What the Stranger Things pitch deck tells us about creativity

As Pablo Picasso said: “Art is theft”.

stranger things is without a doubt one of the most successful TV shows of all time.

But what I find even more intriguing is the sheer amount of inspiration it drew from a variety of books and movies from the ’80s.

From the visual style to the music, themes, characters, storylines and even specific scenes, the direct influences are everywhere.

And the best? That’s what creativity is really about. Check out my video to see some examples and let’s dive deeper.

Where everything began

If you can get your hands on the original pitch deck, e.g stranger thingsyou will notice that a few things have changed since then, including the name it used to be Montauk.

What is interesting, however, is how open and honest the creators of the show are with their inspiration.

As they put it, the show was meant to be a love letter to the golden age of Steven Spielberg and Steven King. The feeling of fear and wonder ETthe helpless fear of Jawthe horror off Itand the adventure of Stand by Me.

When they needed to describe a specific character or situation, they would point to one from a movie they love. They even designed the pitch deck themselves to look like a classic Stephen King book to ensure they set the exact tone they were trying to achieve.

So how much of the show was shaped by those influences?

The answer is – a lot.

The influences on stranger things

For example, Eleven’s character goes through the same experiment as Altered States (1980), and the way they test their skills is identical to the film fire starter (1984).

As well as ET (1982) she is found by a group of friends who hide her from the government and get caught up in a major bicycle chase, only to be saved by the most incredible display of her skills.

Many of the other characters are based on one or a combination of a few different characters from 80’s classics. City boss James “Jim” Hopper, for example, is clearly inspired by Chief Martin Brody Jaw.

Sometimes they even recreate whole scenes like the kidnapping Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and the list of direct shot-for-shot similarities is long, including extraterrestrial (1979), A nightmare on Elm Street (1984), The Exorcist (1973), The Terminator (1984) and many, many more.

So is it theft?

So, does that mean stranger things is just a rip off?

Well no. In fact, creativity is really about that.

When people refer to something as “original,” nine times out of ten, they simply don’t know the references or the original sources involved.

Steal like an artist is a fantastic book by Austin Kleon that talks about how nothing is original. Basically, all creative work builds on what came before it, and the people who embrace that inspiration are the ones who end up creating something great.

In 1994, Quentin Tarantino said in an interview with Empire magazine that he “steals from every single movie that’s ever been made,” and he certainly meant it. You don’t have to wait long for any of his films to see a direct reference to a classic from another time.

George Lucas would also agree. In the 1970s he wanted to make a film adaptation of the film Flash Gordon (1936) Movies and Series. He thought it was a fantastic story with a lot of potential, but no matter how hard he tried, he was never able to secure the rights.

So instead he wrote his own space opera, set in a galaxy far, far away, and the rest is history.

He took a lot of inspiration from the source, but also made it his own, building on it and combining it with other ideas.

What to avoid

Now it is important to say that stealing is not the same as copying.

Stealing like an artist means taking the things that inspire you and reverse engineering them until you find what works about them.

When you’re just starting out, it’s inevitable that you’ll try to imitate your idols, but as Conan O’Brien says, “It’s our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines and makes us unique.”

And that’s exactly what the makers of stranger thingsthe Duffer Brothers did.

In 2011, they wrote a screenplay for a film in which they attempted to emulate M. Night Shyamalan’s signature tone and film style. Eventually he got his hands on the script and liked it so much that he invited her to help him with a show he was working on, even giving them some mentoring along the way.

This experience made them feel ready to develop their own project and wrote the pitch deck for the show that would become the global phenomenon we know today.

And that’s what it all boils down to — taking the best parts of the things you love and combining them with your own unique perspective.

In the end, I’ll leave you with this quote from Francis Ford Coppola:

“We want you to take from us. We want you to steal from us first because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it into your own voice and that is how you will find your voice.”

Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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