In 2016, Matt and Ross Duffer released their ground-breaking Netflix series, Stranger Things, to the world. Now a household name, Stranger Things also boasts 60 awards to date and broke Netflix records for its views.
Needless to say, the twins have come a long way from their North Carolina roots and have turned their dreams of filmmaking into a reality. So, in this MasterClass, the pair reveal their secrets to developing an original and cinematic series.
Having taken several screenwriting MasterClasses, my aim is to give a fair and honest review of the Duffer brothers’ class. And, as someone who’s passionate about TV and film, I wanted to see how this course lived up to my expectations and the other courses I’ve taken.
But, if you’re short on time, here are the highlights:
You will learn to:
- Develop strong ideas for your series
- Understand and implement the Duffer brothers’ processes
- Gain behind-the-scenes insight into Netflix’s best-loved series
- Develop characters your audience will care about
- Build unique and believable sci-fi worlds
- Write impactful outlines and season arcs
- Identify and master the key elements of a great script
- Pitch your series and sell your script
- Create memorable and complex monsters
- Set sustainable habits for success
- Learn from a pair of critically-acclaimed writers
- See never-before-seen drafts of “Stranger Things”
- Detailed lessons with actionable advice
- Noticeably fast-paced
- Focused on writing with a partner
Length of course: 5 hours and 18 minutes
Best for: Anyone who is passionate about storytelling and wants to do it for a living. As the brothers themselves believe, this MasterClass is ideal for the person who has written any amount of a script and wants to learn where to go from there.
Overall: This MasterClass offers actionable advice and is also a great behind-the-scenes look at Stranger Things. In terms of course structure, I also think this MasterClass is one of the best. Besides, with MasterClass, you can learn from other award-winning filmmakers like Ron Howard and Martin Scorsese
In this Duffer Brothers MasterClass review, I’ll be covering:
- About the Duffer Brothers and MasterClass
- A sneak peek of what’s included
- Pros and cons
- Who it’s for
- How much it costs
- Is there anything better?
- What other people thought of the course
- How unique the content is
- What you’ll need
- The bottom line: is it actually worth the money?
So, let’s get started:
About the Duffer Brothers
Writers, producers, and directors, the Duffer brothers are best known for their sci-fi/horror show, Strangers Things. But, as they see it, their big break was actually with the success of their 2015 film, Hidden.
Now firmly established as two Hollywood greats, the brothers have now:
- Won 15 awards for their writing and directing talents
- Been signed for additional TV shows and films by Netflix
- Teamed up with Steven Spielburg for a TV adaptation
- Launched their own production company: Upside Down Pictures
With a cult following and seemingly endless critical praise, the Duffer brothers’ writing is revered by sci-fi and non-sci-fi fans alike. So, in their MasterClass, they want to share with you the steps they took to take Stranger Things from an idea into reality.
Also, if you missed the trailer, I highly recommend checking it out:
Founded in 2015, MasterClass is an online learning platform boasting over 150 courses to date. What sets it apart from its competitors is that all of its courses are taught by industry experts who are globally recognizable.
MasterClass believes that everyone should be able to access genius. So, with an annual MasterClass subscription you get access to all 150+ courses, meaning you can take classes in all kinds of categories.
For instance, you can learn photography from Annie Leibovitz, cooking from Alice Waters, and wilderness survival from Jessie Krebs – to name a few! Plus, with MasterClass’ high production values and carefully tailored learning platform, the value is really unbeatable. Find out more from our articles, best MasterClass and Masterclass review.
MasterClass also offer a number of project based Sessions – for more detail read our MasterClass Sessions review.
At the same time, and having taken many MasterClasses myself, I can also say that it isn’t for everyone. So, in this review, I’ll help you decide whether the Duffer brothers’ MasterClass is the best fit for you.
Inside the Duffer Brothers’ MasterClass
In their MasterClass, the Duffer brothers teach you:
- How to start writing film and TV scripts
- Their secrets for writing stories that work
- How to develop characters that your viewers will care about
The Duffer Brothers’ MasterClass is 5 hours and 18 minutes long and is made up of 18 video lessons. Along with this, you also gain access to a 62-page Workbook loaded with additional material.
For this review’s purpose, I’ve grouped similar classes together where possible. This is to give you a concise overview of what to expect from the Duffer brothers’ class.
That being said, to give you a better idea of what you’ll get out of this MasterClass, I’ll cover the highlight of each lesson. So, to begin:
Lesson 1: Meet Your Instructors: The Duffer Brothers
“This class is really for anyone who dreams of telling stories for a living”
In their first class, the Duffer brothers – Matt and Ross – introduce themselves and their background. While most people are familiar with Stranger Things, fewer have got the chance to hear from the Duffer brothers directly about their passion for films and their key influences.
So, in this opening chapter, the two share stories about their early attempts at filmmaking and how they evolved from writing amateur scripts to becoming two of the best screenwriters for a Netflix show.
You’ll also learn:
- The Duffer brothers’ key tips for getting unstuck
- How they went from an outline to a sold script
- Actionable advice for writing for TV
- What you can expect to get out of this class
Having introduced you to their history and their early interests in 80s pop culture, the Duffer brothers take you on to:
Lesson 2: How to Develop a TV Series Idea
“Every story needs a core drive”
In this section, the Duffer brothers share their top tips for what they encourage – and what you should avoid – when thinking of your “big idea.” Here, they dispel some misconceptions about what makes a good TV show and how to know when an idea is working for you.
With their breakthrough film Hidden as a starting point, the Duffer brothers lay down what they believe to be the core drive for any successful idea. They also suggest what you should focus on when mining for the story’s main drive.
As a whole, this lesson teaches you how to enter the right frame of mind for drafting and conceiving screenplay ideas. They even divulge their own inspirations for Stranger Things and what their key influences were.
Setting the trend for the rest of the classes, the brothers set you a class assignment to help you with brainstorming your TV show ideas. They also offer ways you can tell when a story is working or how different ideas might actually come together.
If you’re a fan of Stranger Things, you’ll be pleased to know that the series is a chief case study for this course. So, you’ll get a glimpse into the Duffer brothers’ processes for devising the storylines for Stranger Things and how they took those from initial idea to final execution.
Lessons 3-4: Conceiving the Idea for “Strangers Things” and Writing a Demo: How to Write a Logline
“It's okay to be vague. You don't even need to have your characters now.”
For me, the first lesson in this section was a little lackluster. This is because it involved the Duffer brothers sharing their exact influences for Stranger Things, including their favorite 80s movies.
If you’re a die-hard Duffer brothers fan, you might enjoy this, but I found it a little repetitive and it didn’t leave me with many key takeaways I could put into practice myself.
That being said, the lesson picked up toward the end, with the brothers sharing their own brainstorming session for conceiving the idea for the show. This lesson really highlighted the importance of drive and how to get there from some isolated concepts.
By the end of this lesson and the next, you’ll also learn:
- What a logline is and how to write one
- How to develop your initial idea
- The Duffer brothers’ favorite programs and processes
- How the brothers work together to identify the drive
Lesson 5: The Duffer Brothers’ Writing Process
At the start of this lesson, the Duffer brothers offer their take on how to best set yourself up for success in writing.
So, in particular, this lesson covers:
- How the duo keep each other in check
- Techniques for establishing routine and focus
- Guidelines for how long to write per session
- Advice for when and how to write (including around a job)
- Main downfalls and how to avoid them
Essentially, what the Duffer brothers are trying to do in this class is to walk you through their step-by-step process for writing daily. Their advice includes how to get unstuck, what worked for them with Stranger Things, and how to work toward deadlines.
You’ll also learn some screenwriting terminology and take away helpful tips for working both with and without a partner.
Finally, like with the other classes in this course, the brothers leave you with an assignment to find your own writing style and a routine that works for you.
With this in mind, the Duffer brothers take you on to:
Lessons 6-7: Expanding on the Idea and Character Development
“Once you have the idea, the fun part is to explore that”
These two sections center on idea and character development. So, as the Duffers see it, once you have a starting point for an idea, the next step is to expand on it.
In these two lessons, you’ll learn:
- The Duffers’ unique brainstorming method and how to use it
- What this expansion process should look like
- How to experiment with brainstorming methods
- The rough sketch for Stranger Things and how it evolved
The brothers also go on to show you some key character documents. Here, you’ll get a glimpse at some never-before-seen files outlining characters that did – and didn’t – make it into the final Stranger Things.
If coming up with realistic characters is a struggle for you, this chapter will be invaluable. Having taken many writing classes myself, the Duffer brothers shared some tips here that I’d never thought of, and it’s definitely something I then took outside of the class.
All in all, this chapter is a non-intimidating look at how you take on the task of developing your core drive and the characters involved in it. You’ll see how the characters in Stranger Things evolved from prototypes and how the brothers created characters their audiences care about.
Lessons 8-9: Setting and Worldbuilding and Developing a Season Arc
Here, the Duffer brothers explain how important location is to plot. With that in mind, the pair give you an exercise to help you fill your fictional world. They also teach you how to evolve your world, as they did with the Upside Down in Stranger Things.
As was the case with their writing, they also had to consider budget limitations and how they could get across their vision in their screenplay pitch.
In these two sections, you’ll learn:
- How to mine your influences to create a world
- Develop your world’s aesthetics and mythology
- Condense the main parts of your world for your pitch
- Write story vs. character arcs
- Stay “zoomed out” from your script
Lesson 10: Writing Your Story Outline
“It's worth taking the time to plan and figure out where you're going”
As the Duffer brothers preface this section, you need to resist the urge to dive right into your script. Instead, they teach you how you can work to see the bigger picture.
- How to manage your outlining time
- What a strong outline can do for your script
- The Duffer brothers’ 2-stage outlining process
- How to tell when you’re ready to move on to the script
For me, the best part of this lesson was learning how long the Duffer brothers spend on this stage vs. the script. While there’s no perfect formula, I appreciated the honesty and detail given in this section. It made the process seem a lot more realistic!
So, by the end of this lesson, you’ll have a better idea of where and how to start your outlining process, and also how to figure out the main storylines that will shape your overall narrative.
With attention to how to get your story flowing, the brothers take you on to:
Lesson 11: Building Your Final Outline
“Aside from developing the big idea, this is the most important step”
Following the duo’s 2-stage outlining process, the Duffers’ take you on to consider the final stage of writing your outline.
You’ll learn to:
- Make your rough outline come to life
- Structure and manage your final outline
- Set the pace and drive your scenes
- Write on “spec”
- Edit and make cuts to your work
Of course, this lesson wouldn’t be complete without a Strangers Things case study. So, you’ll get to see how the brothers took their rough outline into one that’s fully fleshed out.
Whatsmore, this is the first time the pair have shown their rough Stranger Things outline to anyone. Plus, you then get to see how this sketch plays out in:
Lessons 12-13: Starting Your Pilot Script and The Elements of a Script: Description, Action and Dialogue
These two lessons teach you how to start and drive your script according to the 3 elements the Duffer brothers deem most important.
With reference to the exact programs the brothers use themselves, they take you through how to turn your final outline into a script.
You’ll also learn:
- How to save time when script-writing
- When to make cuts and edits
- Mistakes to avoid when writing your script
- How to master the 3 main elements of a good script
As the pair act out a scene from one of their favorite scripts, they share their tips and tricks for making a script realistic and enticing. They also take you through some things to avoid!
Along with this, you’ll learn how to propel your story forward, inject realism, transition between scenes, and get your script flowing.
So, having established their best tips for how to write a script, the brothers delve into something they’re best known for:
Lesson 14: Writing Demo: How to Write a Hook
“The first scene of your script should probably be the opening hook”
In more detail, the Duffer brothers show you how to write a hook. Here, you get to see the brothers’ writing processes and understand their hook-writing philosophies.
While more of an insight into their own style than a step-by-step lesson, this section is a great demo for anyone looking to hook their audience.
So, all in all, you could have the best script in the world, but if you’re not hooking your audience from the get-go, you’re going to have trouble getting them to read (or watch) on.
And, on the subject of enticing your audience, you’ll move on to:
Lesson 15-16: Getting to the Pitch and The “Strangers Things” Pitch
“Without an agent or a manager, no one’s going to take you seriously”
In these two sections, the brothers lay bare their struggles of finding connections in Hollywood. As they candidly admit, you need representation in order to be taken seriously. And, if you don’t know who’s who, it can be tough to get your break.
That being said, the Duffer brothers guide you through what worked for them and how you can get an agent and a manager. They even confess that this was the hardest part of the entire process for them – so it’s definitely worth taking notes.
All in all, these sections give you some solid advice on how to move forward in the industry with little or no prior connections. You’ll also learn what makes a pitch and how to practice for success when you get to that meeting.
In my view, the highlight of this section was getting to see the brothers’ pitch for Stranger Things. Here, you’ll see the summary of what was to become one of the biggest shows on Netflix. And, you get to see how the pair implemented their own advice.
Lessons 17-18: You’ve Sold Your Script, Now What? And “Stranger Things” Season 4 Behind the Scenes
“You should, as much as possible, listen to yourself”
By the end of this MasterClass, you will have had a whirlwind tour of what it takes to write a hit series – from initial idea to final screening. So, in these last lessons, the brothers give focus to what happens after you’ve sold your script.
- The difference between green-lighting and buying the script
- What a writers room is and how it works
- How to hire the best writers for your series
- The key takeaways the brothers want you to remember
Finally, you end this class with a behind-the-scenes look at Stranger Things season 4 and how the brothers overcame their biggest challenges. They also bring together key points from the rest of the MasterClass and show you how it works successfully in reality.
So, you’ll learn what the Duffer brothers managed to do with their filming circumstances, how the pair put their philosophies into practice, and, ultimately, the importance of finding the spark and passion to make your series a reality.
What I liked about the Duffer Brothers’ MasterClass
Learn from a pair of critically-acclaimed writers
The Duffer Brothers are perhaps the most famous writing partnership in screenwriting today. And, even if you don’t know them by name, you’ll definitely know their hit series, Stranger Things.
So, as I see it, the opportunity to learn from writers who have a proven track record of success is pretty invaluable. Throughout the course, they let you in on their writing processes and take you through their step-by-step outlining through to the final draft.
If you’re willing to pay for a MasterClass subscription and you have the passion to learn, that’s all you really need to gather an impressive toolkit for TV-writing.
See never-before-seen drafts of “Stranger Things”
If you’re a die-hard Stranger Things fan, it might not be the lessons alone that draw your attention to this course.
In fact, in the 5+ hours of content, you’ll get to see never-before-seen drafts of the show, along with behind-the-scenes footage and even the original pitch!
Considering this isn’t available anywhere else, and with the rare chance to learn from the Duffer brothers themselves, I think this class is excellent viewing for both aspiring writers and other fans of the show.
Comprehensive lessons with actionable advice
With a step-by-step format and a lesson plan that takes you from A through Z, it’s easy to see why this course is so popular with the majority of viewers. In fact, I struggled to find any negative reviews save from a few viewers who didn’t like the genre.
From my experience of the course, the popularity stems from how actionable and “easy” the advice is. Everything the brothers take you through can be put into practice – there are no enigmas about how to go about writing or even selling your script.
Plus, there’s even a 62-page Workbook with extra resources and suggestions. This is alongside the video lessons (which each end in a practical assignment).
While sometimes it is nice to just hear from the writers, I also liked that this class put responsibility into the viewers’ hands. The brothers get you writing from the get-go rather than listening passively.
As they see it, getting into a strict routine and putting in the work is what will drive you to success.
What could be improved
While everyone has their own preferences here, I did find that the Duffer brothers’ class was more fast-paced than others. This wasn’t so much because they brushed over points, but because they tried to fit so much into a 5-hour class
Because this MasterClass is taught by two writers rather than one, it also sometimes had more of a podcast feel to it. However, it also didn’t seem that well-planned in terms of time management, and they often overload the viewer with information rather than taking it slowly.
That being said, this is still an insightful MasterClass. In fact, the fast-paced nature is probably proof of how much they manage to cover!
Focused on writing with a partner
(This might be a pro for some).
As a writing duo, of course the Duffers have a unique way of writing. They co-write all of their outlines and drafts with the pair being able to access the same document at the same time.
While a lot of their advice is transferable to solo writing, it goes without saying that a lot of their processes involve how they work as partners.
If you have a writing partner, you’ll likely get more out of some lessons than if you’re writing alone. That being said, the brothers have all writers in mind – and they always offer alternatives to their “pair-driven” tips.
Also, with a MasterClass subscription; you can take any or all of the writing classes available. So, you don’t just have to hear from the Duffer Brothers (as great as that is by itself). You also get to hear from the other 20+ writers on the platform to date!
Who is this course for?
As I see it, the Duffer Brothers’ MasterClass is best for someone who is:
- Passionate about telling stories for a living
- A fan of Stranger Things and/or sci-fi in general
- In the process of writing but hitting a wall
- Keen to write but unsure where to start
- Set on an idea but in need of some help
- Interested in seeing how the industry works
How much does the course cost?
At the time of writing, MasterClass has three subscription offers. The price for these (per month) are:
- Individual (1 user): $15
- Duo (2 users): $20
- Family (6 users): $23
All are billed annually, which may seem a little pricey at first glance.
However, the value for money comes from taking as many courses as possible.
With 150+ courses on MasterClass, you’re more than likely to find many that interest you. But, even if you find that only 10% of the courses interest you, this still works out at $12 per course:
$180 (annual membership fee) / 15 courses = $12
Bearing in mind that these courses are taught by leading experts, the value for money is unbeatable. Elsewhere, you can pay over $100 for a course taught by someone you’ve never heard of, and it would nowhere near match the caliber of teaching on MasterClass.
Besides, MasterClass offers a 30-day refund policy if you’re not happy with your purchase.
You can also purchase MasterClass as a gift.
Alternatives to the Duffer Brothers’ MasterClass
If you’ve ever searched for an online writing course, you’ll know that there’s no shortage of options out there.
One alternative to the Duffer brothers’ class is the Screenwriting Workshop on Udemy. This is a couple of hours longer than the Duffer brothers’ but also lacks the high production values and esteemed tutelage of MasterClass.
The same goes for Skillshare’s Screenwriting MasterClass. However, because it’s under an hour long, this could be a good starting point if you have less time on your hands and want to get a feel for the topic.
But, overall, it’s worth thinking about what you want to get out of a class before committing to one.
That being said, if you’re serious about writing for TV for a living, I think MasterClass is unrivaled. Aside from the other general writing courses out there, there are actually two other screenwriting-focused courses: one by Aaron Sorkin and one by Shonda Rhimes.
So, considering their positions in the industry, it’s safe to say that these are some valuable tutors to learn from. And, with MasterClass all-access pass, you can hear from them all.
The Duffer Brothers MasterClass: What others say
In this Duffer brothers MasterClass review, my aim is to present the fairest and most accurate review of the course out there. So, it’s worth highlighting other people’s experience with the class – both good and bad.
I did this by looking up “Duffer Brothers MasterClass” on popular sites like Twitter and Reddit – just to get a feel for what others thought. And, to be honest, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
In fact, the only negative feedback I found was from those who weren’t fans of the later Stranger Things – and probably weren’t the brothers’ target audience anyway!
“They forgot to stop writing Stranger Things after season one, so I’m not sure their advice is worth much” – Comment from Reddit
Others loved the course but missed having a writing partner to share the advice with:
“Loving the class so far. I miss having a writing partner” – Comment from Reddit
But, in general, those who took the course were impressed by how entertaining and educational it was:
“So I may or may not have binged the Duffer Brothers’ MasterClass. It was really entertaining. Thank you @MasterClass you always provide the best content” – Comment from Twitter
“I’m shocked at how thorough this Duffer Brothers MasterClass is. It’s a must see for aspiring Television writers” – Comment from Twitter
“I worked my way through the Duffer Brothers’ MasterClass this weekend. I was struck by their outline process and wanted to put theory into practice [...] First draft done in five hours!” – Comment from Twitter
How long is this class?
In total, the Duffer brothers MasterClass is 5 hours and 18 minutes long. With 18 lessons to get through, and a 62-page Workbook, I would say this course takes a good week or so to get stuck into.
Not to mention, there are additional resources and out-of-class assignments. So, a lot of the learning comes from putting the advice into practice rather than passively watching.
Overall, though, it depends on your preference and commitments. If you have a free weekend or some evenings available, you can probably get through the course quicker.
Just remember, they pack a lot of information into an already lengthy class. So, if you’re anything like me, you’ll need a few breaks for the learning to digest.
Is the course content unique?
Because this MasterClass offers never-before-seen footage and drafts from Stranger Things, I’d say this course is pretty unique.
It’s also one of the more recent media presentations the brothers have done. So, it’s more up-to-date and definitely more in-depth than, say, the 55-minute talk they gave at Chapman University.
This MasterClass is also in a very particular context – it goes beyond being an interview or a chat. It really is intended to be a master class for aspiring writers.
So, with this in mind, I’d say that this course is unlike anything else the brothers have spoken about before. You also have the added bonus of high production values and a carefully tailored lesson plan.
In my opinion, all of this makes the Duffer brothers MasterClass pretty unique and invaluable learning.
Is the Duffer Brothers’ MasterClass worth it?
In my opinion, the Duffer Brothers’ MasterClass is definitely worth it if you’re passionate about writing strictly for a TV series.
The course is extremely high quality and takes you through the whole process from idea formation to script-selling.
But, because it is so specific, I’d say it’s less suited to those who want to pursue other types of writing. It also focuses heavily on sci-fi, such as in the section on world-building and mythology.
I still think that those who are interested in other genres will get a lot of good advice from this class, but it’s definitely worth noting that the Duffer Brothers are strongly invested in sci-fi and thriller writing.
With an all-access pass at $180, MasterClass gives you the chance to learn from a wide range of famed creatives like Shonda Rhimes, Aaron Sorkin, and NK Jemisin (who also has a lesson on world-building).
So, in this respect, I don’t see anything else that comes to beating MasterClass.
Frequently asked questions
For the year, an all-access MasterClass subscription costs $180. This gives you unlimited access to 150+ MasterClasses within this time period.
The Duffer brothers’ MasterClass consists of 18 video lessons totalling 5 hours and 18 minutes.
As great as that would be, you can’t get the Duffer brothers’ MasterClass free of charge. However, MasterClass has a range of purchasing options and offers refunds if you’re not happy.
Yes, MasterClass operates a 30-day refund policy if you purchase directly through them. But, if you purchase through other providers, their returns policy may apply.
Rebecca graduated from King's College university with a first class honours in English Language, followed by a Masters' Degree in Eighteenth Century Studies.