Celebrating "Stranger Things"
Celebrating "Stranger Things"

If you bump into Matt and Ross Duffer when they’re back in town for Chapman Celebrates on November 3-4, 2017 at the Musco Center for the Arts, ask them about “I Saved Superman.”

The 15-minute film, which doesn’t appear on their IMDB profiles, stars Tara Lynne Barr, who is currently in the Hulu series “Casual.” In “Superman,” she plays a pre-teen being raised by her mother, who creates a well-developed fantasy world in her mind. The girl dons a cape and rescues superheroes whenever they get into trouble.

“The film was pretty imaginative. They kept it spare, and I wondered how they could do it on such a small budget,” says Rick Ferncase, who instructed the Duffer brothers in his Intermediate Filmmaking course at Chapman University. “The film showed that these guys could direct. The movie really has a lot in common with ‘Stranger Things.’ ”

“Stranger Things” is the hit Netflix series that recently earned 18 Emmy nominations, including best drama series, and got the twins writing and directing nods. The brothers are currently in the midst of editing the show’s second season in time for its October 27 premiere date.

One week later, the Duffers will be honored with the Alumni Achievement in the Arts award during Chapman Celebrates. The Broadway-style song-and-dance program is the university’s largest, single annual fundraising event. Benefiting Chapman’s Scholarship Fund, the event has raised more than $35 million to date, including $1.6 million last year.

This year’s theme, “Chapman Celebrates Fantasy and Imagination,” will incorporate elements from “Stranger Things,” which is about a group of kids in the early 1980s trying to solve a supernatural mystery.

“I’m reluctant to talk about everything, but we did find a cute way to connect this year’s show to the series,” says Giulio M. Ongaro, Dean of the College of Performing Arts. He’s overseeing the production of the student-led stage show. “We’re going to do it in such a way that in the very beginning people might be slightly confused, but as the show progresses they’ll realize what’s going on.”

The Duffer brothers, who graduated from Chapman in 2007, will be honored during performances on both nights. While on campus, they’ll also spend time talking with students in Chapman’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.

Perhaps the brothers will discuss a writing strategy that worked well for them as Chapman students. Each would start a script, then after a certain point they would compare their work. Whoever had the best start, they’d collaborate on that script until it was finished.

To this day, they prefer working as a single unit on TV and movie productions.

“We think so much alike, and we’ve been doing this together for so long, it’s not like some teams where one person is devoted to the visuals and the camera and [the other] to the performances. We both like both things equally,” Ross Duffer said in a Q&A last year with The Hollywood Reporter. “[We’re] doing these 12- or 14-hour [production] days and writing on the weekends; occasionally you just burn out. It’s nice to have that support, and there’s someone there to pick up the slack.”

Chapman Professor Paul Wolansky saw that approach first-hand when he taught the brothers in an Advanced Feature Screenwriting course. He recalls Ross working on an apocalyptic script about a viral outbreak, while Matt was developing a story about a group of teenagers who happen upon a bomb shelter haunted by a supernatural force.

Some of the ideas they developed at Chapman eventually found their way into “Hidden,” a 2015 feature starring Alexander Skarsgård about a family that takes refuge in a bomb shelter to avoid a dangerous outbreak.

“They had certain things they were interested in and stories they wanted to tell. Those ideas in an earlier form were developed and taken to a much higher level for ‘Stranger Things,’” Wolansky says. “They combined characters from a Steven Spielberg story like ‘The Goonies’ or ‘E.T.’ and put them into a Stephen King kind of world. That tactic developed a really potent, powerful combination.”

Chapman Celebrates will be held November 3-4, 2017 at the Musco Center for the Arts. Tickets are $60 and up. Call 714-628-2750, or visit www.chapman.edu/chapman-celebrates.

Article Published in the
Sep/Oct 17 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review
Written by Orange Plaza Review photos provided by James Minchin / Netflix
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