IndieWire’s Awards Editor, TV & Film, Marcus Jones exclusively spoke with the crafts team behind “Stranger Things 4” to unpack how the record-breaking season came to be.
With 13 Emmy nominations, “Stranger Things 4” dominated the zeitgeist this year. Production designer Chris Trujillo, prosthetic makeup designer Barrie Gower, music supervisor Nora Felder, supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer Craig Henighan, VFX supervisor Marion Spates, and editor Dean Zimmerman spoke with IndieWire’s Jones to detail the season’s best moments.
The Russian prison marked a standout moment for Trujillo, crafting the “dark heart” of the season by developing a versatile set with a “bunch of different looks,” culminating in Vecna’s lair. The sets were also built in duplicate for the Upside Down to shoot both sides of that experience. A favorite set for Trujillo included the “bloodiest” Rainbow Room. “I was so nervous because it is just so gruesome,” Trujillo said, crediting other departments for “elevating” the set to show the multifaceted layers of the scenery.
Gower shared that Vecna’s look was rooted in “Primal Fear” and “Hellraiser” aesthetics. While Gower just joined “Stranger Things” for the fourth season, the Duffer Brothers immediately presented Gower with artwork imagining Vecna’s design. “Our brief that we knew he was going to be humanoid in form and that he was once human,” Gower said. “We left the meeting thinking, ‘Who is this? Is this Billy? Is this Hopper? Who the hell is this character?'”
Jamie Campbell Bower was cast as Vecna only a few days later and was “literally thrown into the deep end” in terms of being covered in “goop” to “glue him into all this rubber” and familiarize himself with the “weight” of the prosthetics.
And that also led to pairing the ideal score for Vecna’s victims.
“The whole show is bigger in scope and scale, so the sound tends to follow that sort of rule,” supervising sound editor Henighan said, crediting “The Great Escape” and “Escape From Alcatraz” as inspiring the sonic highlights of Russia with Hopper.
Henighan continued of Vecna’s lair, “The mindscape is sort of a mental house of horrors, sort to speak, so using just a lot of sounds that are sort of in reverse and pitched down. Taking stuff like baby cries and then pitching them down and adding echo and delay to them so it becomes part of the fabric when Max is sort of walking through the mind scape for the first time, for instance.”
But it was an uphill battle to find the perfect song to pair with Max (Sadie Sink) for a shocking “Stranger Things 4” sequence. Thankfully music supervisor Nora Felder found the ideal hit in Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.”
The now-viral scene skyrocketed Bush’s hit ballad back on the charts, but Felder originally was “nervous” to even approach Bush for clearance.
It all started when the Duffer Brothers asked Felder to select the song for Max’s big moment. Originally Felder assumed the track would be added in post, but the Duffers “really wanted to find a song ahead of time because they really wanted to work it into the story, with the camera so the actors could get into it,” Felder exclusively told IndieWire’s Jones during a Consider This crafts panel for “Stranger Things” to mark its 13 Emmy nominations for Season 4.
“They asked me if I could brainstorm and come up with some ideas for that. Literally it was like a spitball session,” Felder continued. “Then all of a sudden I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, ‘Running Up That Hill’ by Kate Bush!’ And [fellow supervisors] Josh and Rand went, ‘Hmm.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I feel like that meets all the checkmarks for this.'”
Felder shared, “There were a lot of things they wanted to encompass in that. They wanted it to be Max’s song and for it to express what she was going through. They wanted it to be something that had a lot of build to work with from various scenes in different ways. And they wanted something to just represent her and this season, going through her confusions and hopefully, somehow, be something that eventually could help her friend try to understand what she is going through and help to save her.”
Out of about eight song selections, Felder felt strongest about “Running Up That Hill” and, well, ran with it. The only hold up? Clearing it with Bush herself.
“I know Kate [Bush] is very particular, as she should be. I kind of felt out, when I called the publisher, I said, ‘What do you think? Does it have a chance?'” Felder shared. “She said, ‘Look, she’s very picky but she reviews everything but as long as it lines up with a storyline she wants it to line up with, I could see giving it a shot. Who knows?'”
Felder was then tasked with convincing Bush by way of … an essay.
“I feel like I was back in college doing a thesis but I really zoned in on not only explaining the uses, but we were really trying to provide context with what Max is going through, from what it meant for the scene and how it helped her friends try to understand what she was going through to try to save her,” she noted.
“I think it really resonated with her because the premise of that song, it’s about switching places and it’s like me saying, ‘Hey, God,’ in this spiritual sense, ‘I wish men could switch places with women to better understand what we go through.’ And that’s exactly what these characters do. They had to understand their friends. They really had to get inside to understand what Max is going through and the support she needed in order to save her. That song encapsulates all of that. So we sent it out, and we were really nervous.”
Turns out, Bush was already a huge “Stranger Things” fan: “She loved the show, she’s a huge fan, and she loved the concept,” Felder added. “We were really excited.”
And the rest is history.
“This retroactive fandom, these songs being unburied and people listening to them and discovering them like they just came out,” Felder concluded, “It just makes me so happy.”
IndieWire’s Consider This Conversations brought together Emmy nominated cast and creative team members from five of television’s most prestigious shows to discuss some of the best art and craft of TV production of 2022. In addition to Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” other featured shows include Amazon’s “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Luci and Desi,” as well as VH1’s ”RuPaul’s Drag Race,” and National Geographic’s “Life Below Zero.” Watch them all here.