When director Paul Feig set about penning a script for his reboot of Ghostbusters, he turned to screenwriter and comedian Katie Dippold as a writing partner. The New Jersey-born Dippold got her start with several improv groups in New York City after college, including the famous Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, and moved on to acting or writing stints with Late Night with Conan O’Brien and MADtv before landing a job on the writing staff of Parks and Recreation.
From there she made the leap to feature films with the screenplay for Feig’s The Heat, the smash buddy cop comedy starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. And then Feig called her for Ghostbusters, the two of them working together to reboot the classic comedy with a cast that included McCarthy, Kristin Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones — and did not exist in the same continuity as the earlier films. We spoke about that, the reaction to the film, developing the characters and more during a recent phone conversation with Dippold in Los Angeles.
Den of Geek: When Paul approached you about writing this, what was your initial response?
Katie Dippold: It was equal parts excited and terrified. I was just really excited at the idea of being able to do that. I love Ghostbusters so much and the original was so important to me as a child and adult. But, at the same time, I also knew there was a really high bar and it was going to be tough.
What do you love about the original and what do you think it so important to you and to so many other people?
One thing, I’ve seen it a billion times, but now since doing this movie, I’ve watched it another billion times. I think I’ve realized how many different things came together for that movie to be as magical as it is. So I have a whole other level of respect for it. But, for me, I don’t know. One, I love horror comedy. And I think something that movie did so well was just having four very real, grounded characters being put in these crazy situations. So you can just identify with them. They are these underdogs and they’re really funny, and you just want to be with these people on these adventures.
I was also a weird kid. I always loved ghost stories and anything haunted. To me, comedy aside, it was just kind of my dream movie.
Do you have any other favorite non-comedy horror movies?
For comedy horror I love Shaun of the Dead and American Werewolf in London. And I also love Cabin in the Woods. For the pure horror movie, I feel like The Exorcist is one of the greatest movies ever made. The one movie I love watching all the time is Halloween. I don’t know if it’s because I saw it at the perfect age or it was just on all the time in the ‘80s growing up. That holds a real spot in my heart for me.
Once you got on board for this, how much of the bones of it did Paul have in terms of story or characters? And what appealed to you about the idea of having it be all women, and what was the dynamic that you saw in that?
Well, we started from scratch, so we started thinking about our way in. It already felt so different because a college isn’t going to have a parapsychology department. Scientists don’t believe in the paranormal today, so it just already felt different. So I started thinking: “What would it be like to be a scientist today that believes in ghosts?” I thought about, “What if there is someone who is a physicist at a prestigious college and she had this book that she was embarrassed about in the past?” And it just started from there. That made me think, “What if she had a friend that she wrote that book with that pursued it hardcore, like on the fringe this whole time? What would her life be like?”
From there it was like, “OK. So maybe she’s been working with someone in a lab. If she’s a strange person, like a weirdo on the outskirts, what kind of very weird person would have been working by her side this whole time?” That’s when we wrote Holtzmann.
I always loved Ernie Hudson in the original. Just having someone who hasn’t been with this the whole time; someone on the outside who just gets kind of caught up in this and seeing their point of view. So we thought having someone work at the MTA just feels like really iconic New York. We really wanted to hit what feels like iconic New York and have them join up.
So that’s kind of like where it started. And then, from there we would think about set pieces and what are the things we’d want to see? What are new scary scenes? What kind of situations would be fun to see them walk into? And then we would talk about what kind of stuff we wanted to bring back from the original.
Did anything about the characters change, once the cast came on board? Did you adjust things differently for any of the four?
I feel like the core of the characters stayed the same but everyone kind of brought their individual voices to it. There also was a lot of ad-libbing. Leslie would kind of make a lot of things her own on the fly. Then they would all kind of improvise and ad-lib stuff left and right. Paul runs a really improv-friendly set. He’s really great with letting actors feel safe to try things and thinks it’s a mistake to just be controlling about getting exactly what’s on the page in the script, which I completely agree with. Also, when you hire all these really brilliant funny people, why would you not want to hear what they have to say?
So it’s a pretty collaborative environment. Also, sometimes Melissa could say something that’s really funny that will make me and Paul think of something funny based off of that and throw it back, and then she’ll add something to that. So it’s really collaborative.
Of course you have your big scene. You are the rental agent who gets to show them an iconic piece of property.
Yes! I look at this movie as a movie about a real estate agent…but then you only see her for a couple minutes.
But without her the whole thing falls apart, of course.
You touched on this before, but what was the line you and Paul walked in terms of bringing back stuff, bringing back iconic moments, but also maybe not wanting to overload the movie with too much of that stuff?
That was constantly debated. I mean we talked about Slimer and Stay Puft so much. And the cameos, it was constantly debated. I think it’s just one of those things that’s not going to make everyone happy, because I totally see an argument for not having that much. We have a lot of nods. So I can see an argument for maybe that might feel distracting. But I just think at the end of the day we just thought about it as fans of what we wanted to see again. We just really wanted to see all those things. We just really wanted to see all those people again. We wanted to see Slimer again. The whole point of this came from a love for the first one. So it just felt right to just see as much of it as we could again.
Was there anything left out that you wanted to include?
From the original? Not that I can think of. I would have loved to see Rick Moranis again, you know. But he just wasn’t interested.
Obviously there are some people out there who have had their issues with the movie on two fronts, against a remake in general and against the idea of it being women instead of the original guys. If you were just to sit down in a debate hall with some of these folks, what would you want to say to them?
I feel like there’s a couple different groups. As you said, I think there’s a group of people that are disappointed it’s a reboot and not a sequel. Actually, I completely understand that. As a fan I would love to see a sequel. So I get that. But at the same time, I also personally feel like it’s more respectful to not touch those characters. I don’t know that I would want, as a fan, to see another person tell me what happened to Venkman or what happened it Egon. I don’t know. I think everyone has a different idea of what would have happened to them. I just kinda like them being left alone.
And then for the small group that are bummed it’s women, I mean I don’t even know…I don’t really have anything to say to that. Nothing I could say right now would possibly win them over. Maybe another 50 years will make an improvement. I don’t think I can do it in this one moment.
How do you and Paul write? Do you work together or separately and throw stuff back and forth?
We’re very similar in that we like meeting and talking and pitching on things. But then when it comes down to the actual scripting, we like being by ourselves. So we’ll meet and talk and go over ideas, and then we’ll email back and forth a lot. And then we’ll each just write on our own and send each other stuff.
Do you enjoy the collaborative process? Does that give you things that working solo doesn’t?
Yeah. When it comes to sitting and scripting things out, I like being by myself. But I also like the collaboration that comes afterwards so you get feedback and changes and people all share their ideas. I just think that leads to better things.
The film is dedicated to Harold Ramis. Did you ever get to meet him?
No. I wish I had. We met his family. His family came to set a couple times. And his son is in the movie. His wife Erica was really, really lovely and they seemed really excited to be there. It was really special having them there.
Did you meet any of the other original Ghostbusters?
Yeah! I met all of the others. Dan Aykroyd was the first one… He was awesome. He also has been really supportive in this whole process. When I first started, he sent me a book that his father wrote. His family was really into the paranormal. And he sent me a book with a nice inscription in it saying, like, “I’m here if you guys need anything at all. But most of all, just have fun,” which was really nice.
So right now you have another script that is in production?
Yeah! I actually just came back from Oahu, where it’s filming. We’re just at the midpoint. It’s a mother/daughter movie. I don’t have a title yet. I wish I did. But it’s with Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn.
What is it about?
It’s actually inspired by my mom. My parents divorced when I was in college. She’s always been so fun and adventurous. I started feeling like as she’s retired, she’s just grown a little more cautious. She used to be a little more adventurous. So I’m always pushing her to do things like try online dating. To her credit, she’s just always like, “I’m perfectly content and happy. Leave me alone. Worry about yourself.” [laughs] So then I thought, “What if I just took her on some crazy trip like Brazil or something and just took her off the beaten path just to shake things up? And so, then I actually ended up writing a script about that. In the movie, everything the mother feared all happens. It’s basically them trying to get to safety. I never actually took my mom on the trip, but I plan on taking her on a vacation at the end of this.
Well, enjoy yourselves. One last thing before we go. Is The Heat 2 happening? Are you working on that?
The script is written, but Sandra Bullock, we can’t get her to do a sequel. She doesn’t want to do another sequel in her life. But I love her and I think she’s so funny. So I’m always hoping she will change her mind because I think she’s so awesome. I really love this sequel. It’s them kind of going after the Red Falls Killer from the first movie. So it’s putting them in the Silence of the Lambs world. I think it’d be really fun. So I’m still hoping maybe she’ll change her mind at some point.
Ghostbusters is in theaters today (July 15).