First Ten Page Breakdown: The “Stranger Things” Pilot

By November 13, 2017Main, Screenwriting 101

Script breakdown by: Travis Maiuro
Written by: The Duffer Brothers

Originally titled Montauk (which is the version this breakdown is focusing on), Stranger Things is a nostalgic, horror sci-fi series that became an overnight sensation. But the secret to its success lies in the script’s handling of its characters. We fall in love with the characters throughout the course of the first season, but it’s in this pilot, this “first chapter,” so to speak, that the love begins.

This pilot effortlessly blends character-driven drama and humor, lived-in 80’s nostalgia, and a good dose of legitimately frightening horror and sci-fi.

TONE AND GENRE

In this “Montauk”-entitled version, there are small differences from the finished product that graced our screens. The script begins with expository titles over black:

The tone of this exposition is certainly ominous. The script then takes us inside Camp Hero and the mystery continues. We track with a SCIENTIST…

It’s a classic horror movie opening. We’re thrown into the middle of destruction, left with no answers, only questions. And the script doesn’t bother clueing us in anytime soon. We immediately cut to:

Despite the off-screen dialogue set up to tease us into thinking we’re still in for some more horror, the tone of the script immediately changes when we’re introduced to the FRIENDS playing Dungeons and Dragons. We understand that there will be a balance here in this script: dark sci-fi interweaving with the everyday actions of Mike, Lucas, Dustin and Will.

This scene continues and the dynamic between the friends is revealed. Their relationship really sets the tone: funny, self-aware, but at the same time, heartfelt. The script makes clear that there’s a deep bond between these guys. Which is important, as one of them is about to go missing and this is the only scene we have of them all together…

So, immediately following a scene of lighthearted antics of preteen boys, the tone shifts and we’re back embracing the darkness of horror. By page 10, the MONSTER of the show has briefly introduced himself… and he’s after Will.

CHARACTER INTRODUCTIONS

As already discussed, the scene in which we meet the boys is crucial, as it’s the only scene we have of all four boys together. This scene must give us a taste of each boy’s personality as well as revealing how deep their bond is. It doesn’t need to beat us over the head with these things; in fact, if it did, the script wouldn’t be as good.

Instead, the script opts for a subtle naturalness: boys being boys. The Dungeons and Dragons sheds light on what type of 12 year-olds these guys are as well as foreshadowing what’s to come in the episode.

These are the only character introductions we get in the first ten pages of this pilot, which tells us these will be the characters we track with the most. The script does a nice job of fashioning each boy with snappy description — not too much, not too little.

WORLD OF THE STORY

As said, this version of the script still has the setting of the show in Montauk, New York which differs from the fictional Hawkins, Indiana that we see on screen. But other than that, the setting

is still the early 1980’s and small town America with a big secret.

This location is juxtaposed with the previously mentioned suburbia of the Wheeler house.

The difference between the two is stark; it’s like describing two different worlds or even two different shows. But that’s the point. The first ten pages makes it known that these two very different worlds are going to collide — and the consequences will be devastating. And the script only needs one and a half pages to introduce “Camp Hero.” It doesn’t feel the need to bog us down, explaining why we’re seeing this facility and how it’s going to come into play. The script respects its audience enough to allow the mystery to thrive for a bit.

DRAMATIC SITUATION

The first ten pages of this pilot sets up, or at least hints at, three separate dramatic situations for the episode, and ultimately, the season. We begin with “Camp Hero,” taking in the devastation. We don’t know much but we know enough that something’s gone wrong… We’ll be revisiting this place to find out what exactly, that’s for sure.

And then we meet the boys. There’s a brief moment after their Dungeons and Dragons game is wrapped up in which we meet NANCY WHEELER.

The boys briefly talk about Steve Harrington, which will end up becoming Nancy’s dramatic situation. It’s a small moment but it helps for the rest of the episode. It also helps to meet Nancy in these first ten pages.

And then the tone shift and the dramatic situation that will propel the entire season comes into play: Will runs into the monster.

THEME

Two of the season’s most important themes are brought to the forefront in these first ten pages. The opening scene hints at the theme of man getting in over his head when he plays “God.” Trying to control too much science backfires. Of course, this isn’t explored deeply in these pages, but it is touched upon. The sparks have ignited.

And one of the more important themes of the season is represented in the dynamic between the four friends. It’s not overt or anything: it’s just boys being boys. But it’s in this simple showcase of friends hanging out that the script reveals its theme of brotherhood. It’s brotherhood that will later propel Mike and company on a quest to find Will. It’s brotherhood that keeps them together through the ups and downs they will face.


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