Film Crew Files: 'Stranger Things' Edition
On the “City Lights” segment “Film Crew Files,” we hear from Atlanta film industry professionals working on the TV shows, movies and commercials constantly on production in the city’s booming film scene.
For today’s installment, we highlight several film industry workers involved with “Stranger Things.” The wildly popular Netflix show is in its fourth season. It has a history of being filmed in Georgia — though this season, the crew traveled extensively for location filming.
“City Lights” senior producer Kim Drobes spoke with the “Stranger Things” production’s set decorator and set dresser, as well as two special effects team members, to hear how they created the look of Netflix’s most obsessed-over sci-fi show.
Amy Darsey, assistant set decorator — Amy Darsey lives in South Fulton and has worked in film and TV for 23 years. She and the set decorator head the department for “Stranger Things,” which oversees decisions on the layout of everything we see on set that isn’t an actor, costume, or prop. That means sourcing furniture and interior and exterior decor and determining the precise layout of every space actors move through.
“Season 4 of ‘Stranger Things’ was definitely an epic adventure,” said Darsey. “I felt like it was a marathon that lasted for a pretty long time. We were experiencing the pandemic throughout the season, and that gave us some extra hurdles to traverse, but we all came together and figured out a way. And I felt like experiencing the overseas sets … was a joy.”
Joseph Hernandez, set dresser — Joseph Hernandez of Stone Mountain, Georgia, has spent the last 12 years as a set dresser in the film industry, having worked on all four seasons of “Stranger Things.” Set dressers work closely with set decorators like Darsey and are responsible for arranging and placing all the decor acquired by the set decoration department. “All the furniture, all the things on the walls, the lights, and the ceiling, all the rubbish on the floor, or in this case, everything ‘eighties’ that you can see, set dressers put there,” said Hernandez.
“One of the things that stands out amongst other shows that I’ve worked on is just the sheer amount of yard sales and liquidation sales from where someone’s loved ones have passed on,” said Hernandez. “We’ll move in, and we’ll take all of their parents’ or grandparents’ stuff because it’s all been nicely preserved since the time period.” He added, “I think the hardest part of our job is unless it’s some sort of period piece … or something insane or alien or super sciencey, if we do our jobs right, you won’t know that we’ve done our job. You’ll just accept that they’ve walked into the Oval Office or into a grocery store.”
Chris Brown, special effects artist — Kirkwood resident Chris Brown is a 20-year film professional specializing in “effects and props.” Brown said, “If you need something cute, if you need something horrifying, something that sprays vomit, bleeds, whatever, I’m the guy you go to.” Atlantans may have encountered Brown’s prior work with the Center for Puppetry Arts or on Adult Swim, but now he’s responsible for the special effects that create the “upside-down” world of “Stranger Things.”
“Miles and miles of the upside-down. So much urethane, oh sweet God,” Brown said. “A typical day usually starts about 6:30 in the morning. Grab a cup of coffee, put on a lab coat, respirator, and end up looking like I was working at a slaughterhouse at the end of the day. We’d also have days we’d just staple and attach miles and miles of the upside-down to these amazing sets.” He continued, “When making the upside-down, we worked in urethane. Now urethane will stick to anything, the urethane rubber, and my shoes at the end of four months, weighed eight pounds apiece, and over six months, the floor I was standing on [became] almost eight inches thick.”
Sam Carter, special effects artist — locals might remember Carter for his work in last year’s Little Five Points’ Halloween Monster Hunt. He’s also the creator of the YouTube channel “Make It Weird Workshop,” where he teaches monster and puppet-making to young crafters. He recently contributed his skills to the practical effects team for “Stranger Things” Season 4, the department creating real-life effects instead of computer-generated illusions.
Sam recalled making “literal miles” of tentacles for the show. “I was aware that we were building parts of the monster’s world, like the attic set. We knew … that was like home base for the monster. But I never saw the monster. I never saw what he looked like. I never saw concept art. I had no idea that he himself was gonna be this creature made up of all these tentacles, so I was as surprised as anybody else watching.”