The last time we spoke to writer and director Paul Feig, he talked in detail to us about the social media backlash that he waded through to make his summer blockbuster, Ghostbusters.
The film, in the end, was well received, although it didn’t set the box office heavily alight, grossing just over $200m worldwide. But as it lands on home formats, Feig spared us some more time to pick up the story of what happened next, and where the whole experience has left him.
When I spoke to you before the release of Ghostbusters in cinemas, we pretty much left it on a cliffhanger. That you didn’t know how the film would be received, or go down. Can you take us through what happened next, then? It was your seventh feature, going into an opening weekend of your biggest film. How was that weekend? Can you take us through that?
It is nerve wracking when you have a movie opening! You spend two to three years of your life on it! But it’s also exciting because it’s going to come out. I was happy that we did well. We wanted to do even bigger. It was nice to have it in theatres, and I like to drive round and see how it’s playing.
It was fun to sit and watch people watch it. What I especially loved was how a lot of women in the audience were really into it. Especially when Holtzmann runs the gauntlet. It was exciting. But then I make these movies for an audience, for a group experience. Every place it played I saw it was working. It was very satisfying.
In terms of the particular audience response you had over that weekend, how was that? You’re active on social media after all, and I’d wager there were no shortage of comments coming through. Do you focus on that?
I think any filmmaker would be lying if they said they didn’t check that stuff! At least if you’ve lived on it the way I do. It was exciting. Overwhelmingly people were excited about loving it, and having so much fun. What was so nice was people going to see it multiple times.
Honestly? A lot of the negativity melted away. Someone always pokes through with something, but it was really heartening to see people had been waiting for it, had heard a lot about it, but didn’t know what to expect. People were forming opinions based on not seeing it, so all I ever ask is for the day in court. After the day in court, if you don’t like it, that’s fine! But just the response of the people who saw it was so positive. You just wish more people would see it.
I know you adore sport [spoiler: he doesn’t], so I thought you’d appreciate a sport analogy.
[Laughs] Oh please!
On the way here this morning, I heard someone say that “I love my sport, I don’t always like the industry it’s in”. Does that resonate with you?
That’s a fair assessment. I do like show business, and I do love Hollywood, because I understand the way it works like it does. It’s such a big money industry, that it’s very hard sometimes. I’m political enough in my career that I don’t push people away. I want to hear everybody’s notes, I want feedback, I want to do test screenings. I’m getting data from the audience!
It’d be hard to do [the same testing with] a drama, because people watch it, you get a score at the end as to whether people liked it or not, but you don’t quite know where you’re losing them. By recording the laughs of a test screening, if someone from the studio tells me to take something out because it didn’t get a laugh, I can play it back and go no, listen. It got a laugh. It’s easier to present your case. I do so many test screenings, and the studios are very happy about that. Else it’s a filmmaker arguing with executives, and nobody has any reference other than their opinion.
You’ve done some interesting things on the Blu-ray release of the film, as you did with the IMAX release of the movie. You’ve got things bursting through the black bars on the screen, for instance. Beyond the alternate cut you present, are you hands on with the disc presentation of your films? And perhaps even more so when it comes to an Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray? Do you face different decisions on that version, when the resolution is that high?
They do a HDR transfer, and you go into this room. They put up this monitor that is very intense. You go gosh, we have to be careful here. It can get too saturated. One of the biggest things I found was that highlights were blowing out. If there was a lightbulb, suddenly it’d be the brightest thing in the frame, so we have to pull those back a bit. What you never want is anything to pull your eye off the main action or the character. Just the intensity of everything.
That said, I was just watching the digital release, and was surprised at how the colours came through. I like that, though. It’s fun to watch in a weird way!
The inherent danger you have there is when you have very brightly coloured effects against dark backgrounds, the fakeness of them can become exaggerated sometimes.
It’s really scary. Sometimes an effect that looks good in a theatre looks weird on a small screen. Same with sound, too. The weird thing about ADR [additional dialogue recording], for some reason you get away with it in a cinema, but sometimes it sounds different on a DVD. So I try to monitor that, too.
I try to make sure that we’re okay. But the thing with breaking the frame, that was only supposed to be for the 3D release. But I like that so much, and less people are going to watch 3D at home. I wanted that experience to come through, and I had to negotiate with the studio to do that. One of the downsides is we lost storage space. There were a few less extras we could put on. But on the Blu-ray, you can link to a lot of extras through UltraViolet. I’m very happy we did that, though.
I remember Christopher Nolan with The Dark Knight. He shot key scenes with IMAX cameras, and when it came to the Blu-ray, he changed the ratio of the film for those moments, even in the home release.
Yeah. We changed ratio at the very end when [spoilers redacted]. We opened it up. Our inspiration for this was our stereographer, Ed Marsh. He did Avatar, so he’s like the guy. He was the first one who said if you’re okay, there are a few places where we can break the frame. And I was like, cool. Anything like that, I’m always up for.
When I saw it in IMAX, that was when I was really blown away by how cool that was. I didn’t originally appreciate that they opened up for the IMAX screen when [spoilers redacted]. When that happened, it took my breath away. And I said that even on a small scale, I wanted people to have that experience.
You’ve included a few deleted scenes on the disc, too. And brough back crossing the streams…!
Yeah. Appreciating that there are narrative reasons why you left out the material that you did, was a little bit of you leaving the stream crossing out because it was a little bit too much of a key Ghostbusters thing?
It was a little bit of that. But mostly, it felt like we had multiple endings. I did like the idea of crossing streams. I like the idea that they try something you think is going to work, and it doesn’t. It allowed us to pay homage to the original, but then go okay, now we have to have a new solution for it. But, yeah, there’s so much homage in this movie already. Crossing the streams almost always feels like a guy joke anyway. I’m told guys have done that! [Laughs] It felt right to take it out, but I’m glad it’s back too.
And the film seems to have a new name now, that was teased on one of the UK promos before the cinema release. Is it Ghostbusters: Answer The Call now?
At the end of the original theatrical release, it does come up as Ghostbusters: Answer The Call. They knew it would be a cataloguing problem, and I didn’t want to call it Ghostbusters 2016, because next year, it feels like an old movie. The studio wanted to call it Ghostbusters: Answer The Call and I said we can do that if it’s not on the opening titles!
You popped up in the end credits of Bridget Jones’s Baby too, I saw.
Yes, I know! I was very touched by that.
You were close to directing that originally, though?
Yeah. I was living over here for a couple of months, it was right after Bridesmaids. We never quite got it right, but I was very touched they included me.
I read a lot of film books, and one I recently discovered is by Bruce Beresford. He’s the director of Driving Miss Daisy, and he wrote a diary about a year of his life, and trying to get the six or seven projects he was juggling off the ground. He was an Oscar-winner, who delivered a $2m movie that grossed $80m, back when that was a lot of money. And he couldn’t get anything off the ground, ending up doing a straight to DVD film in Croatia. We’re also in an era where even Steven Spielberg had to rattle tins to get the money to make Lincoln. Where are you? You have a production company? How much control do you have over your own destiny, and getting projects going?
A lot. It’s really nice, the place I always hoped I could get to. We re-upped our deal with Fox. They just sent us one project to produce, and we love the script and are going to jump on that. We’re in a nice place, but at the same time, I’ve also been around long enough to know that what you don’t do is go ‘oh, now I’m going to make my passion project that’s not necessarily commercial’. That’s where you fall down.
It’s sad. It would be nice to make passion projects. I don’t mean it condescendingly when I saw they are small films. But once you make something that makes money, you have to make people money. You also don’t want to take your foot off the gas. I love making commercial movies. It doesn’t mean I’m looking for another $150m budget. I’d rather not do that, because the stakes are so incredibly high. But making a movie like Spy, I love that. I love trying to entertain a large audience.
Is it the stand-up comedian in you at heart?
In Steve Martin’s excellent book, Born Standing Up, he really gets across the idea of one person at the front of the room, and just trying to make them laugh. Is that the ethos you’re following?
Oh yeah. And also it comes from the fact that I started making tiny films. You work so hard, as hard, and when people don’t see them, either because they don’t look commercial enough, or the studio doesn’t get behind them to promote them big enough, it’s such a hollow experience. Even though you know it’ll be around forever, and people can discover it. But also I’m coming from Freaks & Geeks, that was this beloved TV show, that died and had low ratings. I want to put the same quality and thought into a big commercial thing. If I can tell a small story in a large way, I satisfy myself creatively, what the studio wants, and what the audiences wants I hope.
Freaks & Geeks finally landed in the UK a month back, on Netflix. It trended on Twitter in the UK. By most measures, that should be a dormant thing. Yet here we are.
It’s really nice. It’s just a testament to if you tell real stories about real people that isn’t referential to necessarily a specific time… it’s set in 1980, but I always liked that, because it’s not like watching a movie where they pull out a new cellphone that looks big!
Where are you now, then? I’d imagine you’ve taken a few bruises on Ghostbusters that you hadn’t taken before…
… and you seem very proud of the movie. There’s no sense of regret that you made it?
I’m very proud of the movie. The response that I’ve been getting over the internet has been inspiring. Young women in particular have taken to this movie in a way that I hoped would happen. They’re being inspired by the science, and inspired by seeing these four strong, smart women on screen, and being funny and being real. They really embraced it. There’s so much cosplay too!
Cosplay is interesting. It was pointed out to us about Ghostbusters, that two years ago, if you were after a female Ghostbuster outfit, it was short and revealing. Now there’s a jump suit.
I’m very proud of that. I think it’s great if someone wants to dress up as a sexy Ghostbuster, they can do that. But the fact that they don’t have to. That so many women have embraced that jumpsuit, empowered by the fact that it hasn’t been sexualised. I could not be prouder of that, because of the response I get from women about it. You see young girls dressing as Ghostbusters. They’re talking about particle physics! That makes me want to cry sometimes, because it’s been denied to some for so long.
I suspect this is a film that people will still be talking to you about 20 years down the line…
It’s nice when you finally come out on DVD, and then cable… I feel that no matter what your movie is you get rehabilitated. Because the movie then stands on its own. All the politics go away.
The biggest thing: once you’re a known filmmaker, so people know what to expect from you… it’s very hard for people to deal with the fact that a new thing exists. They go it’s going to be like this, this and this. Then when they come in and it’s not what they think? It’s always fun then to read someone saying they caught it again on cable, and they liked it a lot more second time. The expectation has gone, they know what to expect, they experience it in a purer way.
Sooner or later, it lands in places that don’t have an upvote and downvote button?
Yeah. I remember when The Goonies came out, it was really not liked by some, and got terrible reviews. Some loved it, but it wasn’t successful by any means.
Is this where you tell me you’re going to remake The Goonies? Because I’d best stand back if I’m going to post that…
[Laughs] Nooooooo! So many times I’ve wanted to do an April fool’s joke, and say I’m going to remake. But I can’t even stick with the joke. I can’t take the amount of venom that would come just from making the joke! I did do a line in the LEGO Dimensions game, though, where I said “I hope they won’t be upset when I remake Back To The Future”!
I’m assuming your time with Ghostbusters is done? There’s a post-credits sting?
Yeah. If the studio was knocking on the door to do another one, I’d have to think about it. We had so much fun, and I’d love to work with that team again. But I would be very surprised.
Where next, then? You’ve done smaller films that people have forgotten about. You’ve done drama. You’ve done acting. You’ve done stand-up. You’ve done books. Massive blockbusters. What’s driving you now, and what do you want to make? Feel free to give me a Spy 2 exclusive in any words you like.
Well, I hope someday for that, definitely!
It’s hard to say. It’s an interesting time coming off something that got this much attention, because all I can do is the thing that inspires me. Picking your next project is like picking a spouse. I’m going to be thinking about it constantly, being upset about it, being happy about it. I’m being careful with what I pick next. There’s one thing I’m writing at the moment that I want to make sure is right. There are a couple of projects that other people wrote that I’m considering. I’m trying not to restrict myself. I like genres, Howard Hawks was one of my heroes. I never want to be bored. It’s fun to say I haven’t done this before, let’s get people together and figure it out.
Has your Ghostbusters experience, the well documented highs and lows, made you any less courageous, would you say?
It’s not made me less courageous, just more cautious about what I’m going to do next. But I’m always pretty cautious anyway.
The difference in this one is that I’ve always known what my next movie will be, as I set it up in post-production on the one before. But this one was so intense, that even though I had an idea, I just didn’t have the time and brainspace to work on it. It was the first time I was really so swept away in post-production that I didn’t have the next thing lined up.
I’m an addict though. I like to make movies, and I want to make my next movie as soon as I can. But I want it to be great, I want it to be something people are happy about, and something people want to see. It makes you just think a little harder.
And is there anyone else you’re looking to work with? Or want to shine a light on?
I’m actually watching a lot of documentaries and live performance at the moment. I’m looking for new inspirations. I’m always tracking new people, and there are so many I want to work with. I don’t want to name them, as there are people I’ve got my eye on I’m trying to find the right part for. And there are some people I’ve worked with previously who I want to do something else with, but want to make sure it’s the right thing.
It’s Statham. Just say the word Statham.
Oh my god.
Paul Feig, you’re dancing around this.
[Laughs] Well, there’s nobody I want to work with again more than Statham. I love that man. We had lunch just recently.
And what projects were the two of you talking about? The recorder isn’t on, you can tell me.
[Laughs] I will work with Jason Statham again! I will say that. I love that guy so much.
In the next two to three years?
That’s my goal.
Paul Feig, thank you very much.
Ghostbusters: Answer The Call is available now on DVD, Blu-ray, Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray and Digital HD.