“I think there’s a feeling on the internet that I’ve gone wild”
If you’re going to make a cover version of a classic record, there’s no point doing something too similar. You’re always going to be compared unfavourably with what’s come before. Mess around with the arrangement, the singing style, do anything – just be bold and don’t treat it like it’s simple karaoke. There’s a reason why Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along The Watchtower”, Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” and Madness’s “It Must Be Love” are often considered superior to the originals. And why Robson & Jerome’s “Unchained Melody” is now regarded as torture for the ears and in contravention of the Geneva convention.
The same rule should apply to movies: the original Ghostbusters is such a once-in-alifetime collision of comedy, perfect performances and blockbuster spectacle that any identikit remake would be doomed to failure before it had clambered into its boiler suit. But radically play around with the formula – as Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy director Paul Feig has with his femalefocused, Bechdel Test-aceing new take on
Ghostbusters – and you might just have a chance of making something memorable. For the right reasons.
“I thought, ‘They’re going to get someone to do Ghostbusters eventually, so if I had to do it, how could I be the most creatively fertile for it?’” says Feig, talking to SFX on the phone from LA with just a week and half to go until the movie’s finished. “Well, what would be really fun is to let all the funny women I work with be in this, because then it separates itself so much from the original movies – it’s just so fraught with peril if you’re going to hire four guys to play these roles, they’re so going to get compared to the original guys. But if you get these funny women, it erases that straight comparison thing – or it did in my head at least! I thought that was the most respectful way to do it because it’s not stepping on the originals. I thought, ‘I can reboot Ghostbusters and make it its own thing for a new generation. That allows me to really establish four new characters and see them become this team.’”
I love this plan I'm excite to be a part of it!
Feig wasn’t always enamoured with the idea of firing up the proton packs once more. A follow-up to 1989’s Ghostbusters 2 had been bouncing in and out of development hell for over a quarter of a century when Ivan Reitman, the original movies’ director and one of the keepers of the franchise’s spectral flame, initially got in touch with Feig. At that point he wanted to discuss giving Feig the reins on a threequel, a movie that would have seen the original ’Busters handing the keys of Ecto-1 over to a new team.
“I read the script and I thought it was really fun,” Feig recalls, “but New York and the world had been through this ghost attack problem twice in the past and it’d been solved. So now if a new team was going to come together and be given all their weaponry from the old team... it kind of sounded better on paper than it did in reality. It didn’t feel like it would give a new cast the ability to plant a flag in these characters and in the franchise.”
Feig had already “turned it down a couple of times” when he got a call from former Sony studio head and Ghostbusters producer Amy Pascal. “She said, ‘Why don’t any of you fucking comedy filmmaker guys want to do this?’” he laughs. “But she also planted in my head the idea that it’s this amazing idea that’s sitting there. Ghostbusters was one of these seminal moments in comedy that move the art form further, a huge step forward. The idea of a special effects-laden comedy hadn’t really been done before. Funny people fighting the paranormal with technology is such a fun arena that it almost shouldn’t just be contained by only two movies!”
Having signed up to make a movie based around four female Ghostbusters, and teamed up with his The Heat screenwriter Katie Dippold, Feig was back in that difficult cover version territory. Just how much can you play around with the pillars of the film and still be making, in essence, Ghostbusters?
“My very first thought was, ‘Okay, we’re just going to make everything different. Let’s just completely clean the house, so we don’t step on the original ones,’” Feig explains. “But Katie and I thought, being fans of the original one, what would we be bummed that we didn’t see? Pretty quickly, you think yeah, you want to see an Ecto-1 and you want to see the proton packs and maybe you want to see Slimer. I just don’t want people who love the original movie to be sitting there going, ‘Nah, screw that – they’ve changed everything.’ You want those little bits of nostalgia that allow you to enjoy it, but then we can twist it by going, ‘Okay, here’s where the Ecto-1 came from, and here’s where the logo came from.’ It just felt like the best way to let the audience have the most fun experience. And my only goal when I make a movie is for an audience to have fun. That’s all I care about – I want them to laugh.”
Back Off, Man. They're Scientists
Arguably the movie’s biggest challenge was creating a new foursome to rival the iconic Venkman, Stantz, Spengler and Zeddemore line-up. First order of business: not trying to ape the people we’d seen before. “I wanted to keep those little touchstones like the Ecto-1, but character-wise, it would have been death to just go like, ‘Alright, who’s going to be the female Venkman?’” Feig laughs.
Although Feig would ultimately use some of his regular players in the cast, he and Dippold opted to write the script and the characters first, with the intention of casting later.
“I wanted the story to dominate, to tell us which way to go,” he explains. “So Katie and I
My only goal when i make a movie is for an audience to have fun
felt, ‘Let’s just write it.’ We can invent four very different characters, and then once we have it, we can go, ‘Who would be good in these characters?’ And once we cast those people, we will adjust the script to them. All my comedy comes from finding the right people, writing to their strengths, and then letting them go when they’re on set, and then just kind of guiding them, and coming up with new jokes. The role is them, basically.”
Unsurprisingly, one of the new Bustin’ quartet is Melissa McCarthy, Feig’s comedy muse and a veteran of his previous three movies. The other three members of the team, like Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd in the original, are veterans of US comedy institution Saturday
Night Live: Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon and Feig’s
Bridesmaids star/writer Kristen Wiig. Feig says the new line-up was selected over a two-month period of meetings and much deep thought about who’d work well together, until “I could call them all up and say, ‘Okay, you’re a Ghostbuster!’
“Their chemistry onscreen is through the roof,” Feig boasts. “Comedy is all about lightning from a bottle. That’s the biggest thing I hope people realise and take away from this movie – or realise in order to get them to go see it. As great as an idea
Ghostbusters is, that movie wouldn’t have worked at all if it wasn’t for that cast. On top of the story and the world you’re in, they’re just funny. Their chemistry is funny. The way they portray each one of those characters is funny, and that is what connects you to the movie. That’s the only thing I tried to do with this – it’s all about the cast. Then the context they’re in and all the stuff around them, that’s just icing on the cake.”
GHOSTBUSTERS WHADDYA WANT?
All of which sounds great, except not everybody is excited about this Ghostbusters reboot. In fact, it’s difficult to think of any recent blockbuster that has been subjected to such a barrage of pre-release abuse online. There have been some liberal-minded criticisms of casting the African-American Leslie Jones as the only non-scientist Ghostbuster – Feig has since said that the role was originally intended for McCarthy, while Jones took to Twitter to argue, “Why can’t a regular person be a Ghostbuster? I’m confused. And why can’t I be the one who plays them? I am a performer.”
But far louder has been the vitriol thrown at the decision to make the Ghostbusters female. The first trailer holds the record for the most dislikes on YouTube, while Feig’s had all sorts of ludicrous accusations thrown at him, including the assertion that he’s destroyed
Ghostbusters fans’ childhoods – and worse. Feig has been admirably willing to speak out against the trolls, but surely after a while that sort of abuse must start to get to you?
“You’ve just got to put it out of your mind,” he says, taking it all in remarkably good humour. “Look, anybody in comedy is a people-pleaser. You don’t go, ‘I don’t care.’ You definitely read it and you take it to heart. Sometimes, it makes you kind of go, ’Oh man, that’s a bummer.’ At the same time, it’s good to know what people are thinking. I like to hear what people’s concerns are. But you also have to make the movie you’re going to make because the thing with the internet is, there’s so much information that people get so early that everybody assumes they know what you’re doing. That’s the only thing that’s kind of a drag.”
If the movie still has some work to do to convince less enlightened regions of the internet, it does at least have the approval of the original filmmakers. Reitman is a producer and has, Feig says, been involved all the way back to the script development process;
Ghostbusters co-creator Dan Aykroyd has helped out with some of the “paranormal speak”, and since we spoke to Feig, said on Facebook that the new movie “has more laughs and more scares than the first two films”; the
wife of the late Harold Ramis has given the movie her blessing; and original stars Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts and even the notoriously hard-to-pin-down Bill Murray all filmed cameo roles.
So, as Feig points out, it’s not like he’s making a guerilla, off-the-grid Ghostbusters movie to wind people up. “I think there’s a feeling on the internet that I’ve gone wild,” he laughs. “I don’t know what was in those Sony hacks! When you’re coming onto a project, any filmmaker wants to make sure they’re not going to be micromanaged by the powers that be, but Dan and Ivan have given me my freedom. Ever since I came on, it’s been nothing but a fantastic experience.” And nobody ever said that about Robson & Jerome’s “Unchained Melody”…
Paul Feig on set: seems everyone’s auditioning for Bond these days.
Thor’s Chris Hemsworth joins the team as secretary Kevin.
Whatever you do, don’t cross the streams.
The Ecto-1: one of the classic touches Feig was determined to include.
We’re thinking hanging that painting up there was a bad idea.
All female; all funny.