What did you find translated very naturally from the books to the show, and what from the first two books was a bit trickier to adapt?
Well, there’s some stuff about Lucy’s backstory that is skirted over and kind of elliptical in the books. In the first episode, when we flashback to her early years when she first joined an agency, that stuff we had to invent ourselves. Really, I used to read novels as a kid and then see adaptations of them, I would always be like, “Why did they change that? Why did they need to change that? Just film this.” I remember when I read Stephen King books, I’d be like, “Man, this is a screenplay. Just film all of this.” We tried to do that, but obviously, you can’t. It would be a 50-hour show if you filmed everything, so you have to figure out ways to compress. By and large, we just tried to put everything in that we could.
There were places where we had to condense things. There were some things that didn’t make total sense when you really analyzed them that we had to streamline. There were some things we didn’t necessarily want to spend money on. There were set pieces in the books that didn’t necessarily advance the story. We thought, “Okay, let’s not shoot that. We’ll just have to reference that in dialogue.”
We tried to stay as close to the books as we possibly could at all points. When we made changes, we just thought, “Oh, this could be even better.” Jonathan Stroud, the author of the books, was very involved and he okayed everything and collaborated with us. We hope this is as close to the books as possible, but the books don’t have special effects or music or actors, so we have to do all that stuff, bring it to life.
The visual effects are not hidden by darkness. How important was that for you, your cinematographer, and the visual effects team? And what were some of your rules for the ghosts?
Well, we can’t hide our ghosts because one of the brilliant ideas central to “Lockwood & Co.” is that ghosts can kill you by touching you. I don’t know that anybody has ever thought of that before Jonathan Stroud. It just changes the dynamics. It means you’re in an action-adventure combat situation where previously you were in a “Scare me, throw a chair at me, possess my daughter, suck me into the TV” situation. Suddenly you are in an actual fight where this thing is coming for you, and if it touches you, it kills you. We had to think about our ghosts as physical assailants in a space. We had to figure out a way to have something on set that the actors could react to so that eye lines were right, so they could be in combat with them, not dissimilar to “Attack the Block” and “The Kid Who Would Be King.”
Our ghosts are made up of a kind of dummy with lights on it that was on a stick on the set. Then, we had a performer on wires to do the physical reference. Then, we had another actress or actor do the facial performance. Then, we had another actor to do the voice. The ghosts are this compendium of one, two, three, four, five different elements, but then there are different types of ghosts in the [show]. The books have a strict set of rules about what a ghost can and can’t do, and this very brilliant taxonomy, different species of ghosts and different capabilities.
We had a whole set of rules that our ghosts should follow. They’re all made of ectoplasm, so all our ghosts are made of smoke. They can be different densities, different levels of turbulence, different colors, and then our ghosts can only look like what they look like now in the ground or what they look like at the moment of death, anywhere on that slider. Then, they have different strengths and weaknesses. We made a set of rules, we stuck by them, but we made sure they had enough room inside them to get a good variety of different types of ghosts. That feels like a very long answer.