Stranger Things returns to on Friday, Oct. 27 with the a second season of the breakout hit sci-fi series. That means fans of the popular and critically-acclaimed streaming series will soon be catching up with Eleven, Sheriff Hopper, and the residents of Hawkins, Ind. (not to mention the Upside Down).
Netflix started streaming the show’s first season in July 2016 and Stranger Things quickly developed a global following of fans who have anxiously awaited more episodes for over a year. In the meantime, the Stranger Things cast has popped up in any number of pop culture touchstones--from a Super Bowl ad to the award shows’ opening numbers--while the show went on to win five Emmys and finish 2016 as one of the most-streamed shows online, according to some estimates. (Of course, Netflix does not release any official viewership data.)
Now, Stranger Things fans only have to wait a few more days for more episodes of the hit Netflix series after months of the streaming service teasing the new season with trailers and clips for months. Recently, Fortune spoke with a pair of Netflix executives, as well as Stranger Things Director of Photography Tim Ives (Girls, House of Cards), about what to expect from Season 2 of Stranger Things, including how the nostalgia-packed show is filmed in ultra high-definition and how Netflix leverages its reams of user data to personalize how subscribers discover and watch the show in more than a dozen different languages.
Where in the world is Stranger Things most popular?
It didn’t take long for us to figure out that Netflix had a hit on its hands in the U.S. when Stranger Things debuted last summer. But did the rest of the world catch on just as quickly? Interestingly, the country that jumped on the Stranger Things bandwagon the fastest was Canada, where Netflix says its users binged the series faster than any other region. “In Canada, they just dove in,” Todd Yellin, Netflix’s vice president of product, told reporters recently.
According to Netflix, it only took one month for people in more than 190 countries to watch the show’s first season. (Yellin also noted that the show even had one viewer in Antarctica.) The countries that downloaded the show the most were Morocco, Greece, and the Philippines, while Yellin noted that downloading is generally more common in countries with spottier Internet service, where viewers try to avoid long buffering waits.
Part of the challenge of getting a hit show to catch on in so many different countries is making sure the material can cross various language and cultural borders. That’s where Netflix’s team working on voice dubbing and subtitles came in. Led by Denny Sheehan, Netflix’s director of content localization and quality control, Netflix offers subtitles for its programming in more than 20 different languages, including English, while working with the creators of shows like Stranger Things to make sure that nothing is lost in translation. For example, the game Dungeons & Dragons figures prominently in Stranger Things‘ plot, namely the Demogorgon monster. But the game isn’t widely played in certain countries, so Sheehan’s team had to tweak the dubbed or subtitled dialogue in certain cases to avoid confusion for some international viewers.
This video from Netflix shows a scene from Season 1 of Stranger Things dubbed in nine different languages or dialects:
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How Netflix tailors its Stranger Things marketing
Netflix personalizes its shows’ actual content based on viewers’ preferred languages. But the streaming service also uses its treasure trove of user data to tailor how each viewer interacts with programming on the Netflix app or website based on the types of shows and movies they typically watch.
For instance, if Netflix’s data shows that you prefer comedies to dramas, then that will affect the lead image you see when Stranger Things pops up in your feed of recommended shows on the main Netflix page. Fans of horror programming will see a lead image featuring actress Millie Bobby Brown’s Eleven character staring out ominously at them, while comedy fans will see a more innocuous image of the characters Nancy and Jonathan looking astonished by something off in the distance.
How Stranger Things captures the nostalgia effect, even in high-def
Tim Ives, Stranger Things‘ director of photography, told reporters recently that Netflix is ahead of the curve when it comes to producing TV and film programming in ultra high-definition formats like 4K and HDR. But Ives is also adamant that the modern filming technology does not take anything away from the inherent nostalgia invoked by a show like Stranger Things, which he said is meant to look like a TV series that was shot in the decade in which it’s set, the 1980s.
Ives said that the show’s creators, the Duffer brothers, put together a list of 1980s movies and other relevant pop culture references that they associated with the decade. “The script and their packaging reeked of this nostalgia that I felt instantly,” he said. For that reason, it was important to Ives that the 4K and HDR formats do not detract from the show’s nostalgic aesthetic.
Even while shooting with 4K cameras, Ives said, his team tested different combinations of cameras, lenses, and lighting until they were able to find the perfect “soft look” for the show. “That was something we tested quite heavily in both seasons to make sure our images have the soft and round tones that we wanted, and that we felt like we’d seen in a lot of 80s films,” he said. Ives added that HDR filming even helped the Stranger Things crew when it came to shooting darker scenes with little lighting. “On Stranger Things, we like to see a little bit into the darkness . . .” he said. “It helps with keeping things scary.”
Will the show look different in Season 2?
Ives and the Duffer brothers made no secret about the many cinematic influences that helped shape the look of Stranger Things’ first season, including movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. the Extraterrestrial. “Spielberg was the big one for Season 1,” Ives said.
Ives said the process of filming the show “evolved” between Season 1 and Season 2, but the show’s directors still wanted a fair amount of continuity in the look and feel of the show. As anyone who has seen trailers for the new season can probably tell, Season 2 looks to feature the terrifyingly apocalyptic world of the Upside Down (giant monsters and all) even more prominently. Ives is reluctant to prematurely reveal any plot details about the new season, but he seemed to confirm that the action will get even bigger in Season 2.
“The second season has a larger scope, but still has all of the heart and humanity that [viewers] responded to in Season 1,” Ives said. He added that the crew used a lot of the same technology in Season 2, but they “just went bigger,” including more high-angle shots from cranes and remote drones.
As for which cinematic and pop culture influences will be more apparent in Season 2, Ives said the new season will be “more colorful” as it even starts to draw from more 1990s-period works, including James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
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