Before “Stranger Things” became a smash hit, it was a charming, conspiracy-inspired television pitch called “Montauk.” The Duffer Brothers’ retro “lookbook” for their sci-fi horror show was compiled into a paperback pitch document made to woo networks and TV executives.
Lucky for us, the 20-odd-page document is no longer top-secret! It is a prime source for avid fans looking to explore the early beginnings of the Duffer Brothers’ brainchild.
All Out 80s
What really ties the “Montauk” pitch concept together is the interspersed 80s visuals, ranging from horror classics like A Nightmare on Elm Street to comfort film staples like E.T and Stand By Me. Undoubtedly, the Duffer brothers reveled in everything 80s from the get-go. And, seeing the show as it stands today, it is quite easy to see how each of the 80s film inspirations made their mark on this epic TV series.
Visibly, the cover of the “Montauk” document is distinctly reminiscent of a worn paperback novel. This is no accident. In fact, the Duffer Brothers took direct inspiration from this early paperback cover of Stephen King’s Firestarter.
Transparent about their vision from the outset of the project, the Duffer Brothers described the “Montauk” show concept as “a love letter to the golden age of Steven Spielberg and Stephen King.” Considering nostalgia is a huge part of Stranger Things overarching success, it is safe to say that the pair succeeded in their aims.
Taking inspiration from the works of storytelling masters, the duo has crafted a TV sensation that is full of supernatural terror but still lightheartedly youthful. Above all, despite drawing upon existing 80s material, they proved capable of creating something that still felt new and unique in its own right.
One of the most intriguing factors that laid the groundwork for Stranger Things is the “Montauk Project” conspiracy. A full page is dedicated to this topic in the pitch deck, where the Duffer Brothers relay the breadth of rumors associated with top-secret government experiments centered around Camp Hero State Park. The document details: “alien contact…time travel…telepathy…alternative dimensions…mutant monsters…you name it, someone claims it happened at this base.”
The radar tower in Camp Hero State Park still stands today, despite being inactive since the 1980s. It is spookily reminiscent of the Hawkins lab we see in the show. Despite many a “No Trespassing” warning, plenty of curious supernatural thrillseekers have sought out this spot on the remote tip of Long Island. If you want to sneak a peek but wish not to break the law (rightly so), you can check out more photos of the abandoned military base here.
Given all the stirring supernatural talk surrounding this former government operation, the Duffer Brothers tapped into a well of existing interest and fuel for the imagination. Thus, by honing in on the bizarre, unnerving history surrounding Camp Hero State Park, the pair created a sci-fi horror adventure of a lifetime.
The Stranger Things Franchise
Though the original pitched vision was set in Long Island, the show found its fictional home in Hawkins, simply transplanting the existing lore of Camp Hero to create unforgettable characters like Eleven and this season’s central foe, Vecna/Henry/001.
Besides a few other discrepancies between the “Montauk” pitch deck and the bingeable hit we all know and love, the prospect of creating a wider franchise was a question that the Duffers were musing about from the very beginning. Per their original pitch, the show was to be “a stand-alone eight-hour tale,” but they recognized its “franchise potential.”
Interestingly, the Duffers put forth an idea of revisiting this story with the kids grown up, returning to face the supernatural horror as adults. This vision clearly takes a page out of Stephen King’s IT, having to split the story into two halves with a new set of actors to play aged-up leads.
As of now, with a fifth and final season somewhere on the horizon, the show’s longevity beyond the anticipated epic showdown to save Hawkins is interesting to speculate. Especially since this summer saw the announcement of a spin-off. Though, unlike the “Montauk” pitch deck, the future of the Stranger Things franchise remains top-secret (for now).
No doubt, the Duffers are in for continued success for their beloved project, paying homage to the 80s. Stranger Things is truly a cultural phenomenon that only seems to grow in popularity with each installment.
Finally, for more content on the inspiration behind Stranger Things, check out this recent article on the real-life story behind beloved character, Eddie Munson.