“What if Stranger Things was an 80’s anime?” – that was the brief I got from my boss Jesse Norton. We were commissioned to make a 90-second fan trailer for Stranger Things, that obscure, little-known live action TV series on some streaming service called Netflix. It would be released the same weekend as the premiere of the show’s third season, Stranger Things 3.
When I’m not writing novels, screenplays, or articles for Bleeding Cool that make people mad, one of my day jobs is Lead Writer for animation company Humouring the Fates. This involves reviewing project pitches generated by the company and by clients, story development, story notes and occasioning writing scripts.
How The Trailer Came About…
Back in Spring, my boss Jesse said the client assured him that it would be a fan trailer. “It’s a fan video, they want us to make a fan video. We’ll spell the title of the show wrong or something.” With that, we got to work.
Any animation project from a client starts with a broad discussion about what they want, what limits there were, and specifically who is this targeted at. What did they mean by “anime”? Did they mean the art style, the sense of pace, the design, the shots used in anime? Those tend to be different, since anime like to jump between extreme close-ups, wide shots, and abstract shots – with speed lines to create a visceral sense of action and motion. Anime now uses Eisensteinian montage even more rigourously than Michael Bay. The approach has been adopted by Western animated shows now to the point where hardly anyone even remembers it was anime that did it first.
Then there was the content itself. What did the client mean by “anime”? There was the obvious “big eyes, small noses” faces that defined anime and manga. Are we going full Japanese anime and having giant robots? Or should we stick to interpreting seasons one and two of Stranger Things through the lens of anime? We decided on the latter. There was discussion of Super Sentai conventions: the “Super Sentai” genre is Japan’s version of the ‘superhero team,’ now known in the West as Power Rangers. We would treat the kids in Stranger Things as a superhero team, but we wouldn’t give them costumes. There were more than enough action, suspense, and horror moments in the show to pick from to make this trailer.
This Is Not Normal Scriptwriting
A trailer is about moments – its mission is to make you want to see the movie or show it’s teasing. I suggested that we didn’t have to use any voice actors – which would also save us money from having to hire actors. The Duffer Brothers had packed the show with so many trailer-worthy moments that the images would speak for themselves – so it had to be different from the actual trailers for the show.
The script I wrote didn’t even look like a conventional script. It was really an email listing and describing the moments and shots for the trailer. I picked the most striking moments in the first two seasons that defined the show, then whittled them down to a fit 90 seconds.
I assumed that most of the people who watched the trailer would be fans who already saw the first two seasons. The trailer would be a linear summary of the first two seasons. I described each moment as a stage direction designed to feel like an action or suspense moment from an anime. The trailer would end with a shot of all the heroes facing the show’s “Big Bad” The Mind-Flayer as the stinger.
I did the easy part of the job. I left it to Jesse and his team of artists, designers, and animators to decide on the camera placement. With everyone at Humouring the Fates well-versed in anime, that was not going to be a problem. It took them weeks – possible months – to animate the trailer, sending pre-visualisations, storyboards, designs, and early animatics to the client throughout the creative process for approval and revisions.
We woke up on Sunday morning to a press release that the trailer was up on YouTube. So I hope you enjoyed this stealth promotion for the show.
I like to think it did the job. Enjoy!