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The ‘80s design of 'Stranger Things' and other eras we love to watch

Actor Matthew Modine, actress Winona Ryder and Chief Content Officer for Netflix Ted Sarandos attend the Premiere of Netflix's
Actor Matthew Modine, actress Winona Ryder and Chief Content Officer for Netflix Ted Sarandos attend the Premiere of Netflix's "Stranger Things" at Mack Sennett Studios.
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

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For those who remember the oversized eyeglasses and synthesized soundtracks of the ‘80s, watching Netflix’s “Stranger Things” can bring on a wave of nostalgia.

Shows like “Mad Men,” “Freaks and Geeks” and “That '70s Show” have a definite hook and attention to detail with styling. Even for those who don’t remember the '60s, who doesn’t want to imagine what it’s like to get a drink with Don Draper?

But what exactly goes into production design for a period television show or film? And what part does nostalgia play in our interest to watch?

“Stranger Things” production designer, Chris Trujillo joined Larry Mantle today to discuss the process and strategy of re-creating an era on film.

Interview highlights

When you’re trying to evoke an era, how do you keep it from looking too jam-packed with caricatures or stereotypes?

Chris Trujillo: It’s particularly tricky with the ‘80s because everybody has a very specific and sometimes outlandish sense of what the ‘80s look like. It’s all either neons or these big shoulder pads and big glasses. And obviously you need to show those things but it was definitely tricky to find a balance where you’re not distracting an audience by blasting them with the most obvious touchstones of what we think of when we think of the ‘80s. Firstly, we try and understand who these characters are on a really basic level and we kind of go from there.

In “Mad Men” for example, it was as if no older furniture made it into that era and everyone seemed like they had constantly redecorated. People didn’t always have things or wear clothes that just defined that decade. How did you mix eras to make things look authentic?

Trujillo: A lot of that is approached from understanding the characters on a socioeconomic level. You’ve got your stressed out, working class, single mom [character], so her house is not going to have the most up-to-date furniture from 1980 or ‘81. For that kind of set, we like to think about when that furniture would have been bought and what level of wear and tear it would have. And understanding that more than likely, she hasn’t redecorated since 1975.

What kind of research do you do to capture a decade?

Trujillo: I like to start with source material from the decade. We pored over all of the suburban women’s magazines, “Better Homes and Gardens,” “Architectural Digest,” “Life” magazine. The “Sears” catalogue was an invaluable asset to us. It’s always about starting with the media of the time to get a really clear sense of what specifically was going on.

But people didn’t lived the way the catalogues, so how do you find that balance?

Trujillo: Absolutely, and that’s where really it’s really important to understanding where the characters are as individuals, their past and what’s going on with them in the present. That’s where you really start to build a life layer into the sets beyond just the larger pieces of furniture or wallpaper choices. You really start to think about what the ephemera on the tables should be [etc.] and that’s where you start to sell [the characters] as real people.

*This interview has been edited for clarity.


Chris Trujillo, production designer for “Stranger Things