Lockwood & Co - How we made the teenage ghost-hunt dramaJan 26 | 4 min read
Lockwood & Co - How We Made It: With director and writer Joe Cornish
Director, writer and producer Joe Cornish reveals how teenage ghost-hunt drama Lockwood and Co was adapted from book to screen for Netflix.
If there's something strange, and it don't look good – who you gonna call? It turns out, in 2023, the answer is Lockwood & Co.
The new Netflix teen drama about a trio of teenage ghost-hunters is your next must-watch.
The series has been adapted from Jonathan Stroud’s hit book series by Joe Cornish (Attack the Block, Adam and Joe), who brings a passion, British sense of humour and a sharp twist-filled script.
We heard from Cornish at the show's launch about how he turned the spooky stories into a thrilling TV series…
Getting the rights to the book
"There was a bidding war for the first book (The Screaming Staircase, published in 2013). A big studio optioned it and they tried to make it into a feature. And it languished in development for a while. The option eventually lapsed and in that period the other four books came out.
"So we jumped on them and we thought this would make a really good TV show because there was so much story and development.
"I had a really good call with Jonathan Stroud the author and had a really long talk about what we’d like to do with it and we were lucky to get it. He’s a good guy and he understands the show will be a slightly different thing to the books. The books are always there and they are phenomenal."
The TV and movie inspirations for Lockwood & Co
"I watched a kid my age in E.T., there were kids my age in Lindsay Anderson's If, movies like The Black Stallion. I loved when I was young seeing myself on screen in high-stakes situations.
"All the movies I grew up on in the '80s made it a fantastic time for movies for young people.
"I've ended up doing three stories like that (Attack the Block, The Kid Who Would Be King). Maybe I'll do a film set in an old people's home next."
A simple hook
"When I switch on House of the Dragon, I feel like I’m back at school. Who did what to whom and what happened? And where are they going? It’s hard work. And some people like that and it feels very fulfilling.
"But this is hopefully very straightforward. It’s kids with weapons turning up at a house to take on a ghost. There is a deeper story going on and a little breadcrumb trail, but hopefully not in a way that makes you feel like you’re missing out moment to moment."
How they made the ghosts
"We looked at a lot of ghost movies. We take some stuff from Poltergeist, the 80s film. The way they come out of the walls in Poltergeist. The analogue effects in that movie are great. The flashes you get when things appear. I literally sent people that clip and said, ‘do that’.
"There were lots of other films, where we said, ‘that’s what not to do’. Films where the ghosts feel very digital. There is a very rote technique to doing ghosts in modern movies.
"We went back to Victorian spirit photography and looked at this brilliant book, A Perfect Medium. We used that as a reference."
Getting the perfect Lockwood, Lucy and George
"We saw hundreds and hundreds of young actors. We found Ruby very early. I'd just seen her in Rocks and she was brilliant from the off. She had the gumption, ambition, and sense of independence.
"Cameron was much harder to find. We saw thousands of young actors. Your pool is every young actor of that age working right now and we were really worried. There were lots of brilliant actors, but they also have to be dashing, handsome, vulnerable and haunted. They need to have the gift of the gab, but also the sensitivity.
"I think we had to go get Cameron and we went to him. He was just fantastic and had everything we needed.
"George again is tricky. He’s very particular, socially dysfunctional, very loyal. But Ali walked in and just had exactly the right chemistry for the character.
"He happens to be British-Iranian, which he isn’t in the book, but we just thought that was a great chance to enhance the character.
"We got really lucky to get three brilliant, hard-working, young actors."
Who wrote the haunting title track?
"We wanted Kids See Ghosts by Kid Cudi and Kanye. We tried to clear it and Kanye asked for something like a million dollars. And other things happened where we thought, maybe this isn’t such a good idea.
"Then I was listening to this Canadian band, BadBadNotGood. They are this jazz funk fusion band which makes them sound awful, but they’re really amazing.
"I was listening to one of their songs on a walk home and I just thought this would be an amazing title track. It’s called Can’t Leave the Night and we use that in the title track. It has a great drum fill that we bleed through into the end of episodes."
The '80s needle drops
"I have a thing about needle drops that they are overused. They are used to give you a boost of familiarity, especially on BBC Shows where they have a blanket agreement and they seem to just drop in a Beatles track in and then just fade it out.
"We try to use them sparingly. But there are lots of early '80s goth like Bauhaus, The Cure. Lockwood and Co is set in the present day, but it’s a parallel reality where the digital revolution never happened.
"We leaned back into the '80s where there was that Thatcherite gloom hanging over Britain. A lot of the music reflects romantic gloom."
Building Lockwood’s house
"It's his father's house, the house of an adventurer with bric-a-brac from around the world. We wanted to make it feel like the Sir John Soames Museum near Holborn. He was a crazy Victorian collector where he wanted his house to be a museum and every item has a story. That ties in with the show and the idea that every ghost has an object that you have to secure and destroy to destroy the ghost.
"That was the job of Marcus Rowland who has designed all my movies and Edgar Wright’s movies. He split the house into three different sets at Ealing Studios. It was a brilliant set. You’d find crew members asleep in the double bed because it was so cosy."
Watch Lockwood and Co on Netflix from Friday 27 January.