[Interview] Joanna Lewis and Kristine Songco for FRIGHT KREWE

In FRIGHT KREWE, an ancient prophecy and a Voodoo Queen put misfit teens in charge of saving New Orleans from the biggest demonic threat it’s faced in almost two centuries. But, honestly? Saving the world might be easier than becoming friends.

For FRIGHT KREWE, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Sarah Musnicky e-chatted with executive producers and showrunners Joanna Lewis and Kristine Songco. During their conversation, they discussed their research process in digging into New Orleans’s vast lore and mythologies to how they came to be involved in this animated spoopy project, and ending with who their favorite characters are from FRIGHT KREWE.

You guys have known each other and worked with each other for so many years now. What has it been like watching your relationship and your own work grow over the years? Cause that kind of bond is magic.

Joanna Lewis: First, thank you for that question. We agree that it is magic! But it’s something we’ve worked really hard on. We love each other, respect each other and we have developed complimentary skills so that we can be the best showrunners that we can be.

Kristine Songco: Second all of that! We’ve been partners for over 10 years, and it’s been amazing to grow together both as people and as writers. I remember when Jo was pregnant with her daughter, Jo was a bridesmaid in my wedding, and we’ve been together from being script coordinators to showrunners… it’s pretty awesome having a partner through all of it.

While you guys are no stranger to conducting adventures for viewers, FRIGHT KREWE has you diving a bit into the macabre and spooky. How did you guys end up getting involved with the project?

Joanna Lewis: Ben Cawood at DW brought us on board and at first, we were hesitant because we are big scaredy cats but once we knew the show was set in New Orleans and was going to be supernatural, we were pretty excited to dig in. We watched a bunch of horror movies (had a few sleepless nights!) but we really tried to analyze what makes something scary. We knew we were doing our jobs right when Eli said we did something that was too scary! Working with Eli, James and Mitch was really lovely. They are wonderful partners.

New Orleans is rich in culture and history. What was the process like for you guys in researching the town and its history while also finding ways to give it a fictionalized twist?

Joanna Lewis: Honestly that’s the best part of the job! We love mythology and legends and lore so we were very excited to learn all we could about New Orleans and Voodoo. As a matter of fact, when Ben approached us, I had just come back from a trip to Nola where I had gone on a voodoo tour and learned [that] everything I thought I knew about Voodoo was incredibly wrong. So, we were pretty excited to share what we had learned.

Kristine Songco: New Orleans already has so many great ghost stories, it was hard to pick just a handful of them to go in the show! But sometimes we’d stumble upon something and we knew it’d look cool in animation – for example, the Court of Light restaurant is loosely based on the Court of Two Sisters, which is a NOLA restaurant with a history of fairy sightings. So we ran with that and turned it into a restaurant run by Feu Follet. It fit the story we wanted to tell in that episode, but we also just knew that a fancy restaurant run by evil fairies would be a fun set to play in.

In terms of the loa and the handling of that, there is way more than what is seen in the show. And, while we get brief introductions to the loa, they aren’t front and center. What was the process like for you guys in terms of tackling the cultural specificities of the loa, and how did you decide upon which loa to focus on in the show?

Joanna Lewis: We knew we wanted to match the individual Loa with the kids and the things they emotionally needed to do. Pat had trouble because he talked too much, and he needed to listen. So, he was matched with Papa Legba, the intercessor and gatekeeper, who gifted him the ability to understand any language. Stanley needed to feel confident in his intellectual prowess, so we partnered him with Ayizan, the first Mambo, teacher and the keeper of wisdom. Maybe thought he wanted to disappear so we partnered him with Maman Brigitte, who could show him exactly what it meant to disappear. Missy was maybe a little too strong on the inside and we wanted her to see what that looked like if her physical strength matched the strength of her words, so we partnered her with Ogoun, a warrior Loa. And Soleil needed to create a reality for herself that included other people, so we partnered her with Ayida Weddo, who together with Damballah is the Loa of Creation.

These kids easily fit into the typical teen archetypes but also feel like real people. They have their hang-ups, their cliques, etc., before this fate-driven event brings them all together. From concept to drafts to the end product, can you guys discuss how the characters might have evolved from start to finish before you landed on the final look and feel of our teen gang?

Joanna Lewis: We knew early on what growth points we wanted to give them and what relationships we wanted them to have with each other but so much of their specificity and nuance came from our writers room and from our actors. It was a self-perpetuating cycle of inspiration. We were very lucky to work with such talented and caring artists.

Kristine Songco: Every actor brought a depth to their characters that we weren’t expecting. Stanley seems like just “the jock” but Chester brought so much heart to him. Maybe seems quiet but Tim made “scared Maybe” SO funny that we ran with it as much as possible. Initially, Pat was so much of a chatterbox that we worried he’d come off as annoying, but Terrence is so likable that his rambling is adorable. Missy seems like a mean girl but Grace is the complete opposite – she brought an inherent sweetness to Missy that tells you she’s got room to grow. And we worked with Sydney before so we just knew she would knock Soleil out of the park

[Interview] Joanna Lewis and Kristine Songco for FRIGHT KREWE

Sydney Mikayla voices Soleil here, but also voiced Wolf in Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts. When it came to casting her as well as the other actors, what was that process like?

Joanna Lewis: The casting process was fun but also had its challenges. We needed actors who got the story, understood what we were going for, and were mature enough to play all the nuances we wanted. And a lot of times casting brought people in to read for one part and we ended up casting them in another. Soleil was especially tricky to cast, we needed someone who sounded young but mature, someone who could deliver lines that could sound closed off or insensitive in the wrong hands, but with the right actress there’s that undercurrent of warmth. We knew Sydney had that.

People generally think of animation as just for kids and oftentimes forget that animation can also get super scary. For a show like this that is more closely targeting older kids, what was the balancing process like in figuring out how far was too far with the gruesome? Like, for example, there is a scene involving a mirror that features some rather disturbing imagery.

Kristine Songco: Our mentality was always to try and make things as scary as we could and let someone else tell us when to bring it back. Through all this, we’ve learned that something (like that mirror scene) could be super scary to one person, but someone else gets really creeped out by clowns… everyone has different things that they’re scared of, so it doesn’t hurt to try it all.

Was there something that you guys wanted to be included in FRIGHT KREWE, but didn’t make the cut? If so, what?

Joanna Lewis: Sooo much! There is more lore in New Orleans than I think any one show could cover! There were a lot of stories that were too dark to include in this show as it was a gateway horror, but who knows maybe someday we will get to tell those tales to a slightly older audience.

I like to end things sometimes on a less serious note. But also, I feel like asking this to stir things up. Which character ended up being your absolute favorite by the time you guys were done and why?

Joanna Lewis: Definitely don’t have a favorite, each of them has a trait that I admire/ wish I had, and each of them has little pieces of me, Kristine, our writers, and our cast in them so it’s impossible to say who is my favorite. I love them all. So instead, how bout I tell you who I found the easiest to write for? Stanley. I just get that kid. I too hate letters in math, was the oldest, played sports I wasn’t very good at but loved, and haven’t met a snack I didn’t like. 🙂

Kristine Songco: Ditto to that – all the characters are favorites for different reasons! Soleil and Missy are fun because they’re brave in a way I WISH I could be. But in reality, I’d probably just squeal like Maybe in a scary situation. Some of my favorite Stanley and Pat lines are things the actors ad-libbed so that’s always an unexpected treat! And Madison ended up being a really fun guest character to write for. “Your dad definitely doesn’t eat babies” is a quote that I need on a mug.

FRIGHT KREWE is now available to stream on Hulu and Peacock.

Sarah Musnicky
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