ComingSoon Senior Editor Spencer Legacy spoke with School Spirits showrunner and executive producer Oliver Goldstick and co-creators and executive producers Nate and Megan Trinrud about the mystery drama series. The trio discussed the appeal of mysteries and the real-life experiences behind the show’s concept. The series is now streaming on Paramount+.
“In the series, Maddie, a teen girl stuck in the afterlife investigating her mysterious disappearance,” reads the synopsis. “Maddie goes on a crime-solving journey as she adjusts to high school in the afterlife, but the closer she gets to uncovering the truth, the more secrets and lies she discovers.”
Spencer Legacy: Oliver, you’ve written and produced quite a few very big beloved shows. What about School Spirits really caught your interest and got you excited?
Oliver Goldstick: The central character [and] the idea of different teenagers from different eras interacting. I loved the metaphor of disconnection. I have two teenagers and they’ve been living in their bedrooms for almost two years. When I read this, one of them had to go back to school wearing a mask and didn’t know how to navigate that. And I thought, “This is really resonant.” When I read Pretty Little Liars — whatever that was, 2010 — smartphones were just being put into kids’ hands. They really were not there yet. The whole idea of cyberbullying, even though I knew about the MySpace stories and there were a couple big news stories already, this was the beginning of something. The idea of you could be bullied 24/7, that it was inescapable.
I knew this show resonated. I knew it was going to touch a chord. And I felt like when I read School Spirits, and I’m not trying to be pretentious here, but I felt like it resonated beyond being, “Oh, just a YA series,” that there was something in this that was just resonant and relevant. And funny, by the way. Did I mention that too? They’re fun characters and I love that it defies easy categorization, that it is a show that is heartfelt but haunting and it takes you by surprise, and not many things do, you know? With unexpected moments in every episode,
Nate and Megan, a ghost solving their own murder is a really compelling idea. When did you first come up with that concept and how did it really come about?
Nate Trinrud: Well, I guess we had the idea almost a decade ago. Megan and I had an atypical early 20s. We’d both gone to college and left our small hometown to go take on the big cities, and shortly after we both kind of arrived to our various destinations, our father — who struggles with alcoholism — got very ill. So we ended up moving back to our small town, back to our parents’ house. We were living in our childhood bedrooms for a number of years while we were sort of trying to figure out what our new lives would be.
And I think there was a moment where we were talking about, “What should we write to discuss this?” And at the time, we both felt kind of dead inside. So for us, we wanted to write a story about somebody who felt dead or was dead and trying to figure out how to feel alive again. So we often say School Spirits isn’t just a coming-of-age story — it’s a coming back-to-life story. For us, that became extremely helpful in processing our own situation and getting to share with other people.
Megan Trinrud: I think that’s a big part of it too, is as we started to process what we had been going through, we were realizing that our story wasn’t an especially unique one. There were so many people going through the same thing at the same point in their lives. We thought that by being able to talk about it in this format would be a great way to have a larger discussion with people who are dealing with these same issues.
Nate Trinrud: And also we just love the film Ghost from 1990.
Megan Trinrud: We also love the movie Ghost, yeah.
Oliver Goldstick: There was hope at the end of this journey for them. I think for Nate and Megan as writers, it was not nihilistic. Ultimately, you’re not going to be defined by the worst thing that ever happened to you, and I think that really turned me on as a writer because we were going through kind of a bleak time. We’re still not out of it, but it was a bleak period in 2021 when I first read the script. I felt like they were trying to write something that would actually resonate but also inspire young people.
Oliver, you’ve got experience with writing mystery series like Pretty Little Liars. What is it about that genre that keeps bringing you back?
Oliver Goldstick: Because there’s an engine — it’s so much fun! I love the twists. I love twists and turns. At that age, tell me if I’m crazy, high school’s, very dramatic. High school’s a time in your life where people are changing and you think you trust somebody on Thursday and you come back to school on Monday and it’s like, “Who are you? Why did you pierce that? That hurts! I can’t even look at you! Take that out of your nose!” I mean, whatever it is, it’s like you think you know people but you don’t, because everybody’s trying on identities. Everyone’s trying to figure out who they are.
And I think adding a murder element, a murder mystery to that or mystery element, actually drives a show in a compelling way because you really want to know, where does this go? And I was saying earlier, Spencer, that I worked on a show — with Pretty Little Liars — where the mean girl had it coming, right? This is really interesting because Maddie does not have it coming. She’s not a target. So what did happen to this person? Why? It’s not an obvious story. It’s like you have to really unpeel the onion to say, “What went wrong? How did this happen to this person?”