The Strangest Thing: The Twins Behind one of Netflix’s Biggest Hits Got Their Film Bona Fides in Orange

Illustration by Nels Arne

The success of the Duffer brothers’ suspense series “Stranger Things” is as wondrous and intriguing as the idea of alternate dimensions. Fans can’t get enough of the show’s gang of charismatic middle-schoolers (including a telekinetic girl named Eleven), its raft of ’80s cultural references, and a star turn by Winona Ryder. Before the second season’s release this month, here are a few fun facts about Chapman film school graduates Matt and Ross Duffer.

They grew up on the Orange County line—Orange County, North Carolina, that is.
The North Carolina natives spent their childhoods in the suburbs of Durham making movies using a Hi8 video camera, a gift from their parents. Their first film, made when they were in elementary school, was an adaptation of the trading card game “Magic: The Gathering.” Nostalgia for their boyhood sense of freedom and adventure inspires the atmosphere in “Stranger Things.”

They’re twins but don’t know whether they’re fraternal or identical. And they know how weird that sounds.
The brothers looked so similar at birth that everyone assumed they were identical, according to Matt, but they weren’t tested and still aren’t sure. He believes that finding out today that they are not identical could “really screw us up psychologically.”

They felt right at home at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.
“The kids are smart and passionate. And it’s not too pretentious—our senior thesis was about a shape-shifting cannibal, and the students and faculty loved it,” they told The Hollywood Reporter, which listed Chapman as the seventh-best in the country in its 2016 film-school rankings. You can watch that film, “Eater,” on Vimeo.

They also made a student film set during the plague.
“We All Fall Down” takes its title from lines of the old English children’s song, “Ring Around the Rosie,” which some people believe refers to the bubonic plague. In the brothers’ suspenseful short, which they made at Chapman in 2005, a wealthy family flees to the countryside during the Great Plague in 1666, only to be haunted by those they left behind.

They were mentored by M. Night Shyamalan.
The twins wrote a horror screenplay that came to the attention of the “Sixth Sense” director, who liked it enough to hire them to work on his series, “Wayward Pines.” They wrote four episodes of the first season and learned enough about TV production to create “Stranger Things.” 

They have a thing about clowns.
The Duffers say that “It,” the 1990 miniseries based on the Stephen King novel, was one of the scariest horror dramas they saw as kids. They were blown away just after their own series premiere when King tweeted: “STRANGER THINGS is pure fun. A+. Don’t miss it. Winona Ryder shines.”


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