Stranger Things premiered its fourth season over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, allowing most audiences an extra non-working day to absorb the massive heft of this truly cinematic season. As the season progress, episodes became increasingly longer and more complex, requiring the expert crafts team to innovate on how they would handle the shift in length and tone.
That increased complexity required a great deal of collaboration between its two Emmy-nominated editors, Dean Zimmerman (ACE) and Casey Cichocki, who were recognized for their work on “Chapter Four: Dear Billy.”
“It was definitely a team effort for sure. We knew going in the episodes were going to be large, and the task would be very daunting,” Zimmerman recalled. “Without my support team underneath me, it would have never happened, and Casey was a vital and integral part of of that. As much as I was was cutting, he was right behind doing all the sound and cutting all the flashbacks and montages. That’s definitely where the difference between the other seasons: the magnitude of footage that we were getting every day.”
Zimmerman and Cichocki have worked together since 2014, so along the way, they developed a shorthand in how they collaborate. A “hive mind,” if you’ll excuse the pun. Even though the fourth season’s tone shifted toward horror, it didn’t vastly increase the rhythms of their assembled footage. Rather, they found a slower, steadier approach to the footage helped build necessary character development and a false sense of security within the audience.
The team submitted “Dear Billy” because it offered a variety of emotional and thrilling content. Plus, it’s the episode that features the infamous and expertly used Kate Bush song “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God).”
That kind of made the episode jump out to them a little.
“I really love the ending part of it. I thought that was one of the determining factors of it, to be perfectly honest, just how that came together, having that orchestral element underneath the cover song, which was something that we hadn’t done in years past,” Zimmerman explained. “So just the fact that we were breaking down walls and barriers in some of the stuff that we were traditionally doing prior seasons, I felt like this is the one that we should put up.”
Also in the episode, the team was able to splice together tense footage of the great horror actor Robert Englund who makes a cameo appearance as a key portion of season villain Vecna’s mythology. Their construction of Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Robin’s (Maya Hawke) interrogation of Englund’s Victor Creel most definitely recalled the editing rhythms of Claire Starling’s first interaction with Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.
Aside from the playful allusion, Zimmerman and Cichocki decided they needed to avoid rapid-paced editing and allow Englund’s performance to dominate the scene. Additionally, they needed to determine how much information they would need to relay within the scene and then balance that against the performance.
Also complicating matters for the editing team was the increased reliance on sound design within season four. Aside from the expected Upside Down sound patters, the episode also offered an intense shoot-out sequence as Hopper (David Harbor) attempts to break out of his Russian prison. As Zimmerman said, they needed to dial things up, between the bullets and accompanying score, all the way to 11.
“That was one of the things about this season, I had been doing sound on season two and three, but coming into this season, the ask was to put a lot of that sound on my shoulders. I loved it,” Cichocki said. “That would allow Dean and I to especially work so hand in hand because he would be working on a scene and then I would be working on that sound in that same scene, passing it back and forth. This season had so much more action than we’ve ever had, of course, way more visual effects than we’ve ever done before. So I would say this season was by far and away the most difficult or especially the most robust soundscape than we’ve ever had.”
And as the episode culminates in Max’s (Sadie Sink) near-death experience and resurrection through the Kate Bush song, the editing team needed to assemble that footage to ensure the power of the moment matched the power of the script. Zimmerman and Cichocki’s close collaboration with the Duffer Brothers allowed them to experiment with editing techniques in ways they had not attempted before.
The result? An incredibly engaging, heart-stopping sequence that audiences buzzed about for weeks.
“I wanted it to feel how I read it which was all of a sudden you feel like you’re picking up the pace as you read it. The heart starts to beat a little faster, so I wanted it to feel very visceral. I wanted people to engage in the character and what she’s going through mentally. This is a perfect example of a harmony between the two editors,” Zimmerman said. “Casey coming in and doing all the flashbacks and having that marriage happen in editorial that’s really what set that scene into the stratosphere . Also, having an orchestral element which we hadn’t done in prior seasons, adding that orchestral suite to Kate’s song to really kind of amped up the tension and the drama. That all yielded to what I was wanting to portray, which was her anxiety, her peril, and her willingness and need to escape this terrible person, and it all came together.”