About the Book
About the Author
Title Page
Chapter One The Vanishing Will Byers
Chapter Two The Weirdo on Maple Street
Chapter Three Holly Jolly
Chapter Four The Body
Chapter Five The Flea and the Acrobat
Chapter Six The Monster
Chapter Seven The Bathtub
Chapter Eight The Upside Down
Appendix 1 Hardly Strangers
Appendix 2 Even Stranger Sounds
Appendix 3 80s Movie Playlist
Appendix 4 Quiz Answers

About the Book

Grab your Eggos and prepare to enter Hawkins, Indiana – just don’t forget your fairy lights.

If you devoured Stranger Things and you’re looking to fill the Demogorgon-sized hole in your life, then look no further than Notes From the Upside Down. This handbook is here to tell you all about the origins of the show, including the mysterious Montauk Project conspiracy theory, and to provide you with an ace 80s playlist and all the obscure facts you could wish for. Not to mention entirely silly things to occupy you.

If you’ve ever wondered why Spielberg is such a huge influence, which Stephen King books you need to read (HINT: pretty much all of them) and how State Trooper David O’Bannon earned his name, then this book is for you.

About the Author

Guy Adams lives in Spain, surrounded by rescue animals. Some of them are his family. He isn’t a spy, but he is a boy, so naturally he’s always dreamed of being one.

Having spent over ten years working as a professional actor and comedian, eventually he decided he’d quite like to eat regularly, so switched careers and became a full-time writer. Nobody said he was clever. Against all odds he managed to stay busy and since then he has written over twenty books.

Title page for Notes From the Upside Down – Inside the World of Stranger Things: An Unofficial Handbook to the Hit TV Series
Title page for Notes From the Upside Down – Inside the World of Stranger Things: An Unofficial Handbook to the Hit TV Series

AH … REMEMBER THE eighties? Things were simpler back then: we had a divisive, ruthless woman in Downing Street, a tanned showboating Republican in the White House and all we had to worry about were rumblings from Russia and violence in the Middle East. Happy days. I doubt we’ll see their like again.

The world of television was certainly simpler. We had limited choices, and those we did have were more ephemeral. Yes, you might be lucky enough to video your favourite show (if you could afford the tape), but chances are, once you’d seen it, it was gone. But that was OK, because we had books, novelisations so we could relive the story (only with better special effects) and maybe even books about the show so we could find out what exactly it was that a producer did, and what else we’d seen that bloke on the left in, no that one, yes, the one holding the plastic ray gun while lumps of fibreglass from the planet Alpharis descend on him.

Of course, now, we have streaming, we have downloads, we have TV that never goes away. As for books, who needs them? That’s what the Internet’s for.

Oh. Hello. Welcome to Notes from the Upside Down: Inside the World of Stranger Things. I’m a book. Sorry.

Maybe I’m just another eighties reference. A nostalgic wink.

So what’s the point of me?

Well, on the one hand, I can but hope that some of the people picking me up aren’t so immersed in the show that I can’t tell them a few things they didn’t know. That would be nice. I have lots of facts; enjoy them, sprinkle them into dinner conversation until all your guests leave (at which point fire up Netflix and watch something, who needs friends?).

For the rest of you, the ones who know everything, I hope you’ll find plenty of interest here too. I particularly hope you find things – movies, TV shows, books – linked to the show that you didn’t know so much about and maybe haven’t seen or read. I would like that very much. If this book makes just one person watch Gary Sherman’s 1981 movie Dead and Buried, I shall consider my time well spent.fn1

Most of all, I hope this book is simply this: a fun conversation – albeit a rather one-sided one, sorry, feel free to shout back – between fans of the show. When you love something it’s nice to go on about it a bit, isn’t it? This is me. Going on.

Here’s how it works: as well as couple of general sections looking at the creation of the show and the cast involved, we’ll look at each episode and – as well as boring you with my opinionfn2 – I’ll talk about references the episode contains, songs featured, I’ll even highlight the odd member of guest cast for special consideration. Because Andrew Benator deserves his name in a book, don’t you think?fn3 I’ll also be discussing the major influences on the show, from Stephen King to Steven Spielberg, Drew Struzan to Richard Greenberg. I’ll talk about secret government projects, and Dungeons and Dragons and … oh, you know, fun stuff.fn4

There’s even a quiz. I KNOW.

So, to hell with the Internet; just for a minute, let’s pretend it’s the eighties again. Let’s remember when there was nothing better than a dense, excitable sourcebook detailing worlds of the imagination.

Roll ten or more to turn the page and let’s have fun.


So, everyone likes Stranger Things, yes? You can’t move for people wafting frozen egg-based foodstuffs around and bopping to the ominous synth pulsing of John Carpenter, certainly not in my house. So it must have been an easy show to get on our screens?


This is TV, nothing is ever easy in TV.

Though, in fairness, despite the odd speed bump, Stranger Things had an easier ride than some. Before we delve deeper into minutiae and wallow in the murky, mad old business of dissecting the show as if it were a rubber-and-kapok-stuffed faux Will Byers, let’s treat ourselves to a BMX bike-ride through the UFO-lit forest of its creation.


Ross and Matt Duffer are twins, fraternal or identical they don’t know and they’re in no rush to find out. They were born in 1984 and grew up in the middle of nowhere in Durham, North Carolina. As any fantasist knows, the middle of nowhere is an easy place to escape from; all you need is a good book or movie. A love of the likes of Spielberg, Stephen King and John Carpenter struck early on, as they wrote in an essay for Entertainment Weekly:

“We were pretty ordinary kids growing up in the suburbs of North Carolina, and when we watched these films and read these books, it made us feel like our rather normal lives had the potential for adventure. Maybe tomorrow we would find a treasure map in the attic, or maybe one of us would vanish into the television screen, or maybe there was a clown in that sewer grate down the street.”

Speaking to, Ross would add: “Why we loved this stuff so much is because these movies and books were about very ordinary people we could relate to, that we understood … That was always our favourite type of story, and that’s the stuff we fell in love with. The peak of those type of ordinary-meets-extraordinary stories was in the ’80s.”

So, yes, the Duffer Brothers were dreamers. They were basically Mike, Dustin, Lucas and Will.fn5 More, I’m betting they were everyone that’s reading this book.

Take the middle of nowhere, add a sizeable amount of escapist fantasy and it’s only a matter of time before a kid starts making things up themselves. The Duffer Brothers began making movies by fourth grade.fn6

In an interview with North Carolina’s The News & Observer, they claimed that their first directorial obsession was with the work of Tim Burton.fn7 They thought his movies, especially when you’re young, were incredibly visual and distinct. They were able to recognise the job of director and identify with Tim’s movies.

Their first homemade movie was based on Magic: The Gathering and was effectively just the two of them beating one another with plastic swords.fn8 We all have to start somewhere. They had no editing equipment and the soundtrack consisted of Danny Elfman music played live through a tape recorder.fn9

For all they consider their first attempts unwatchable, a habit was formed and every summer they would make a new movie. It’s no great surprise that they ended up studying film in California at Chapman University. While studying, they continued making short movies, including We All Fall Down about the bubonic plague in 1666, which won Best Short at the Deep Ellum Film Festival in 2005.

For their senior thesis they adapted the short story Eater by Peter Crowther,fn10 which can be viewed in its entirety onlinefn11 and which secured them representation by the Paradigm Talent Agency. Things seemed to be on the up and they sold a script for their first full-length feature, Hidden, to Warner Bros with both of them attached as directors.

Hidden tells the story of a family in a fallout shelter, hiding from the after effects of a viral outbreak. Alexander Skarsgård and Andrea Riseborough were cast and it seemed the Duffer Brothers’ big break was on the cards. Sadly, the studio delayed the release of the movie for three years (even then it only crept out on VOD). While they were waiting, they pitched ideas for the studio’s planned adaptation of the Stephen King novel It but were turned down.

Luckily, all was not lost; noted director M. Night Shyamalan had read, and liked, the script for Hidden and offered the Duffer Brothers a writer/producer job on the TV show he was developing, Wayward Pines. They ended up writing four episodes of the show’s first season and, perhaps more importantly, learned a great deal about the process of making television.

Talking to Rolling Stone magazine, Ross said, “That became our training ground, and M. Night Shyamalan became a great mentor to us. By the time we came out of that show, we were like, ‘OK, we know how to put together a show.’ And that’s when we wrote Stranger Things.”


The initial inspiration for their story was the 2013 movie Prisoners, starring Hugh Jackman. The movie told the story of a man desperately trying to find his abducted daughter.

“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t that movie have been even better in eight hours on HBO or Netflix?’” Matt told Rolling Stone. “So we started talking about a missing-person story.”

In the same interview, Ross elaborated: “It was great seeing those characters in that tone on the big screen, but we thought it needed more. It was taking that idea of a missing child and combining it with the more childlike sensibilities that we have. You know, can we put a monster in there that eats people? Because we are nerds and children at heart, we thought it was the best thing ever.”

But they didn’t want their monster to be magical; they wanted the show to be rooted in science rather than the supernatural. This led them to discuss stories of weird scientific experiments conducted during the Cold War, secret projects such as MKUltra.fn12 They also had the realisation that setting the show in the eighties would not only fit the style of story they wanted to tell, but also allow them to pay homage to their childhood loves. They wrote a pilot script. Now all they had to do was sell it. Easy, right?


Well, it was easy to find a production company. Pitching the pilot script to networks, they met with rejection after rejection, fifteen to twenty in all. Networks didn’t like the fact that the show centred on a group of kids and yet wasn’t being pitched as a children’s show. They had initially assumed Netflix – who had built a business model on producing shows from established names, not up-and-coming talent – wouldn’t be interested, but when Dan Cohen and Shawn Levy at 21 Laps Entertainment came on board as producers, the Duffer Brothers were proved wrong. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Levy pitched to Netflix immediately and they bought it within twenty-four hours of the pitch.


Originally, the Duffer Brothers had wanted to set the show in a seaside town, thinking of Amity Island in Jaws. They settled on Montauk, New York due to the area’s links with secret government experiments.fn13 Ideas like that are fine on paper but when it comes to filming, practical issues get in the way. Talking to The Hollywood Reporter, Matt explained:

“It was really going to be impossible to shoot in or around Long Island in the wintertime. It was just going to be miserable and expensive. We’re actually from North Carolina, so when we wound up in Atlanta and I started scouting Atlanta we got excited about it, because it looked actually much more like our own childhoods.”

Slowly the show we know is coming together, and with the casting, things fall into place even more. Carmen Cuba, casting director for a wide range of projects, from movies for Steven Soderberghfn14 to TV shows Sense8 and HBO’s Looking. It was Cuba who brought the suggestion of Winona Ryder to the table. The Duffers, Levy and Cohen immediately loved the idea, though not – as you might imagine – for reasons of nostalgia but simply because Ryder was a great actress who would bring a perfect quality to the show. A quality that ended up leaking into the script, as Matt told Bustle. com: “We knew she had a very specific energy and we thought we would lean into that, and that lead us to talking about Richard Dreyfuss’s role in Close Encounters … the idea of ‘Winona Versus The World,’ we loved that idea.” Having recently enjoyed filming TV miniseries Show Me a Hero, Ryder read the script and signed up. She also brought a more unconventional idea to the role of Joyce Byers: her haircut. The actress wanted her to look like Meryl Streep in the movie Silkwood.fn15

Above all – as it should be – the casting simply came down to finding the best possible actors. In the case of Ryder and Modine they brought big, recognisable names, but that was never the main interest on the part of the production team. To use David Harbour as an example, an actor who had a whole string of supporting roles behind him, it was decided that he would be perfect for the lead role of Chief Hopper.

“We just had a feeling that it was his time,” says Levy in the same interview. “He took it and he made this choice that was simplicity, and about strength, and a depth of pain that he would very rarely show. You’ll notice his performance is incredibly controlled. There is a stillness to Hopper that is so strong and so compelling on screen.”

Of course, the greatest challenge would be in finding child actors. Ross admitted the danger to

“We knew that a bad child performance would kill the show because so much rests on these kids’ shoulders. What you’re looking for are kids that feel real and naturalistic. Of course, watching Stand By Me is, to me, the pinnacle of child performances in movies or shows.fn16 It doesn’t get much better than that, and those kids, you feel like you know them instantly and they feel real. So many kids nowadays, it’s almost like they go through this Disney training where they’re taught to be cute and play it up for the camera, and they’re trying to get laughs. What we were looking for were kids that, you just felt like you knew them.”

Given Stand By Me was a touchstone for the Duffer Brothers, it’s perhaps not surprising that they used scenes from the movie as audition scripts.

Carmen Cuba, in an interview with, points out a very important detail in that you’re not casting kids, you’re casting actors: “We needed every single actor to have a subtlety and an inner life that didn’t necessarily need words to define them, and we held the kids and teens to the same standard. We didn’t discuss it at the time, but it’s clear that we weren’t thinking of them as kid or teen actors … the Duffer Brothers were really expecting them to be able to deliver a very rich human experience despite what age body they were in.”

Given the potential difficulties involved, the search was on from the moment the series was green lit. They ended up seeing over a thousand kids for the various roles. As there was still only the pilot episode written at this stage, the Duffer Brothers were able to tailor the characters to the actors they eventually found, willing to shift their initial ideas as new, better, possibilities became evident. A perfect example being the character of Steve, who became a lot softer, more rounded, thanks to the input of actor Joe Keery. Matt, talking to the Daily Beast, said:

“And this is what’s so fun about television, even though we think of this as a big movie: movies aren’t eight hours long. You’re able to change things up a little bit. Steve initially was a stereotypical douchebag. He was a trope. And then a couple things happened and we found Joe Keery, this actor who didn’t really fit our vision for Steve. But we just fell in love with this guy and wanted him in the show and kind of tailored the show for him. They thought Joe was charming and likable, even when he was being a douchebag in character, so they decided they would give him an arc.

Shooting began on a schedule of eleven days per episode, slightly over average for a TV show. There was an added advantage that, with Netflix’s release model – the entire series being available at once – episodes could be put to one side during the editing process and returned to later, allowing them to work on all eight as a whole, tweaking them once everything was in the can.


Thinking in terms of the movies they had loved so much when they were young, the Duffer Brothers wanted to avoid using digital effects, but sadly that was impractical as Ross told the Daily Beast:

“… What we realized – and it really made us admire those guys who did The Thing and Alien and whatever – is that doing practical is really hard. It takes a lot of time and preparation. We were turning out scripts as quickly as we could, but they don’t have six months to prep this stuff … It takes a lot of trial and error, so that was a lesson learned. At one point we tried to have the monster break through a wall practically and it just … It looked ridiculous.

“If anyone saw the test footage, they would be rolling on the floor laughing. So it was just us going, ‘OK. Some of this we’re gonna have to just do with visual effects.’ But I think it’s something that, for example, J.J. Abrams does a pretty brilliant job of. Like in the new Star Wars, he used a mix of both practical and visual effects and it’s as seamless as possible. So for something like the lab, most of the vines and all that stuff throbbing and coming out of the hole, that’s all production design. We built all that. But then where we needed to do stuff that we didn’t have the time to figure out how to do practically, that becomes visual effects. It was a bit of 50-50 in the end.

For a lot of viewers a very important part of the post-production process, and a huge part of the overall atmosphere of the show, came with the soundtrack, composed by Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon.

As part of the initial pitch, the Duffer Brothers had spliced together a ‘sizzle reel’ of clips from the movies they loved partnered up with cues from director and composer John Carpenter. They knew they wanted an electronic score, something that could evoke that old sound, and they found it in the form of Austin band Survive, who had recently contributed to the soundtrack of Adam Wingard’s movie The Guest (2014).fn17 They contacted the band and Dixon and Stein came on board very early, even before actors were cast.

The duo composed a set of demos, to give an idea of the range they could bring to it – not just the horror moments but the quieter, emotional cues that would be needed – and the Duffer Brothers played the music while they were casting, just to keep in touch with the tone of what they were aiming for.

Both Stein and Dixon were also influenced by movies, quoting soundtrack artists such as Carpenter, Tangerine Dream, Giorgio Moroder and Goblin when interviewed in Rolling Stone magazine. That said, they were quick to point out that they actually pushed for a more seventies tone musically, given that the eighties brought a colder, less rich electronic sound. “We’re just drawn to seventies recording styles a little more,” Dixon told the journalist, “I mean, eighties is great, and we love all that stuff too. But we try to make it sound a little warmer.”

To say they succeeded is to state the obvious. Their music – along with tracks from other artists, which will be noted and discussed when we talk about individual episodes – is the backbone of the show, as Shawn Levy notes in an interview with “… They were able to really cover a texture that not only gives a nod to that period, but I think also serves as an emotional storytelling device and a real core piece of the show, I think almost as a character. There were three storylines going on independent of one another for a while, and they bridge together in the sort of third act of the show. And I think one of the main things that connect them beyond family blood is this score that’s kind of guiding them all together.”


And then, on 15th July 2016, the show dropped. It’s worth pointing out at this point that all TV shows involve the kind of effort we’ve merely skimmed the surface of above. Countless crews of people all pulling a thing into the world in the desperate hope it’s going to land in front of an audience that like it. Many, many times, a show simply doesn’t find the audience it needs.fn18 Yes, those involved can hope – they can even make informed guesses – but you can never completely know. Would Stranger Things get the reception it deserved?

Just a bit.

You won’t believe this, but some idiot even ended up writing a book about it.


Peter Crowther, the author of the short story Eater that the Duffer Brothers adapted for their final dissertation, is a phenomenal author and anthologist who deserves far more recognition than he gets (and he gets a fair bit: his collection of stories, Lonesome Roads, won a British Fantasy Award for Best Collection in 2000). His work has the lyrical quality of Ray Bradbury and would certainly be enjoyed by any fan of Stranger Things (as much as it clearly was by the show’s creators). So hunt down a copy of one of his short story collections and get stuck in. It doesn’t matter which; once you’ve adored one I have every faith you’ll hunt down the rest anyway.

Pete is also a publisher: his company PS Publishing works with authors such as Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King and the late – and much missed – Ed Gorman.