“One summer can change everything,” teased the ad for Season 3 of Stranger Things, and it certainly did. The year was now 1985, the Hawkins, Indiana, crew were on the cusp of adulthood, and the newly opened Starcourt Mall was the talk of the town. But danger wasn’t far away, and fears remained that the seal on the gate between Hawkins and the Upside Down might not last forever.
Speaking at Deadline’s Contenders Television virtual event, series co-creator Ross Duffer explained the concept behind the latest iteration of the cinematic series. “We like to treat each season as its own movie,” he said on the panel that included his brother Matt and series star David Harbour. “And so, a lot of the discussion goes into [asking], ‘What’s the tone of the season going to be, and how do we do something different?’ Because we want to try different things and we don’t want to just repeat ourselves.
“So, for Season 3 specifically, it wasn’t necessarily about making it bigger, it was really a question of tone, and us realizing very early on that we were going to be not only filming in the summer but probably releasing in the summer again. And that gave us the idea to do it as set in the summer, which is a very different vibe to what we did previously, which [in the first season] was fall and in the second season was Halloween. And then that gave us [the idea]. We wanted to make it have this feel of one of those big summer blockbusters that we grew up with.”
According to co-creator Matt Duffer, the concept of the mall came up during a brainstorming session. “I remember one of our writers, Curtis Gwinn, had the idea of bringing a mall into Hawkins and everything that means in terms of what it would mean to downtown. We thought that that aligned really nicely with the kind of fun, blockbuster summer vibe that we were going for. We got very, very excited about this mall, and so that dictated the storyline a little bit—our production designers and set decorators really re-created what a 1980s mall was. It was a ton of work, and so we wanted to make sure that our story would revolve in some way around the mall so that we were taking full advantage of it.”
For Harbour, who plays police chief Jim Hopper, the attention to detail paid to the Hawkins mall was most impressive. “I was born in ‘75,” he said, “so the ’80s are my wheelhouse. It was truly impeccable, the likeness. I spent a lot of time—a lot of time—in Westchester malls when I was like 13 years old. So, it was pretty perfect. Kudos to the art department.”
Check out the panel video above.