As the small town Hawkins continued to be invaded by the Upside Down in Season Two of “Stranger Things,” the Duffer Brothers lightened the tension for most of the imperiled kids. As a result, the lighting became darker as well as more colorful.
“We wanted to play more to the fun side of ‘Stranger Things,” said cinematographer Tim Ives, who was nominated for his second consecutive Emmy for “Chapter One: MADMAX.” “It’s got scary moments but within 10 seconds you might be laughing pretty hard, so we added a little more color saturation to the palette.
“We also did a lot of interesting camera moves, starting something wide and coming close, going from a master to an extreme close-up, really introducing one character to another. We progressed naturally and with more confidence.”
In Season Two, Will (Noah Schnapp) gets possessed by an Upside Down monster known as a Mind Flayer, Chief Hopper (David Harbour) discovers a secret tunnel system inhabited by the Upside Down, and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) continues a rite of passage that empowers her to close the Gate between the two worlds.
“We were just horrified about what was coming out of [Noah],” Ives said. “He’d do these convulsions and go into a panic scream. We’d do one take and we couldn’t do another; it was too hard to watch. I went over to Noah and I asked him, ‘Please tell me that you’re not recalling that from any real life experience.’ He said it was just acting, which was nice to know.”
The Hawkins Tunnel System
After digging through a pumpkin patch, Hopper gets trapped in a subterranean tunnel overgrown with biological substance from the Upside Down. The elaborate set was designed by Chris Trujillo and built by the art department. “The tunnels are a completely different location than we ever had in Season One, so we were heading more into this sci-fi kind of place,” added Ives. “They were absolutely beautiful and also when we got them we saw that there was really no where to put a light that far underground.”
The cinematographer decided to place a back light that would accent the production design by Trujillo, who put little plywood rings wrapped in chicken wire throughout the tunnel. “And the back light, although unmotivated, did most of the job, and the kids would actually light themselves with their flashlights as they were running toward the camera,” Ives said.
“The lights would hit the rings and bounce back. For Hopper, who was in more of an open room location, it was easier, single source lighting. David had a torch with a propane line rigged through his pants. Some of the warmer tones were accented with a little off-camera lighting.”
The Snow Ball Dance
At the conclusion of the season finale (“Chapter Nine: The Gate”), the kids attend the school’s annual winter dance and engage in a warm and colorful reverie reminiscent of John Hughes movies from the ’80s. Lighting and blocking the sequence was a highlight for Ives. “There were two ways to go with that,” he said. “One was to make it a little more slick and the other was to make it feel simple, like the kids had done it themselves and that’s what we did.
“I also wanted it to feel like a snow globe. We knew we were going to do technocrane and steadicam work in there as well, and didn’t want a lot of stuff getting in our way. And I thought Christmas lights would be a way of getting a lot of illumination on some of our characters. So we used that with a lot of tinsel and I got a disco ball that you never actually saw.”
For a softer look while the kids were dancing, they rotated a large silk covering over the light from above. It was much kinder to their faces. “I resisted snow flakes at the last minute,” Ives said. “We were looking forward to this for so long. It was the icing on the cake, then we realized that it was sweet enough, and the Duffers agreed.”
Then there’s a pull back at the end that lifts and flips upside down in two camera positions. “That was a shot that Paul Graff, the visual effects supervisor, thought would look really cool and he pitched it to the Duffers, and they loved it,” Ives said. “We did it without motion control, but it’s such a precision move. It’s the Upside Down and the monster’s not giving up yet.”