Go Behind the Scenes of the Upside Down and See How Stranger Things Season 4 Was Made

Wed Jul 06 2022

As one of the biggest streaming services in the world, you probably don’t need us to tell you that Netflix has brought some epic television shows to the small screen. And for many people around the world, Stranger Things is their best distribution to date. Created by the Duffer Brothers, this sci-fi horror drama has everything you could want from a television show, and fans have been obsessed since the very first episode aired in 2016.

Although Stranger Things fans had to wait a little longer than they originally anticipated for the fourth season, it finally dropped in May 2022. It proved to be darker, creepier, and more magical than any other season so far, but what we saw on-screen wasn’t the whole picture. So much went on behind-the-scenes to bring Hawkins and the gang into the real world. This is how they did it.

Turning a Set Into the Upside Down Was a DIY Lovers’ Dream

Season four of Stranger Things is arguably the darkest and creepiest season yet, and that might be because the team behind the scenes decided to take us even further into the Upside Down than we’d ever been before. While many would assume that this alternate dimension was the work of CGI and special effects, in reality, the design department just went on a DIY spree.

To create the Upside Down, the art department used common DIY products that most of us have in our homes – although, naturally, on a much larger scale. It was confirmed on Twitter that making the above props for the Upside Down required “63,432 lbs of urethane resins, 272,500’ of rope, 18,300 pool noodles, 78,000 sq ft of bubble wrap.”

No Upside Down Scene Was Complete Without a Baby Pool

Although the Stranger Things team tried to make the season four as realistic as possible, there’s a limit to how realistic you can be when you’re dealing with parallel universes, gruesome monsters, and superpowers. We saw the crazy Upside Down world come to life on the screen, but behind-the-scenes things were a little more normal – and the team used a baby pool as a practical prop way more than you probably realized.

Whenever any character had any kind of interaction with the Upside Down in season 4, there was normally some slime involved. However, the last thing the team wanted was for slime to get on the floors, the sets, the walls, or even the props. To contain this slime during filming, the actors would need to stand in baby pools that were conveniently hidden from view.

Millie Taught Her Mini-Me Everything She Needed to Know

Season four of Stranger Things offered fans at home the chance to understand Eleven’s backstory a little more, but Millie couldn’t really play her younger self at 18 years old. So, a young actress by the name of Martie Blair was chosen to take over the reigns – but she didn’t have to do it alone. Millie Bobby Brown made it her mission to teach her mini-me everything about Eleven, and she directed her every step of the way.

Millie taught Martie all of Eleven’s mannerisms, facial expressions, and more – and she even taught the youngster how she gets revved up for a big scene, which is to do jumping jacks for a few minutes before the cameras start rolling. While Martie’s performance was convincing, CGI was also used on her face to complete the illusion that she really was a younger Eleven.

The Team Used a Real-Life Prison to Film the Prison Scenes

Hopper certainly had a rough ride during season four. He spent the majority of his season being tortured and held captive in a Russian prison. And while you may have assumed that this beloved actor was just hanging out on a makeshift movie set, it seems as though the production team wanted to make David Harbour’s experience as realistic as possible.

To film the prison scenes, the team actually traveled all the way to Lukiškės Prison in Lithuania. This prison was built in the early 20th century, and housed criminals, political prisoners, and Jewish people during the Nazi rule. It ceased operations in 2019 and has since been turned into a creepy Airbnb, but the Stranger Things team utilized the harsh environment and leftover jail cells for the show.

Jamie Campbell Bower Took Method Acting to a Whole New Level

The latest season of the show brought a whole new villain into the midst; Vecna. This gruesome creature scared everyone at home – but he didn’t just scare people from behind the screen. On-set, Jamie Campbell Bower horrified those who looked at him, mainly due to the 2,000 pieces of prosthetic he had glued to his skin. However, that’s not the only reason why he scared his co-stars.

Every actor finds their own way to prepare for a role, and for Jamie, getting into the role of Vecna required some serious method acting. Apparently, he would wander around the streets after dark, he wouldn’t speak to any of his fellow cast members for days, and he would write creepy notes to himself all over his apartment to get into the mindset of The Mind Flayer.

Eddie Munson’s Hair Was the Result of an Intricately Designed Wig

While characters in Stranger Things often divide opinion, there was something about season four’s newest recruit that was just objectively lovable. Eddie Munson, the head of the Hellfire Club and Hawkins’ resident drug dealer, became that lovable character. He was dark and brooding and rebellious, but there was something about his face that appealed to those at home.

Joseph Quinn had the pleasure of bringing this character to life, and for this role, he wore an intricately designed wig that took a huge amount of time to fit every day. Fans at home loved this wig, but Joseph had a love-hate relationship with it: “It’s just objectively ridiculous. When I take it off, that helps me go unrecognized, so it’s been a blessing in that respect.”

The Tank Scenes Were an Absolute Nightmare for Millie Bobby Brown

In season four, we can see that Eleven has progressed as a young woman – but it’s fair to say that she also has to force herself to regress. This is done through a saltwater tank, where Eleven accesses her repressed childhood memories. These scenes were impressive for viewers to watch, but apparently, they were a nightmare for Millie Bobby Brown to film.

Speaking about this filming process, Millie noted that she spent upwards of 10 hours in this tank a day, and that they put a huge amount of salt in the water to allow her to float. “They actually do get an egg and put it in the water, and if it floats, then that’s when I can get in…I couldn’t hear anyone, because obviously my ears were underwater. So when I’d get notes, I was just hoping that I was doing what maybe they were saying.”

CGI Wasn’t Used as Much as You’d Think for Vecna’s Scenes

When you’re dealing with a monstrous creature that lives in a parallel dimension, most people would probably use a lot of CGI and special effects to bring it to life. But not the cast and crew of Stranger Things season four. For the majority of Vecna’s scenes, they utilized special effects makeup, prosthetics, props, and real-life humans.

All in all, only five CGI shots were used for Vecna’s scenes – even though this process would have been much easier. Jamie Campbell Bower would often spend up to nine hours in the makeup chair before the makeup and prosthetics were applied, which is why it makes the above image even more extraordinary. Even after basically a whole day’s work in the makeup chair, Vecna and Max were still smiling.

One Surprise Cameo Was Filmed Across the Pond via Zoom

Without giving away too many spoilers, the arrival of Billy Hargrove in season four of Stranger Things took everyone by surprise. It’s safe to say that he wasn’t really meant to be there, and we didn’t expect to ever see actor Dacre Montgomery again. But his cameo was a triumph for fans at home, especially as he actually filmed it away from the cast and crew via Zoom.

Australian actor Dacre was unable to leave his home country to film his cameo due to the pandemic, so the whole production team came up with a solution that allowed him to film his scenes in Perth, Australia with a local team. The actor wrote on Instagram that it was an “absolute blessing to work with such an incredible local crew and @slevydirect directing on Zoom!”

Each Episode of the Show Required a Meticulously Designed Set

Stranger Things season four could have utilized a whole load of CGI and special effects, but the Duffer Brothers and the rest of the team decided to go as authentic as they possibly could. Although they obviously used some CGI, they tried to design and make many of their sets – and that’s what they did. With each episode came a new set, and this one below was designed specifically for the episode “Dear Billy.”

As you can see, the detail and the time that went into making this meticulous set was incredible. From the floor to the red ambient lighting that set the tone for the Upside Down, the team was able to transform a normal filming studio into a parallel universe. And considering they had a $30 million budget per episode to play with, there was no expense spared.

The Episode ”Dear Billy” Stunned Fans in More Ways Than One

With nine episodes in its season, season four of Stranger Things is the longest to date – but it’s fair to say that one particular episode stood out for fans. “Dear Billy” not only wowed those at home with the storyline but also the cinematography and its legacy. After all, it’s not every day you see one of the show’s favorite characters lifted up into the air – as seen in this behind-the-scenes photo below.

However, it wasn’t just the plot or the creation of this episode that made it remarkable. This episode also featured a song that has since topped the music charts over 40 years since its initial release. “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush has become a hit once again, and it’s believed that Kate has earned around $2 million from its resurgence of popularity.

Bringing the Demo Bats to Life Was Way More Difficult Than They Thought

In the previous seasons, we had Demogorgons and even Demodogs. In season four, though, we were introduced to a whole new creature from the Upside Down – the Demo Bats. These creatures wreaked havoc on Steve, Eddie, Nancy, and Robin in the sixth episode of the season, and Joe Keery certainly felt the effects when he had to constantly wash fake bat blood out of his teeth. But, apparently, they struggled to find the noises to fit these creatures.

The sound departments’ Angelo Palazzo found the answer in her closet door: “What ended up working, I had this sliding closet door that’s super squeaky. It has just the amount of screech and chittery sounds to it when you slide it. Craig also had a similar thing, so we ended up recording these sliding closet doors as the basis of these vocals. It just had the most aggressive quality to it that worked out awesome.”

It Turns Out That the Grievers Did Have Noses After All

There were some aspects of season four that seemed to come along as quickly as they left, and this seemed to be the case for the Grievers in episode 2. Just before Fred the young journalist sees the coffin and the clock, he bumps into these zombie-like creatures and runs full pelt through the trees, and these creatures were pretty scary. But it turns out that they did have noses after all.

This picture, taken by a makeup artist on the show, shows just how much work goes into just one of these actors’ appearance. To turn this woman into the undead they used all kinds of techniques, but they made sure to leave the nose free. Instead, blue paint and CGI additions were used so that the team could remove the noses in the post-production process.

The Whole Team Relied on Stunt Doubles to Bring the Fighting to Life

When shows find their cast, they do everything they can to keep them onboard – and this includes keeping them safe. Actors often have to sign meticulous contracts and deal with immense insurance documents to ensure their safety on-set, and because of this, many of the actors in season four of Stranger Things relied on stunt doubles to bring the action to life. This included Brett Gelman, who plays Murray.

In this behind-the-scenes photo, you can see Gelman posing up a storm with his stunt double, and we have to say that their whole look matches up perfectly. When he posted this photo online, Brett wrote: “Big shout out to my stunt double #RyanGreen and our fearless leader @hkstunts: the genius who choreographed all the fight in @strangerthingstv. And to the whole stunts team I LOVE YOU!!!”

The Driving Scenes Don’t Involve Any Actual Driving

Eduardo Franco was a new boy to the Stranger Things block for season four of the show. He played Argyle, who is described as “a fun-loving stoner who proudly delivers delicious pizza pies for Surfer Boy Pizza”. His pizza van came in very handy throughout this fourth season, but Argyle, Jonathan, and the rest of the gang didn’t actually drive it themselves.

Like in many television shows, the Stranger Things production team decided to take advantage of a process trailer to tow the pizza van during these driving scenes. This allowed them to make use of the surrounding landscape of Los Angeles, but still give actors the scope to act rather than drive. This is a common practice in the cinematography world and one that the Duffer Brothers are used to.

The Duffer Brothers Planned Some of Season Four During Season Two

The fourth season of Stranger Things has so far been the longest season of the lot, so much so that the episodes were split between two release dates. And with a three-year gap between the third and fourth seasons, many fans assumed that the Duffer Brothers were simply taking their sweet time to write it. But it turns out that they actually planned some of the fourth season during season two.

The brothers confessed that, “We don’t want to write ourselves in a corner so we try to have these early discussions with the writers just to make sure that we’re setting ourselves up to go in the right direction. We don’t know a lot, but we do know a lot of the big broad strokes. At the end of season two, we knew about Billy. We knew that the Russians were going to come in. We didn’t know the mall and stuff, but again, we know these big broad strokes.”

Real-Life Romances Have Helped On-Screen Chemistry

Throughout the Stranger Things timeline, romances have been rife. There’s been Eleven and Mike, Dustin and Suzie, Joyce and Bob, and more. For the most part, Nancy and Jonathan have been pretty solid throughout – but anyone who has watched season four will know that an old love triangle has come and messed things up. Most people are still ‘Team Jonathan’ and there might be a reason for that.

On-screen, fans can’t deny the chemistry between these two – but that might have something to do with the fact that actors Natalia Dyer and Charlie Heaton are a couple in real life. In fact, they’ve been together for a few years now, after developing a romance after the first season of the show. The cast and crew have to deal with how loved-up they are off-screen, but it seems as though they don’t mind.

Millie Loved to Keep Things Light In-Between Takes

Millie Bobby Brown will always be remembered for her role in Stranger Things. She was just 12 years old when she landed her main role, and although she’s now 18, she’s certainly been through the wringer. She’s starred in one of the darkest and most intense shows that Netflix has to offer, and season four has pushed her even further into the drama. So, it’s no wonder she liked to keep things light in-between takes.

On one occasion, Millie “burst into tears” when she saw Vecna in all of his gory glory. She was “visibly just disgusted by the whole thing” and probably many other aspects of the show. So, when the cameras stopped rolling and she had time to take a breather (while being suspended from the ceiling with fake blood all over her, of course), she decided to flip everyone the bird to put a smile back on her face.

Some of the Best Scenes Were Improvized by the Cast

When it comes to actors, Stranger Things has managed to acquire some of the best in the business. From new talent to long-standing icons, the actors who have appeared across all four seasons of this show have been seriously impressive. That’s also because some of the best scenes in the history of the show have been improvized, including one poignant moment in season four.

During one particular exchange between Eddie and Dustin, actors Joseph Quinn and Gaten Matarazzo were able to show emotion and provoke countless feelings with those at home. But it was one particular line that pushed many fans over the edge, and that was “I love you, man.” However, this line wasn’t in the script at all. Joe improvized the line of his own accord, because he thought it just felt right.

Even the Smallest of Scenes Required a Military Operation

Although television shows often last around an hour, filming each episode can often take days. Each small aspect of the show requires a whole heap of work from the actors, production team, and the whole crew – and this is especially true in Stranger Things. During season four, we saw Hellfire Club meet up a few times, and while these were seemingly insignificant moments, they required a military operation.

You can see from the picture above that the Hellfire scenes were absolute chaos, and that a huge amount of work was put into the smallest details. From the Dungeons & Dragon board to the decorations in the room, everything about these scenes had to be perfect. And this required a whole load of people on stand-by to bring these scenes to life.

The Cast and Crew Had to Follow Strict COVID Protocols

Season four of Stranger Things actually started filming in February 2020, just before the start of the coronavirus pandemic. However, as cases rose and lockdown restrictions were put in place across the globe, filming was halted for over six months. Even when the cast and crew returned, there were strict protocols in place that meant that creating this fourth season was no easy feat.

Gaten Matarazzo, who plays Dustin, spoke about how the pandemic affected filming. He noted that “It’s definitely an unorthodox form of shooting. Everyone on set has been very diligent about wearing their PPE [personal protective equipment]. Even for our off-camera work we keep our masks and goggles on. Lots of distancing. Separation during lunch, and transport from base to set.”