Duffer Brothers Talk Rejection and Success in Hollywood at SXSL

On Sunday, the American Film Institute welcomed artists of the 3rd Annual White House Student Film Festival to premiere over 700 short films all centered on one theme: The World I Want to Live In. The students were joined by special guests Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer, Executive Producers Shawn Levy and Dan Cohen, and cast member Millie Bobby Brown.

The Duffers discussed the challenges they faced for years in Hollywood and how they eventually came to develop the pilot script for Stranger Things:


You’re going to all these studios and these producers and you’re pitching. And you know, all we got was no, no, no… And people are super rude in Hollywood. There’s a ton of no’s and a lot of rejection. Because you come out really excited and it’s just doors getting slammed in your face over and over again and we started to freak out a little bit because it felt for a moment it felt actually impossible.


 We had like a month of money left. And we huddled in our small apartment and we decided to do something we haven’t done. Which is like, we’re just going to write something that we would want to see. Not what we think other people want or what other people think is cool, or what what’s the in-thing in the industry right now. We’re like lets just write something for ourselves.

It would still be some time before The Duffers would find success. Their passion project, Hidden was not received well by the studio resulting in The Duffers having to go back to the drawing board.

The Duffers went on to add that even after they developed the script, look book, and a fake trailer for Stranger (formerly known as Montauk), they still had a hard time getting network executives to see the project the way they saw it but the brothers didn’t give up.


The reason we’re telling you all of this is to try, as much as possible, to tell stories that mean something to you. That matter to you. Tell stories that you want to see out in the world. And I know it sounds easy now but as you get out there in Los Angeles or New York, it’s very easy to kind of lose your way. I mean the phrase ‘chase your dream,’ I don’t think you should chase the dream at all. I think you should chase the feeling you have when you’re making these movies. The way that makes you feel when you’re making something that you love, you should chase that feeling. And I really believe if you do that and you stay true to yourself, and stay true to that then the dream will then follow.

The two then were joined by Executive Producers Shawn Levy and Dan Cohen. The script resonated for Cohen immediately in the same way it did for audiences. Levy described what it was like when Cohen walked into his office with the script for Stranger Things:

You need to stop what you’re doing. You need to read this script. Because there is something special here. These are voices that need to be heard.

Last but not least, Millie Bobby Brown came on stage and talked about what it was it was like to play the intensely emotional character of Eleven with such little dialogue.

You have to express yourself without talking. There would be times where I didn’t know what to do with the scene. I couldn’t cry sometimes and I’d ask the Duffers to just tell me something to make me cry! 

Levy also mentioned how Millie had the courage to ask to do another take after production had already began to move on from a scene:

Thats really rare. For an actor to have the kind of strength to stop and slow down the train to say ‘I think I can do better.’ But even at this young age Millie had a sense of her powers and her abilities as an actor and we who directed the show were smart enough to follow the talent and the instincts of the performer and those are the takes that ended up in the show. 

Unfortunately, we didn’t learn any new information regarding Stranger Things 2 beyond what we already know. The story will take place a year later in the fall of 1984 and will deal with the portal that is still open to the upside down.

Stranger Things 2  hits Netflix sometime in 2017.



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