It has been 14 years since director, producer, and choreographer Kenny Ortega first captured the imaginations of pre-teen audiences the world over with High School Musical.

Transforming everyday life into an all-singing, all-dancing musical affair is what Ortega, 70, does best - and now the Hollywood director has returned to do it all again with haunting new Netflix series Julie And The Phantoms.

"I was in rock 'n' roll. I was in theatre. I did big concert work with artists and film and television - I just found myself going 'wow, this just plays off the entirety of my background and my life,'" says Ortega.

Bridging the gap between a teen drama and a full-scale musical, the nine-part series follows lead character Julie as she rediscovers her love for music following her mother's passing - all with a little help from a group of ghost musicians.

Featuring an original musical score with songs that would sit comfortably side-by-side current chart hits, it's easy to understand why the show (and its characters) are set to win the hearts and minds of viewers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Based on the Brazilian series, Julie E Os Fantasmas, the show "was released in 2011, so it was already nine years old and it was brought to us by George Salinas and my agent Andy Patman", notes Ortega.

"My executive partners and I fell in love with the concept and we were told you have complete freedom to re-imagine and explore this as an international, new version.

"We got so excited to be able to take this sort of heightened world of ghosts and put it in the City of Angels and to explore the possibilities of new story and new mythology."

More than simply a tale of overcoming adversity, the emotionally complex storyline sees lead character Julie, played by Madison Reyes, stand alongside ghost musicians Luke (Charlie Gillespie), Alex (Owen Patrick Joyner) and Reggie (Jeremy Shada) of the band Sunset Curve, as they face all manner of trials and tribulations.

"I loved the idea of moving through grief. I loved the generous spirit of the characters - Julie giving the ghosts a second chance at life and them inspiring her to fall back in love with music," says Ortega.

"And then everyone could see them, and the [ghosts] could then realise a dream they were unable to finish in their first life."

A new adventure he hopes will enthral and delight in equal measure, Julie and the Phantoms saw Ortega's team scour the country in search of the ideal lead actor for the role.

"For me, I just got excited, I've wanted a Latinx leading character for a long time," says Ortega.

"I was very excited about everyone embracing that, as keeping it Latin, a Latin family... I imagined a young Latinx girl that was authentic and grounded - I called her Julie from the block."

"I had seen quite a few young ladies that auditioned and many of them were very talented and skilled and brought a lot of colour and fun... but there was something I didn't feel necessarily was there. My instincts told me to keep looking."

After visiting over a thousand High Schools across North America, Ortega believed he had finally found a star in newcomer Reyes.

"She bedazzled me," recalls Ortega with a grin.

"I was in tears by the end of her tape and I said to my associates who were watching with me 'that's the girl to beat! That's Julie.'"

"She was intelligent, she was authentic, she was brave, she was so solid in terms of being comfortable in her own skin.

"There were just all of these things that really showed the promise of her being the right person."

But as with so many productions shot throughout the spring of 2020, Julie And The Phantoms fell victim to delays courtesy of the ongoing global pandemic.

"We didn't avoid Covid," he notes. "We were able to finish filming, and we were able to finish recording and the editorial part of our work but we had to complete colour timing, visual effects, sound effects, looping, music mixing and final mixing - all in a zoom universe, a virtual universe.

"iPhones and all kinds of iPads and computers, it was all an extraordinary experience - one that I thought was going to be maddening and near impossible but in fact we got through it quite well."

Bringing together a team that understands one another and Ortega's approach to filming has always been an important factor for the director.

"From the very start, making sure that everyone I'm working with, before we even get to that place, understands who I am and my process. Y'know?

"God forbid I would step into a situation and people would question it."

"I think that in all of the cases of the last years of my life - with High School Musical, Cheetah Girls and Descendants and other projects, especially this one - I've had success in creating that kind of an environment and inviting people to have a voice."

It is a principle that encompasses both the cast and crew, creating "an environment that makes them feel safe and brave and courageous and fearless and unjudged."

And with Ortega keen to emphasise that he likes "to think of my cast as my partners" and wants them "to know they have a voice" ahead of anything else, the result is a filming environment that spawns creative aplenty.

"I mean, Madison and Charlie wrote Perfect Harmony along with Alana, one of our top songwriter/producers.

"The kids came to the set every morning filled with ideas and thoughts and many which were incorporated into the work," says Ortega.

"I guess the freedom to express ourselves and to be able to journey in any capacity that we wanted to, all that combined made it a project I really wanted to be a part of."

Julie And The Phantoms is available to stream now on Netflix.