If anyone is an authority on Ghostbusters, it’s Ivan Reitman. He directed the 1984 original and its sequel, working closely with the original team of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson, and has been involved in the franchise ever since, including the long development road that led to Paul Feig’s new reboot. Reitman is a producer on the film, has been there for every minute of its creation, and tells Den of Geek in our interview below that he’s as pleased as he can possibly be with what Feig and his new team – Melissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones – have delivered.
Reitman is also aware of the special place that the original film holds in many fans’ hearts, and why they may be averse to a reboot. But he’s less understanding of the antipathy toward the new cast and hopes people will see the film before passing judgment on it. We spoke about all this and more with Reitman – whose own sparkling directing career also includes comedy classics like Meatballs, Stripes and Dave – on the phone recently in Los Angeles.
Den of Geek: Congratulations on this movie actually coming into existence. This seems like it was such a long process for many years. Are you kind of amazed to actually see this movie in theaters at last?
Ivan Reitman: Well, I’m thrilled to see it in theaters. After all the sort of gossip about the film and all the commentary based on two-minute trailers, I want people to see it. I’m proud of it. I think it’s really good. I think it’s really good in a different way than my film was really good. I think it’s just a fun time.
What was so difficult about getting a third film developed over the course of the last couple of decades?
I think most of us didn’t want to do it for that period. So we didn’t really focus on it. We had other things in our lives we wanted to do. Certainly, Bill was the best known about his reluctance. But frankly, none of us really — Harold just started directing and was really focused on his directing career. I wanted to direct different kinds of films as well. So I didn’t want to sort of get locked in as the Ghostbusters guy. And Danny continued creating these extraordinary, different worlds, from The Coneheads to Blues Brothers. You name it.
We had this remarkable deal with the second movie, in which we basically controlled what Ghostbusters is. We had to unanimously agree what was going to be done with Ghostbusters from then. The studio couldn’t do it without us. We, of course, couldn’t do it without the studio. But the tough part of it is the studio always wanted more. For all of us to agree what it would be, when it would be, how it would be.
So we basically left it alone. The way this one finally got made is that the studio, some four years ago or so, came to me and said, “Look. We’re going to pay for another script whether you guys want to do it or not. I know we have to get your agreement to make it, but we hope we can entice you with it once there’s a good script.”
Harold was sort of in a mood then to sort of be involved in the writing. Danny and I basically said, “Maybe this is a good way to go forward with this.” So it seemed like the right time. Finally. I think Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky came on as well as kind of the permanent writers of the draft.
They wrote, actually, a very good script, but it was more of the traditional passing the torch sequel, and Bill Murray always wanted to die early in the movie. That was his joke. We took him seriously and we killed him off in the first five minutes. He becomes a ghost in the film that is very important and a constant character in the film. It’s his son Oscar from the second movie, or his supposed son, that leads the new group, who is both men and women, and who deals with sort of a new cataclysm in coming to New York. It was a very funny script that the studio immediately greenlit. I decided I would go back and do the third one.
And then Harold got really sick right in the midst of as we were getting to the last draft of it. He got sick and unfortunately passed away about a year and a half after. That basically froze things up. That’s when I talked to the group and said, “Look. This is a wonderful storyline. And the Ghostbusters idea has many opportunities in it. I think we’re silly to not allow anyone else to do it.” I negotiated on our behalf a deal with the studio in which they could finally do things without us freezing it as long as we were involved in a financial way for the future.
I think it was a good thing. Paul Feig came to Amy Pascal and suggested roughly the version that has become this movie. And he already had sort of Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy interested in doing it. And these are two of the funniest women in the world, so it seemed like a great way to continue.
So you were confident that Paul’s idea was the right way to go?
We’re really happy with the movie. I mean everyone has now seen it and has responded very positively and publicly to it. I, of course, was a producer of the film. I’m invested in it. I’m happy as well. I think it’s kind of a logical next step in our storytelling. But I think there’s many other opportunities.
With the development of sort of Ghost Corps, this company that Columbia Pictures and I set up as a way to find out the Ghostbusters opportunities for other kinds of storytelling in other media, we’ll keep doing that.
Are you thinking in terms of a shared universe? I know there was talk about another film in development at the same time, but I think then the focus really shifted to this one.
Well, this is really the film we made the deal with. There was a lot of sort of false newspaper stories about the Channing Tatum story and…who was the other guy? I can’t even remember…I never had conversations with them. The studio did not either. I think one of the writers of kind of an alternative idea was really kind of spinning things and speaking publicly when he shouldn’t be. But the deal we had made was with Paul. We were working on Paul’s film. It got greenlit very early and was the one I was focusing on going forward.
What is it about Paul’s sensibilities as a director and a storyteller that you respond to?
I think he knows funny and he goes after it relentlessly. I think he has a really good sense of talent and what they can do. I think the foursome that he put together here are extraordinarily effective and wonderful and have the chemistry that the 1984 Ghostbusters men have together. I really appreciate the homage he paid to the first film. He clearly loves the first movie and wanted to do something that would be a tribute as opposed to some kind of rip-off.
You mentioned the fact that people had responded in different ways to the trailers. What’s the argument you would make if you sat in a room with the vocal minority that has sort of pushed back against the idea of the film and the idea of the all-female cast? What would you say to any of these folks?
My sense is that, yeah, there may be some element of misogyny in it. But, certainly, we never thought of Ghostbusters as only a particular gender. In fact, we were working on kind of a mixed gender sequel to the original movie. It’s more about the love that the first movie engendered. Maybe people who were writing about the trailer in a negative way were guys who had seen the movie at 8 or 9. And, wonderfully, the movie plays a special part in their lives. It was kind of one of those films that became a kind of seminal moment in their film watching.
That’s a lovely tribute to the movie and it’s certainly a lovely compliment to the work that I did on that film. So I can’t be angry at people who are emotionally involved with the film and want to make sure that this new film is complimentary to that vision and was not just sort of some cheap rip-off of it.
It’s very tough in a two-minute first look trailer, when we didn’t have any special effects at the point and we were just trying to put things together, to really present anything that was going to be able to balance that emotional connection towards the first movie. So I say, look, people have to see the film. And hopefully when they see the movie, they will understand how this is very appropriate, that it’s a lovely kind of passing of the hat to another group that can do it. Certainly the original Ghostbusters who saw the movie after it was completed loved it, legitimately loved it. Certainly the audiences that have seen it so far have been very, very positive towards it.
What do you wish you had at your disposal more than 30 years ago, technology-wise, when you made the first one that you had with this one?
Well, it’s a mixed bag, because the fact that we did not have CGI as a tool forced us to sort of think in a very original way. So sequences like the card catalogue coming alive were done live. And I did repeated takes in the library. The fact that the actors in the middle of that for real, not just pretending, suddenly makes — your eye really believes in the truth of it because the actor is truly believing it.
So yes, it would be much easier if we didn’t have to pick up all those cards and reset that, where every take was like a one-hour wait. But there was a weight in it and the randomness with which all those cards move around that are very hard to think about, in terms of CGI, and that comes from the reality of the event.
Being able to do things like the eggs popping out of the carton right in front of Dana in her apartment and then starting to fry on a cold kitchen counter. And they are clearly frying right in front of her. Just seeing that and the way she looks when it’s done is kind of really cool. It’s part of the magic, I think, of the first film. But at the same time, I think some of the big “the world is ending” kind of effects that we had then just don’t have the weight and scale of what we can do in this movie in the 3D version. I don’t know if you saw it in 3D or not. I think the 3D version of this is really lovely. We’re really proud of the special effects in this film.
Do you plan to direct yourself again?
Yeah. I mean I keep wearing that t-shirt that says, “What I really want to do is direct.” I ended up producing three movies this year, one of which of course is Ghostbusters, and also Baywatch, which is not coming out until next year, as well as a smaller comedy with Owen Wilson and Ed Helms called Bastards, which is coming out at the beginning of next year.
I love all three of the movies. But what I get the most personal joy out of is directing. I’ve been working on a script that I’m pretty damned excited about. And I can’t tell you about it just now. I was hoping to do it in the fall, but I’m worried I’m going to run out of weather, because it should be shot on the East Coast. I’ll probably shoot it next spring.
Do you feel less pressure with something like Baywatch to live up to a certain memory that people have or certain iconic things that people have about that? Is that more open to interpretation than, say, something like Ghostbusters?
There was this remarkable love for Ghostbusters that you see very rarely for a movie. And it’s mine. Baywatch is not mine. It’s this sort of kind of wonderfully goofy television show from a decade or two ago and has an opportunity in it. Just as a good producer of comedy movies, I could see (it). But even that took a long time. It took almost seven or eight years to get the right script, the right cast, and the right director. I think we have that. But certainly the pressure on that is totally different than on Ghostbusters.
How was working with The Rock on that?
He’s just a spectacular guy. He was very integral in getting that final draft of the script right. I think he has kind of a really wonderful point of view on what we could do here. He’s a one-man sort of publicity machine. I’ve never seen anything quite…I worked with Arnold (Schwarzenegger), who was pretty good at it. But The Rock even tops him in terms of getting the word out on something.
Ghostbusters opens this Friday (July 15).