‘Stranger Things’: Executive Producer Shawn Levy on the ‘Gut Punch to the Heart’ in Season 3

Shawn Levy Stranger Things
Courtesy of Tina Rowden/Netflix

Shawn Levy is exec producer of Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” which just launched its third season. Levy sees each new set of episodes as “basically an eight-hour movie”; here he talks about his duties on the show, and how he and his team at production company 21 Laps help keep the series faithful to the original intent of creators Matt and Ross Duffer while still managing plenty of surprises each season.

“Executive producer” has many translations. What’s your role on “Stranger Things”?

My role is a bit of an anomaly. Before we knew if anyone would want the show, I vowed to the Duffer Brothers that I would be the “whatever you need” guy. My function on “Stranger Things” has more span than the typical executive producer. It also concerns itself more with the minutiae than the typical EP. Sometimes my job is to give them notes on scripts, or on edits or music cues. I am the producer sounding board in that sense.

It’s a surprisingly small team.

If you watch the credits on most shows, there are six to 12 executive producers. On “Stranger Things,” it’s real simple and real small. It’s the Duffers, line producer Iain Paterson, Dan Cohen and me. That’s it. We do all the work because no one else is going to. Dan works with me here at 21 Laps and found the pilot script. He’s the one who said: “Stop what you’re doing and read this. It might be the best thing I’ve ever read.”

Sometimes your job is to direct.

I do that for fun. It’s a chance for my producer brain to shut down. The joy of directing is that between “Action!” and “Cut!” my world telescopes down to those moments. Nothing matters more than what is happening in the frame.

Your career is pretty eclectic.

That’s by design. For many years, I was the movie director of family comedies, with five hits in a row, including “Night at the Museum.” I was being offered every family film, and I realized if I wasn’t mindful about my choices, I would be typecast for life. You broaden the road while you can, or else that road will become a rut. I’m grateful between a little intuition and a lot of luck, I was able to diversify my work. I produced “The Spectacular Now” and “Arrival,” which don’t fit in the filmography of a family-comedy director. That was the point. My life is genuinely one of a director and a producer. Those are very different, and I’m constantly toggling between two mindsets. But I wouldn’t be happy doing only one.

How does Season 3 differ from the first two?

This may sound contradictory, but Season 3 is our most comedic and pop-y season yet, but it’s also our most cinematic and epic season. It opens in the summer of ’85, filled with the idyllic nature of summer and adolescence in the ’80s, the fun of mall culture and young love, a world of innocence and promise. But as new threats are revealed — and there’s more than one in Season 3, both supernatural and human — the season takes a turn toward darkness. And it is far creepier than anything we’ve done yet. It gets an epic scale in terms of action and emotion. By the end of Episode 8, it’s like a gut punch to the heart. I know I’m mixing metaphors with two body parts, but it’s a deeply emotional ending to the season. 

Things You Didn’t Know About Shawn Levy

Age: 50 Birthplace: Montreal College: Yale; he graduated at age 20 Secret passion: “I’m a musical-theater nerd” Languages: French, passable Italian
“and enough Hebrew to greet reporters at a junket”