with fear. Will pleads with the creature before being taken. Loud screams are heard during his abduction.
In the pilot, the creature doesn’t break into the shed, but instead just appears behind Will. No screams are heard during his abduction.

Act 2
Structure

Added:

Title Sequence
Nancy walking into her school.
Agents arrive at the lab.
Agents putting on Hazmat suits before exploring underground base.
Agents exploring the base and finding a large black live substance growing on the wall. No dead scientists are in the lab.

Cut:

Nancy applying makeup to herself in her car before going to school.
Agents watch video footage, but only see static.

Main Points

Joyce and Jonathan notice Will is missing.
Joyce seeks out help from the sheriff Jim Hopper to help find her son.
Agents arrive and clean up the base.

Breakdown

A: Nothing changed.

B:
The agents arrive at the now quarantined lab and go underground to take a look around the base. Because the dead bodies are removed from the story, there isn’t a clean up crew. Instead the agents find a black living substance on the wall of the underground lab. Whether or not that was there initially is never mentioned. They also do not watch static video footage.

C:
Steve invites Nancy to study and not to a party. This affects the rest of the story line as the party is a significant part of the final act.

End of Act 2:
Screenplay: Agents watch video and see nothing but static and the figure Will saw.
Pilot: Agents examine the aftermath and find the black blob of nerves.

Script Notes

In the screenplay, Hopper is immediately woken up by his alarm clock.
In the pilot, the audience see Hopper’s messy apartment before he is woken up by a dog barking.

In the screenplay, after Hopper gets in his car, the camera moves to a family picture of Hopper with his family.
In the pilot, the family picture is cut. However before Hopper is shown getting woken up, a child’s drawing of a happy family is shown.

In the pilot, Joyce tells Jonathan that he can’t take shifts while she is working.

In the screenplay, Jonathan tells Joyce he was at his dark room.
In the pilot, Jonathan tells Joyce he picked up an extra shift.

In the screenplay, Jonathan leaves to look for Will.
In the pilot, Jonathan is not shown leaving.

In the screenplay, bullies make fun of Mike’s birthmark on his face.
In the pilot, Mike does not have a birthmark. The bullies instead make fun of all main characters.

In the screenplay, Mike sees his crush Jennifer after his encounter with the bullies.
In the pilot, Jennifer is never introduced.

In the screenplay, a slightly drunk Steve invites Nancy to a bonfire party.
In the pilot, a sober Steve invites Nancy to study.

In the screenplay, Flo tells Hoppers of several issues and complaints before telling him about Will missing.
In the pilot, just one issue is told to Hopper and then he is told about Will missing.

In the pilot, an explanation is given as the agents walk through the tunnel.

Act 3
Structure

Added:
Flashback scene of Joyce visiting Will at his homemade fort.
Joyce and Jonathan searching for Will in the area of his homemade fort.
Group of people listening to phone calls, specifically Joyce calling Lonnie.

Cut:

Eleven watches patrons eat through the window from outside of Benny’s.
Eleven sneaks around a sleeping dog to get into Benny’s.
Eleven tastes fish in the cold storage and then grabs a bunch to steal.
Eleven is caught by Benny outside as she is stopped by the dog.
Vice Principal interrupting class to ask speak to the boys.
Hopper and the officers following Will’s trail on the beach.
A black mark on the wall of the shed begins spreading.

Main Points

Eleven is on the run from something.
Hopper and his officers investigate where Will disappeared.

Breakdown

A:
Hopper’s shed examination is slightly changed, with less of an experience as in the screenplay. Hopper doesn’t actually see anything abnormal, but he does hear strange noises before being interrupted by his deputy.

B:
The scene of Eleven being caught at Benny’s restaurant is reduced, but it doesn’t take anything important away.

The guard dog is removed because it is likely that killing an animal was warranted as unneeded. Killing Benny was enough to impact Eleven. There’s just something about animal deaths that can be unsettling to audience.

C: Nothing Changed.

End of Act 3:
Screenplay: After Hopper searches the shed, a black blob is shown spreading on the wall.
Pilot: After Hopper searches the shed, he orders a search party.

Script Notes:
In the screenplay, Eleven walks through the back and finds the storage room before running out and getting caught outside by Benny.
In the pilot, Eleven walks in and eats fries before being spotted and caught by Benny.

In the screenplay, the teacher lectures before being interrupted by the vice principal.
In the pilot, the bell immediately rings and the teacher just reminds the students to study. The teacher then asks the boys if they would like to see the new ham radio. The vice principal then interrupts them while they are playing with the ham radio.

In the screenplay, the boys mention the shortcut is near Camp hero.
In the pilot, the boys do not mention the shortcut being near the base.

In the screenplay, Benny is cooking a fish on the oven.
In the pilot, Benny is cooking a beef patty.

In the screenplay, Benny calls Flo from the police department and gets social services number from her.
In the pilot, Benny calls social services directly.

In the screenplay, Eleven showcases her powers by stopping a squeaky door from swinging.
In the pilot, Eleven showcases her powers by stopping a squeaky fan from spinning.

In the pilot, Joyce’s message to Lonnie is cut down.

In the screenplay, the phone rings and Joyce hears static on the other end before Hopper knocks at the door.
In the pilot, the phone does not ring and Jonathan spots the cops coming up the driveway through the window.

In the pilot, Joyce asks the officers about Will’s bike as they search the house.

In the screenplay, Hopper notices the missing rifle and finger prints in the dust. He then experiences loud noises and briefly sees the figure that Will saw.
In the pilot, Hopper only notices the bullets on the table. He then investigates some noise coming from the corner, but doesn’t see the figure.

In the screenplay, the deputy tells Hopper that his ear is bleeding in the shed.
In the pilot, Hopper’s ear does not bleed.

In the screenplay, Hopper dumps out his pills after his experience in the shed.
In the pilot, Hopper does not dump out his pills.

Act 4
Structure

Added:
Steve sneaks into Nancy’s room.

Cut:
Mike sneaks past his dad to get out of the house.
Eleven kills Agents with a metal door.

Main Points

Mike sneaks out to look for Will.
Steve sneaks in to study with Nancy.
Benny is killed by agents and Eleven gets away.

Breakdown

A: Nothing Changed.

B:
Benny’s death is changed as Eleven sees Benny get shot. She escapes but isn’t shown on screen using her powers on the men who get in her way.

It is interesting to note that the Agents are more concerned with capturing Eleven than the monster that is roaming around taking people. The agents are aware of it, which makes you think that they know they need the solution in Eleven before they face the problem.

C:
Steve sneaks in to study with Nancy instead of Nancy sneaking out. There isn’t much conflict with this storyline, just Steve trying not to be a player anymore.

End of Act 4:
Screenplay: Eleven hears Benny get killed and then knocks Agents out with a door before escaping.
Pilot: Eleven sees Benny get killed and then escapes out the back after knocking out two agents.

Script Notes

In the screenplay, Holly cries after Mike and Nancy leave the table.
In the pilot, Holly does not cry, but Karen still picks her up and takes her away.

In the screenplay, Mike and Nancy cross paths as they sneak out.
In the pilot, Mike sees Steve sneaking into Nancy’s room.

In the screenplay, Eleven feeds the dog while Benny does dishes.
In the pilot, Eleven eats ice cream while Benny does dishes.

In the screenplay, Eleven points out a name tattooed to Benny and says Brother freaking Benny out. This is likely another showcase of Eleven’s powers.
In the pilot, Benny doesn’t show Eleven any tattoos.

In the screenplay, the agent who shoots Benny is red-haired.
In the pilot, the agent who shoots Benny is blond.

In the screenplay, the agents also kill the dog.
In the pilot, there is no dog, so it is not killed.

In the screenplay, Eleven does not see Benny die but hears a gunshot.
In the pilot, Eleven sees Benny get shot.

In the screenplay, Eleven escapes through the back door after killing agents with a metal door.
In the pilot, Eleven escapes through the back door by killing Agents off screen.

In the pilot, the agents trying to capture Eleven are the same agents who investigated the underground base.

Act 5
Structure

Added:
Steven and Nancy study chemistry.

Cut:
Steve shows up and takes Nancy away from Bonfire.
Steve and Nancy have sex on the beach.
Barb is disgusted and leaves the bonfire.
Barb tries to find Nancy, but decides to leave without her.
Barb storms back to her car.
Barb turns on the car and it goes haywire.
Barb disappears.
Jonathan arrives home and Chester paces outside the shed.
Barb walks through a shadow realm screaming but no one can hear her.
Joyce and Jonathan hear a loud grumbling.
Hopper hears the grumbling too as he sees a large black electric cloud in the sky hovering over the lab.

Main Points:

Joyce and Jonathon create missing posters and get a phone call.
While looking for Will, the boys find Eleven.
Steve and Nancy study.

Breakdown:

A:
There is no giant cloud over the entire city. Everything remains relatively normal to the rest of the town.

B:Nothing Changed.

C:
The bonfire scene is cut entirely and with it the scene of Barb getting captured.
The scene of Barb walking in a different realm is also cut, which is a significant plot point, but probably saved for later.
As they study, Steve briefly gets intimate with Nancy, but backs off instead of forcing himself on her like he did in the screenplay. Steve being too aggressive would have set this story line in a complete lose-lose direction. You either lose the Steve and Nancy story line or if you kept Steve and Nancy together, you risk promoting aggressive behavior being appropriate from men as long as they’re handsome, which given the recent headlines wouldn’t be smart.

End of Act 5:
Screenplay: A blue light flashes behind a cloud emitting a grow so all people of the town can see.
Pilot: The boys run into Eleven in the middle of the forest during a rainstorm.

Script Notes

In the screenplay, the boys meet up and then decide to go to Mirkwood.
In the pilot, the boys meet at Mirkwood and then decide to search for Will, with Dustin protesting the idea.

In the screenplay, there is no mention of rain during the night.
In the pilot, it is raining during the night.

In the screenplay, Jonathan arrives home from searching for Will and finds Joyce going through pictures.
In the pilot, Jonathan and Joyce are already home and looking through photos.

In the screenplay, Joyce hears Will’s voice on the phone and then a shriek cuts the line dead.
In the pilot, Will’s voice isn’t heard very clearly and an electric shock from the receiver cuts the line dead. Joyce also reassures Jonathan that it was Will on the phone.

In the pilot, before the boys find Eleven, Dustin encourages the boys to go back arguing that Will was lost here and they have no weapons to defend themselves.

Overall Breakdown

Stranger Things has been a hit since it’s been released on Netflix. I have yet to watch it, but just from the news I hear, it has become popular among all age groups and is looking to build off a successful second season.

The Duffer brothers created Stranger Things with a full plan for the first season which is becoming more and more common and gives fans hope for a climatic payoff planned and built up from the start.

The two main stories stay the same for the most part with slight details changed. The big changes come with the story line involving Nancy and Steven, and the ending of the episode.

Nancy and Steve’s bonfire party is replaced with a quiet night of studying at Nancy’s house with a showcase of Steve’s charm and Nancy’s intelligence. With the original conflict having Steve force himself on Nancy, it was a good decision not to start the beginning of a new show with a questionable rape scene. Steve is given more dialogue to work with instead of drunken slurs and we have the beginning of a love story between the two. Had the show gone with the initial scene, Steve may have been come an irredeemable or unlikable character. Judging from the fanfare he is receiving now, it seems like a good decision.

The other major change is holding off on several reveals. The end of the script reveals Barb in a shadow realm and an oncoming storm. Both of these concepts were cut, but it is likely the concepts were used in later episodes.

The pilot script has a certain level of creative decision involved. With a feature screenplay, the writer has to put everything on table from start to finish. With a pilot, the writer has to find the right balance of what to reveal and what to save. The obvious problem with that is if you don’t generate enough interest from what is revealed, then you never get to reveal what is saved.

The Duffer Brothers decided to put most of it on the table in their pilot in hopes that possibilities created by the plot points would generate enough interest from networks and it worked.

Stranger Things is great example of why planning a series isn’t necessarily a bad idea. If there is enough substance in the idea and the significant elements are unique enough to generate interest, production will then decide the best direction. The title Montauk wasn’t going to get people excited. Steve being a one-dimensional frat rapist and revealing too much of the mystery at the end were all decisions changed to make the show appeal to the mainstream and it worked.

As a writer, if you have faith in your idea, it doesn’t hurt to think of the mainstream appeal. Always put yourself in the shoes of your target market and think how a commercial would look for your show and what gets you excited about it. If you can’t do that, then it may be a sign to move onto another project.

Screenwriting Techniques

To Show or Not to Show

Stranger Things reveals a lot at the end of the screenplay, but it is all cut in the pilot. The writer needs to find the balance between what to reveal and what to keep a mystery. However if you want to generate interest and the mystery is a key selling point, it doesn’t hurt to reveal too much in the pilot. As Stranger Things shows, ideas will be changed if the payoff is better later in the season than in the pilot episode.

Continuous Scenes

Stranger Things screenplay highlights scenes in bold that continue in different locations without using a slug line. This isn’t a common practice, but if formatted properly it does the job fine.

Formatting

Stranger Things was well formatted and laid out, making it easy to read and break down. Older scripts from experienced screenwriters having varying forms of formatting, some pretty, some not. The Duffer Brothers take no chance in presentation and present a clean, easy-to-read script.

Descriptive Sounds

The monster in Stranger Things relies a lot on sounds of various sorts. If you’re looking for ways to be creative and descriptive with sounds, check out the scenes involving the monster.

Chase

The chase of Will from the forest throughout his house is suspenseful and well-written. If there is a chase scene in your screenplay, be sure to check it out.

Thanks for reading and feedback is appreciated.

Next Pilot: Halt and Catch Fire

2 comments

  1. Wow, I’ve only just discovered this through a post on Reddit. Incredible! I went back and had a read of the True Detective article and was just as impressed. Love the work you do, it’s super useful to an aspiring screenwriter and I hope you keep going with them!

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