Joe Cornish on His Netflix Series Lockwood & Co. and Attack the Block 2
Feb 1, 2023
Joe Cornish is a talented man. A Jack (or Joe) of all trades, Cornish began his career with several hilarious projects alongside his comedic partner Adam Buxton, including radio shows and their lo-fi, whimsical Adam and Joe Show on Channel 4. He became close with the great collaborators Nick Frost, Edgar Wright, and Simon Pegg, filming behind-the-scenes on Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz while making cameo appearances.
Cornish stepped outside the comedy and radio/podcast worlds for his first feature film, creating a different kind of urban sci-fi with the acclaimed film, Attack the Block. He co-wrote the script for the original Ant-Man film and Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin, then made another film with the underrated The Kid Who Would Be King. Now, he’s continuing his coming-of-age themes with Lockwood & Co., the Netflix adaptation of Jonathan Stroud’s YA novels about ghost-hunting teenagers. Cornish spoke with MovieWeb about the series, his consistent themes, and the upcoming sequel to Attack the Block.
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The Lockwood & Co. Series Comes to Netflix
“I’m never confident. It’s just like, hold your breath, and jump in,” said Cornish, a remarkable sentiment from someone who has become a respected Renaissance Man. Confidence is certainly onscreen in Cornish’s work, with an assured and effective style that sometimes feels like Edgar Wright adapting a great Amblin Entertainment film from the ’80s, but with the technological prowess of a modern effects wizard. Lockwood & Co. carries that sensibility, establishing a vibrancy early on.
The series takes place in an alternate reality in which, 50 years prior, ghosts became a public a menace and a very glaring, dangerous reality. In this world, which has been technologically and politically stunted due to the interruptions of apparitions, kids have evolved something called Talent, different sensorial psychic abilities that can detect ghosts. They’re exploited by different ghost-hunting agencies run by frequently callous adults in a kind of child labor conglomerate. Lockwood & Co. follows the very talented Lucy (Ruby Stokes) as she strikes out on her own and joins the two-person titular agency, which seems to be the only one actually run by kids — the 18-year-old Anthony Lockwood (Cameron Chapman) and his partner, George (Ali Hadji-Heshmati).
Related: Lockwood & Co. Review: Netflix YA Series Adapts the Teen Books in Thrilling Fashion
“What I like about Lockwood & Co. is the simplicity of the world-building,” said Cornish. “You kind of only need to know four simple things to get into it — that there’s a plague of ghosts, young people can sense them before adults, metal and salt repel them, and there are these agencies where adults employ kids to fight them. So once you know those four things, then you can actually learn just by watching the agents go about their lives. You have the building blocks for this really quite elaborate and resonant world.”
The Ghost-Hunting World-Building of Lockwood
That simplistic but effective world-building is partly why Cornish was drawn to help create Lockwood & Co. It’s a supernatural fantasy series, but one which tangentially examines the actual economic and social consequences of The Problem, as it’s known in the show, or the fact that deadly ghosts now aggressively haunt the world. “There’s something Dickensian about the idea of kids being sent to do the dirty work of adults. And then the fact that Lockwood is the only agency that isn’t supervised by adults,” said Cornish. “So you’re just stacking these little story points on top of each other, and you very quickly, exponentially start to get a really brilliant world. The fact that industry has been distorted in such a way that salt is now so valuable and metals are valuable, and the digital revolution kind of didn’t happen — you’ve immediately got a very different world that these young people are living in.” Cornish continued:
I as a viewer get exhausted by complicated world building, and I like stuff where you just jump in and pick it up as you go along. This felt like an opportunity to do that. And I hope it works. You know, people were nervous. I was asked to shoot a bunch of expositional stuff to put at the beginning of the episode, and I did shoot it. But luckily everybody realized that we didn’t need it. And we ended up just starting it kind of in the middle of the investigation in the same way that my very first draft started.
Lockwood & Co. drops viewers into this world, but is clever at providing the details one needs to fully flesh it out. There is a montage in the first episode that’s helpful, but Cornish & Co. decided that the opening titles could be an exciting way to crunch a bunch of exposition. “We do a bunch of stuff in the opening,” explained Cornish. “That felt like a place to do that kind of formation dump, with some beautiful graphics. You can skip the titles in episode two onwards on Netflix, but you can’t skip them for episode one. So we thought that was the perfect place to just do a bit of like a little educational slideshow.”
Joe Cornish Maintains the Tone of Lockwood & Co.
While Cornish is the head writer, and produces it with his Complete Fiction company (which is run by him, Edgar Wright, Nira Park, and Rachael Prior), he only directed the first and last episodes. However, that initial hour of television was kind of the north star which allowed other directors (the underrated William McGregor and Catherine Morshead) and writers to carry an aesthetically consistent tone.
“I directed the first and last episodes,” explained Cornish. “I was first out of the gate, so before Will and Catherine started work on their episodes, they were able to watch my episodes. And I used the same DOP that I used for Attack the Block, Tom Townend, who’s a very close friend and very, very brilliant. He shoots for Lynne Ramsay, and he’s just incredible at shooting at night. He always brings a particular texture and tone that personally I love, so he was able to set the photographic look for the other cinematographers that came after him.” Beyond the visual feel of Lockwood & Co., everyone agreed on certain narrative and atmospheric decisions. Cornish explained:
I think we all agreed that it needed to be real. That even when it was funny, it had to be the kind of funny that comes when you’re scared. And the stakes have to be high. At the end of the day, we had these wonderful books to work from, and Jonathan is so good at evoking mood and detail, and creating these characters, that really, the book was our Bible. And the look that I established in the first and last episodes were what everybody came off, and then we had months and months of rehearsal with the actors as well. So by the time the actors hit the set, I had worked with them so thoroughly that they really understood what we wanted from them.
Joe Cornish (Kind of) Discusses Attack the Block 2
Fans of Cornish may recognize ane extremely particular recurring image in his work, which is more or less consciously unintentional — kids wielding swords in a supernatural or fantasy and sci-fi setting. “It was young people fighting supernatural foes with swords,” said Cornish. “And in fact, when we discovered the books, it was just after Attack the Block that Rachel Pryor […] read the books, they were brilliant, and she probably thought, ‘Hey, it’s a kid with a sword, like Moses in Attack the Block. Joe might dig this.’ We didn’t get the books back then; it took 10 years for the books to become available again, and by that time, there were five of them. Then I happen to make another movie which involved a boy finding Excalibur, right? So, I’m gonna have to get myself out of this, or maybe I’m just gonna have to say, okay, Lockwood & Co. is the last thing I do with it. But then again, I don’t know quite what the weaponry will be like in Attack the Block 2 yet. We will see.
Related: Attack the Block 2: Joe Cornish Compares the Sequel to Aliens & Terminator 2Attack the Block similarly featured a group of young adults fighting off a somewhat supernatural (but really extraterrestrial) force in an urban setting, and it helped make John Boyega a star before he was ever in Star Wars. “He’s really something,” said Cornish of Boyega, who gave one of 2022’s best performances in Breaking. “I thought he was amazing in The Woman King, as well.” A dozen or so years later, the ‘kids’ of Attack the Block are obviously older, so it will be interesting to see if the film breaks from Cornish’s consistent coming-of-age narratives and themes. Whatever the film does, he’s not telling.
“I can’t tell you,” explained Cornish. “I mean, we have a really detailed treatment, and we’re just in that space between the treatment and the screenplay. We’re doing a lot of research, very deeply involved in research at the moment. But I’m not going to say, unfortunately, just yet, because we had so much time to make the first one. Nobody knew who I was, no one was expecting it. So we took our time to make it, and we made sure it was the best, the most thoughtful possible screenplay, and we did a lot of research. So I’m very conscious of making sure I do the same due diligence before I do this movie, so that it has a chance to be as good as it possibly can be. And I might give him a sword, by the way. I’m not saying no. Moses, he might have to have his katana back at some point. We will see.”
Swords or not, Attack the Block 2 will undoubtedly be thrilling. In the meantime, viewers will be more than happy to have Lockwood for company. A Complete Fiction production, Lockwood & Co. is now streaming on Netflix.
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