A conversation with Megan Trinrud, creator of ‘School Spirits’

Megan Trinrud, AB ‘08, talks about her new Paramount+ show, lessons from her time studying English at WashU, and the prospect of a haunted campus.

Megan (left) and Nate Trinrud. 
Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images / Paramount+

In her newly released Paramount+ series “School Spirits,” Megan Trinrud, AB ‘08, tells the story of a recently deceased teenage girl attempting to solve her own murder as a ghost trapped inside her high school. The eight-episode series, which she co-created with her brother, is slated to be released as a graphic novel in the coming year.

Trinrud recently talked with the Ampersand about the show’s origins and how her time as an undergraduate at WashU influenced her pursuit of a career in television production. 

Where did the idea for “School Spirits” come from?

About 10 years ago, during a difficult time in our family, my brother and I moved home and found ourselves really drawn to the TV shows we used to watch as teenagers. We watched shows like “Dawson’s Creek” and “Veronica Mars” over and over again because they were comfortable. We always wanted to write something, and so we thought, “How can we take what we are feeling and turn it into something?” Taking inspiration from those shows, we decided we wanted to do a mystery, and it sort of grew from there. 

The most important thing for us was using the story to look at the ways we react to trauma, and how you can work through it by finding connections with people and by facing things that bother you rather than pretending they never happened. The idea of ghosts and people being stuck at a place in their life just felt so natural.

How did it work transitioning “School Spirits” between a graphic novel and a TV show?

The whole process was all very backwards. It initially started as a plan for a TV show, but during the pandemic we met with a literary agent who told us he thought it would make a great graphic novel. We started pitching it as a graphic novel to publishers and ended up getting a book deal with Harper Collins Publishing. While we were working on the book, the studio AwesomenessTV became interested in the project and wanted to make it into a TV show. It went from TV to book and back to TV. 

It’s been really fun because it’s two super visual mediums that are different but also similar in a lot of ways. The transition from graphic novel to TV was surprisingly natural because, to construct the illustrations, we had been indirectly thinking about how to compose an image as filmmakers. We did have to adjust the story a little bit to suit the structure of an eight-episode series versus an ongoing novel. The heart is the same, but the way we get to show the characters and their lives is different.

Courtesty of Paramount+

Was it difficult to avoid spoiling the final plot twist while the show was in production?

For sure. We didn’t even tell the cast what happened. They had to wait and find out as production went on. Every actor knew only as much as their character would have known, so it was like a murder mystery party. They all had theories, and they even had a murder wall where they would try to figure out who it was. During production, the cast knew that I was the one who couldn’t keep a secret, so they would try to get spoilers out of me. I gave one thing away. It wasn’t the worst thing, but after that I learned to never talk about it.

What was it like working with your brother?

I feel like no one really believes us, but we have so much fun working together! We’ve always been really close. We worked on school projects together, and he even helped me with my thesis in grad school. I feel really lucky because it's like getting to work with the person who knows me better than anyone else.

When you were studying at WashU, did you imagine that this is what your future career would be like?

I was one of those undergrads who really had no idea where they wanted to end up. I had very little direction, which I’m glad for now because it left me open to a lot of different possibilities for the future. I just knew I wanted to tell stories in some capacity. My time at WashU solidified my love and obsession with film and television. Some of my most memorable moments at WashU were in the Brown Screening Room on Thursday nights watching beautiful film prints of all these great movies.

Oliver Goldstick, Megan Trinrud, Nate Trinrud, Peyton List, Nick Pugliese, and Milo Manheim speak on stage during a “School Spirits" panel. (Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images / Paramount+)

What drew you to study English as an undergrad? How do you feel it benefits you now?

I have always loved English courses. I love to read and write, and I had a desire to make storytelling a part of my career. I felt like my English background helped me have a broader understanding of perspective. I’m always trying to think of situations from all different angles, and I think that comes from a desire to understand character and why people do what they do. As you study literature, you are learning about the human condition and how people interact with each other. Regardless of whether or not you’re interested in fiction, storytelling helps you interact with the world around you. I know there’s a feeling that you can’t do anything with an English major, but it’s not true. You can do so many things!

What lessons did you learn at WashU and how did they help contribute to your current success?

The most important thing is something I only realized I had learned later in life. I learned that you don’t have to have a plan. It’s okay to explore things and to figure out what you like and where you want to go. You don’t have to know all the answers right away. That was something I was really anxious about when I was in school, but you figure it out. It’s not always easy or fun, but it’s part of life and part of growing.

Have you ever had a supernatural experience?

I have never had a supernatural experience. I think I would be a giant baby if it ever happened. 

I did learn after production ended that one night the crew had to keep calling “Cut!” because somebody was standing in a classroom at the end of the hall on the second floor and was in the shot. They would be radioing for whoever was in the hall to get out, and the person would leave only to come right back. The crew would go up and try to figure out who it was, and they couldn’t find anybody. No one is sure if it was someone playing a prank or if it was a surreal encounter.

If anywhere is haunted, WashU is haunted. It’s the prime example of a haunted house, basically asking for ghosts.

What's next for you?

My brother and I are going to attempt to continue writing together, so we are working on our next projects and seeing where it takes us. The good thing about working with your sibling is they’re always around. We’ve been using this time to figure out what we want to work on next and what our next adventure could be.