‘Lockwood & Co’ Showrunner Joe Cornish Talks Season 2 and Fan Made TikToks

Feb 18, 2023

A new show ramping up tons of excitement on Netflix is showrunner Joe Cornish’s supernatural adventure series, Lockwood & Co. Featuring a cast of fresh new faces battling it out with the dead that just refuses to rest, this mystery unfolds from the mind of Cornish, who previously worked on the screenplay for Ant-Man and The Adventures of Tintin with Peter Jackson. Cornish was also the writer-director for the John Boyega-led comedy feature, Attack the Block, which amassed a following over the years, leading to an upcoming sequel, Attack the Block 2.

Adapted from the children’s book series by author Jonathan Stroud, Lockwood & Co is set in a London that finds itself under attack by ghosts. So regularly, in fact, that there are official agencies set up to protect the people and maintain control. Unfortunately, the haunts are hardly contained, and that’s where Lockwood & Co comes in. A small amateur ghost-hunting agency established by Anthony Lockwood, played by Cameron Chapman in his debut role, and aided by George Cubbins (Ali Hadji-Heshmati) and newcomer, Lucy Carlyle (Ruby Stokes), takes on missions when they get hired. However, with Lucy’s impressive paranormal gifts, Lockwood’s determination, and George’s brain, Lockwood & Co may very well be the most skilled defense London has.
Following Lockwood & Co’s Netflix premiere, Collider’s Steve Weintraub spoke with Cornish about the series. During his interview, Cornish discusses the material for a possible Season 2, casting unknown and relatively new actors as his stars, addresses the social media response, and shares his love for fans’ excitement for Lucy and Lockwood’s relationship. He also talks about the VFX, obstacles faced while filming during a pandemic, and teases one of his next projects, Starlight, adapted from the Mark Millar comic. For all of this and more, check out the full interview below.

COLLIDER: I want to start with congrats on the series. I’ve seen the whole thing. If I had more episodes I would have watched more episodes.

JOE CORNISH: Well that is a great compliment, thank you.

So you’ve done a few things in your career. If someone has never seen anything you’ve done before, what is the first thing you’d like them watching, and why?

CORNISH: Hmm, well I think I probably have them watch Attack the Block. I think if they were if they were old enough. The thing about the stuff I’ve done is it pretty much is aimed at fairly specific generations, like Attack the Block works really well for teenagers and up. The Kid Who Would Be King worked really well for younger kids. All the stupid comedy I did when I was younger worked pretty well for, you know, people stumbling home from the pub late at night. Then Lockwood & Co actually seems to work pretty well for families, for family viewing.

But I’d say Attack the Block because Attack the Block starts in quite a challenging way. It asks you to follow a character who isn’t necessarily set out as sympathetic at the beginning. So I like that that shakes down my audience a bit. Do you know what I mean? You got to be a certain type of viewer, somebody who wants their characters to be interesting rather than necessarily immediately sympathetic. So yeah, that’s that would be my answer.

If you could get the financing to make anything you want, what would you make and why?

CORNISH: If I could get the financing to make anything I wanted? That’s a good question. I would need thinking time. But in terms of the projects I have, I mean I would have loved to have made the screenplay I wrote for Snow Crash.

Whatever ended up happening with that?

CORNISH: It got quite a long way at Paramount. They decided to do their Ghost in the Shell remake instead. They bounced us back. We turned it into an episodic TV show with really brilliant scripts by Michael Bacall. We took it to pretty much every single streamer and TV financier. Me, Michael Bacall, Frank Marshall – the most successful producer in history – couldn’t get anybody to take the risk. It’s a pretty conservative time out there. [There are] a lot of IP and video games, and for stuff over a certain budget, I think it’s quite difficult to get people to take the risk. And Snow Crash is just too cool.

It’s funny you say that because I’m friends with a number of producers, and they have said to me that it is an incredibly brutal time out there to try to make anything that is not IP.

CORNISH: Yeah, it’s kind of a shame. Five years ago it felt as if streaming was the beginning of a big flourishing of original creativity, but in a way, it feels slightly as if the same conservatism that has affected theatrical is starting to infect the streamers. I guess because of what’s happening economically globally, and because of the amount of stuff out there, the amount of demand on people’s eyeballs.

Yeah, there was a few-year period where almost everything was getting made, but that period is over. Jumping into why I get to talk to you. I’ll ask the most important thing up front. What can you say in terms of a Lockwood & Co Season 2?

CORNISH: Well listen, there are five Lockwood & Co books written by the very brilliant Jonathan Stroud. We’ve adapted the first two for the first season, and the books get better and better. The character relationships get more complex, the world-building expands, [there are] twists and turns, and it gets epic, and amazing set pieces. So, we would love to get the chance to put all that stuff on screen, but at the same time, we are very proud of the first season. If you want to find out what’s beyond that door and you can’t wait for more, then it’s in the books.

Image via Netflix

Has Netflix said that they’re happy with the results of the show thus far?

CORNISH: You don’t find out. I think we did very well for the first couple of weeks. I think we have another meeting coming up, which I will not attend because I’m an artistic type. I like to keep my attention towards the creative side of it, you know? And we’ll see. It’s a mystery to me.

It’s like with movies. You make the best movie you possibly can and the rest of it is in the lap of the Gods. The difference is if you make a movie and it doesn’t necessarily perform well theatrically, you’ve got a shot at a life beyond theatrical. Like, Attack the Block made its reputation, really, after its theatrical release. As has The Kid Who Would Be King. I think that’s the difficult thing with a streaming series is, if you don’t get to do more, you don’t really necessarily have a completely complete work out there. Do you know what I mean?

I think that’s the tough thing as a creative person. The success of Raiders of the Lost Ark was not defined by whether they would get to make a sequel. Do you know what I mean? But like I say, there’s always the books.

How did you decide on eight episodes?

CORNISH: You know what, I think that was just the order. I think that’s almost a defined shape and size for a series like this on Netflix, and the books sat pretty well broken up like that. It was the right amount of story, we thought, for that to be divided up that way. Could we have gone in and said, “Oh we want 15.”? Maybe. I don’t think we would have got them. But I think this felt like the right segmentation for the story.

There have been some series recently that have been going to the six-episode model. It used to be the 10-episode model, then it went to eight, and now it’s between six and eight, depending on the show.

CORNISH: Well, I think six would have been too tight. We sat down, we looked at the books, we broke the narrative down, and we figured that’s what would fit best. I think we did that pretty early on.

Image via Netflix

When you were talking to Netflix about making the show, even though they had the books, even though the books are out there, how much were they asking you, “Hey, do you have a two-season plan? Do you have a three-season plan? Does that come up in those early meetings?

CORNISH: I think they always knew it was a series of books. They always knew we were doing the first two, and absolutely, it’s super important that there is material there, and scope for the rest of the series. They actually get you to write the next series as soon as you finish production on the first season. So there are scripts already being written, but that’s the same in movies.

I was working with Peter Jackson on the sequel to [The Adventures of Tintin] before the first Tintin movie was released, and then the box office comes in and plans are adjusted, you know? So yeah, I think that’s one of the strong things about the material is that there’s a bunch of stories out there, but I don’t think that necessarily means you’re going to get to tell them.

I’m sure there were things you were thinking about doing, why Lockwood over something else?

CORNISH: Well, me and Edgar [Wright], our producer Nira [Park], and are producing partner Rachael Prior, had set up this company, Complete Fiction, which we set up about three years ago. Our first productions were Edgar’s [The Sparks Brothers] documentary and his movie Last Night in Soho, and we wanted to do something in TV. We discovered these books years ago, we acquired the rights four or five years ago, and it was something I’d been working on slowly and surely alongside other projects. It kind of came together.

I guess, also, the cool thing about Lockwood, for me, was it meant I was working all the way through the pandemic. So it got off the ground just before the pandemic hit. For me, it was like, “Okay, here’s a really lovely, meaty project, I can really get my teeth into.” And it meant I was getting out of the house, and I was working with big crews, and I was shooting and editing and working all the way through that three-year period.

I was also writing, you know, working on Attack the Block, to working on Starlight, the Mark Miller adaptation, working on a bunch of other things. Let me put it this way: when you choose a project, it’s 50% what you want to do and 50% what you’re allowed to do, in terms of who’s going to put up the money and when the ducks are in a row, when the stars align. And the stars happened to align for Lockwood at this period in time.

Image via Netflix

It’s so funny you say that because I’m friends with so many directors and producers, and they talk about the fact that it’s really when the studio calls you and says, “Wait a minute, we want to do this.” All of a sudden, that’s what you’re doing.

CORNISH: Yeah, you gotta be ready. It’s also when the material is ready because if you feel that the material’s ready, and also the studio is ready, then that’s the perfect moment, right? [There are] many projects that just stay in script development eternally, and never get made because everyone isn’t happy with the script, and there are some projects that just sort of happened by magic. Everybody digs the script and everything just falls into place. You know, people who get to make lots of stuff are lucky enough to have that happen a bunch of times, I guess.

Have you gone online and looked at all the TikToks that have been made about Lockwood?

CORNISH: I have seen some of them. I hear [there are] something like 55 million TikTok views, or something insane. I mean, this is the other thing about the world of streaming, just the numbers, right? Like when Netflix put up the numbers saying that your show has been watched for 60 million hours. That feels, to me, like the modern version of those big adverts in Variety you used to get the Monday after an opening weekend. Do you remember? Like, “Last Action Hero, $300 million,” or whatever. Maybe Last Action Hero did not make that amount of money, you know what I mean? Jurassic Park…

[Laughs] It’s funny, of all the movies to pick, you went with Last Action Hero.

CORNISH: But you know what I mean? Those big, massive sexy numbers, the modern equivalent of that is the Netflix viewing hours, figures, and then the TikTok viewing figures, the number of social media posts. The data you get back is really astonishing, and the reach of Netflix is astonishing. Just the amount of people in all these different countries that your material goes out to in an instant is extraordinary, really.

So it would be impossible to see it all, but we certainly really appreciated the fact that people are into the romance between Lucy and Lockwood, and the chemistry between them.

Image via Netflix 

People have been sending me some stuff and there’s a lot of them. I think that Netflix has to be looking at social engagement in terms of making a decision on whether or not they want to bring it back for a Season 2 because if there’s not a lot of social engagement, I don’t see a Season 2 happening.

CORNISH: Right, well listen, I’m not going to get caught up in the whole, “Is there/isn’t there going to be a Season 2?” We drive ourselves crazy. We just have to be super proud of what we’ve done. We really appreciate the fact, particularly, that fans of the book are recognizing the world that was in their imagination up on the screen. I just want to be proud and happy for the actors, for all the incredible technicians, everybody who worked on the show that made it good, and that so many people dig it.

Who knows? Maybe we won’t get 100 billion people, and maybe we won’t get across that line, but it’s challenging. These are big IP’s out there that we’re competing against. We’ve got no stars, the books aren’t that well-known. So you know, I think we’ve done pretty good.

The reviews are very good on the series, you should definitely be proud of that. What do you think fans of the series would be surprised to learn about the actual making of the show?

CORNISH: What would they be surprised…? I mean, I think it’s really impressive that Cameron Chapman has never acted on screen before, and that guy carries pretty much the whole show. It’s pretty impressive that Ruby [Stokes] had a supporting part in Bridgerton, was part of the cast of Rocks, but really she has never carried a show before. Ali [Hadji-Heshmati] has had small parts in TV shows. Those guys were working flat-out for months and months and months carrying the show, doing dramatic scenes, doing romantic scenes, doing fights, explosions, chases, mystery, exposition, really everything you could ask of an actor was asked of them, and they really carry the show. And so, I think that’s surprising.

It might come as a surprise to people that we did shoot it in the middle of the pandemic, and it does not look like a pandemic show. I don’t think you could tell. It’s full of crowd scenes and action scenes, and it feels very populated. You can’t tell that on a particular day the entire grip department went down because somebody got COVID, so I couldn’t have any tracks or jib arms, or anything. I had to rethink whole action sequences, handheld rather than with grip equipment. So [there are] all sorts of obstacles we had to negotiate to shoot through that period, but I’m proud of the fact that I don’t think it shows.

Image via Netflix

I am curious about casting Cameron, who has never done a series or a movie. What is it like to pitch Netflix and say, “I want to cast someone who’s never done anything.”?

CORNISH: They understood that it would be three newcomers. I mean, [there are] not a lot of stars of that age. Can you think like, “Who is that age that would…?” They’re few and far between, really.

There are not that many.

CORNISH: Especially British.

Yeah, exactly.

CORNISH: So I think they knew they would be relatively unknown actors, and we’ve got a terrific adult cast supporting them, as well, with a lot of more familiar names. But there was never a question, I don’t think, of wanting to cast famous people in those roles. We never wanted to cast 30-year-olds with lots of makeup on like some shows.

By the way, thank you because that makes me crazy. I like when it’s believable, you know?

CORNISH: Yeah, our actors are like maybe two or three years older than what they’re playing, but I think they look like teenagers.

You obviously have a budget, but you have to include VFX [because] you have ghosts. How did you figure out where and when to spend money on the VFX, and was that something you were thinking about in the writing process?

CORNISH: Yeah. We really love the books, I really love the books, and when you start putting them on the page you just have to figure out which sequences are moving the story forward and which are just entertaining excursions. So you just get rid of the set pieces that are not essential. Then, the other thing is less is more. In fact, the less you show the ghosts the better, really. It’s always more about the actor’s reaction to the ghost necessarily than the ghost itself, the performances around the special effect.

We can’t hide the ghosts that much because, of course, our ghosts are in combat. We have fights with ghosts. So that was where we really spent the money, when, for instance, in the opening fight in Episode 1. My episodes, basically, Episodes 1 and 8.

But no, it really didn’t feel as if we were having to scrimp and save. We really spent the money where we needed to spend the money, but that’s down to my producers, Nira Park and James Biddle, who do all of my stuff, and all of Edgar’s stuff. They’re very experienced and really good at getting the money on the screen.

You directed Episode 1 and 8. Did you ever think about, “Do I want to helm the whole series?” Or was it not something feasible?

CORNISH: I don’t think I could have. I think the way it works, you’ve got to be cutting your episodes while someone else is shooting, right? To actually get the show across the delivery line, you’ve got to have a kind of rolling series. So I’m shooting, someone else’s prepping. I’m cutting, someone else’s shooting. I’m locked, the other person’s cutting, I come in and review their cuts. I supervise the special effects, I supervise the sound and the music. So I have a supervisory role over everybody else’s episodes, but I think it’s tough. I think you’d have to have a different type of schedule or a different type of show for one person to direct them all, with all these VFX, and all the action sequences, all the night shoots. I guess I could have done it, but I think we probably would still be shooting if I’d done it.

Image via Netflix

I know Bill Hader is directing all of the new season of Barry, but I think they factored that in and probably shoot–

CORNISH: Well listen, Barry is an ambitious show with all sorts of stuff, but it doesn’t have ghosts. It’s got a much more naturalistic feel to it. I love that show and I’m a huge fan of Bill.

You’ve got to cut the cloth according to the material, I think. Listen, plus it was a really interesting experience for me to be a producer, and to get to be on the other side of the process where a director presents their cut and you get to help enhance it and polish it. It’s gonna make me a different director to be in a position where you can be totally objective about the material because you weren’t standing there on the day, do you know what I mean? I got to be the guy giving notes rather than the guy getting notes, which is I think probably good for me in the long run.

I definitely want to ask you about Starlight. What is the status of the script?

CORNISH: I’m working on a second draft at the moment. I got a really, really lovely response to my first draft from Simon Kinberg and Steve Asbell at 20th and Mark. It’s just a really beautiful story, and the aspect of it that really excites me is to cast one of my personal childhood action heroes from the ‘80s or ’90s, who might be a little older now, and to bring them back in this particular story. Do you know the comic book at all?

I haven’t read it, but I know the comic.

CORNISH: Yeah, yeah, so it’s like your childhood action hero being called back into action when he’s in his late 70s, when he’s older. So the casting opportunities are fantastic. What the movie would mean to people of my generation if you cast it in a particular way is very exciting, and also the way it would appeal to a new generation. Just to hark back to those big action-adventure movies people of my age enjoyed when we were in our teens, and when cinema was a bit simpler and more heroic, and more romantic.

Are you thinking Arnold [Schwarzenegger]?

CORNISH: No comment.

Image via Netflix

What’s bubbling up for you in terms of what you think you might be doing next?

CORNISH: I really don’t know. I’d refer you to the discussion we had earlier. It just depends [on] how the stars align. I’m working hard on Starlight. I’m working hard on Attack the Block 2. I have a horror project with Netflix, a feature film that I’m very excited about. So I’m just going to keep working away and let the fates decide.

How did the show change in the editing room in perhaps ways you weren’t expecting?

CORNISH: Well, I think the thing that really has surprised us is how powerful the chemistry between the three actors is. When in the editing room, you’re looking at everything, you’re looking at the mystery element of the story, you’re looking at the supernatural element, the world-building element, the music, the atmospherics, the special effects. But what people are really locking [onto] is the chemistry between the three leads. The notion of a found family, how they’re all damaged in different ways, how they are looking out for each other in different ways. So the thing that feels really compulsive is the character interplay, which is what we really hoped for. But I think none of us expected it to land as powerfully as it has with viewers, and that’s really down to the actors.

It’s like with John Boyega and Attack the Block. You know, we knew he was really good, but until you screen it, you can’t predict that mysterious alchemy between the actor and the audience. You cross your fingers and wish that it will happen, but you can never tell. It really seems to have happened between these three actors and the audience, which is entirely down to what they’re doing in front of the camera that sometimes you don’t fully appreciate when you’re actually shooting.

You can watch all of Lockwood & Co Season 1 on Netflix.

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