Ghostbusters is back: Ivan Reitman weighs in on the controversy over the film’s female cast

© / Sony Picture
Ghostbusters is back on the big screen this week, 32 years after the original became an overnight sensation. Director Ivan Reitman, who produced the new film, reflects on how the first film got made - and what led to the new cast, crew, and concept, in part two of RT’s exclusive interview.

Ivan Reitman: Ghostbusters started with Dan Ackroyd. He had written a script, or treatment more accurately. It was about 70 pages and it pictured a world of guys working much like firefighters, where trapping goes up, and it was in outer space and in the future and none of the characters that are in this movie are in the known movie. It was actually written originally for [John] Belushi and Dan and unfortunately you know John passed away. And after a couple of years, Dan came to me having just made Stripes and he said, “You should look at this. I think it would be pretty cool for me and Billy (Murray).”

I read this script and I said, “Look, there are some great ideas in this, but it's not really the way I think this movie should go.” So I sat down at breakfast with him and sort of pitched that it should take place on Earth in New York and that it should be present day and let's give them a real job like, you know, working at a university that they get kicked out of and then they set up a business. I always thought the going into business structure was a great way to organize this kind of fantastical film.

I also thought all these creatures and things that show up are much more interesting and in an environment that we recognize surrounded by real New Yorkers acting like real New Yorkers do. And that there was much more comedy in something like that. Ackroyd fortunately bought into that and I also suggested that we bring in Harold.

Harold had been my lucky charm because he’d worked on Animal House as one of the co-writers and I brought him into Meatballs to help do a polish. And then of course he was the way I got Bill into Stripes and I thought that the two of them together were wonderful and we could just go further by adding him to what started off as a trio and then ended up as a quartet as the Ghostbusters in the 1984 movie.

RT: And Dan is famous for being a kind of Paranormal Activity guy. He’s quite out there. Would you believe in ghosts?

IR: Yeah, yeah, he really believes in the stuff and it goes back a number of generations in his family. His father wrote a book about the paranormal and about looking for ghosts and the existence of ghosts. Ackroyd absolutely believes that.

I think of it more out of a modern, more normal skeptical view, but I do appreciate them in the movies for sure and really like the three movies worth of ghosts that we have.

RT: And would you have conversations with ancestors? In terms of looking back, which ghosts very much are, would you have that kind of relationship with time, so to speak are, or you're pretty much in the now?

IR: Are you asking me if I speak to my ancestors?

RT: Not necessarily with them sitting in front of you obviously, but I mean do you have a kind of intangible connection? Do you feel a kind of intangible connection across the ages?

IR: I still feel a real connection to my mother and father. I think they had an extraordinary influence on my life and who I am and who I became. And you know, I think about them often even though they both passed away some time ago and so I don't know if it's just normal emotionality and an appreciation of what we come from and the tie of all family or if there's something more psychic about it. I don't think it's even necessary to delve into that as much as much as an appreciation of what they've passed on.

Starting Over: The Legacy of Leslie and Clara Reitman from Nobu Adilman on Vimeo.

RT: Now for years you were trying to get a kind of new Ghostbusters going and then Harold passed away and that faded away. What was the snag over the years that really didn't allow to come together until now in a way that got the four main actors together again?

IR: Well for the most part I'd say, at least 20 years of that, was just none of us were really that interested in doing another one. We had other other creative milestones to try to achieve and we all were going in our various directions. Harold wanted to be more of a director as well as an actor and writer and so he was working as a director. Dan Ackroyd meanwhile had created The Blues Brothers and Coneheads amongst others, so he was busy being a genius and creating stuff. And Bill has a very serious side and wanted to do all kinds of roles and just want to leave well enough alone.

The deal we had meant that Ghostbusters was tied up. Even Columbia couldn't do another version without our agreement and it wasn't just my agreement of the producer and director. It really was the four of us who each had a kind of veto over anything being done which means that nothing got done.

We actually had a very good draft that these two writers (Lee) Eisenberg and (Gene) Stupnitsky wrote that was kind of the traditional passing on of the torch movie, where our known Ghostbusters really helps set up a new franchise of Ghostbusters that, by the way, were both male and female interestingly enough. Bill Murray dies quite early and involves his ghost and his son Oscar who was one of the Ghostbusters and the studio loved the script. Everyone who read it loved the script and they green lit the film, but I just couldn't get Bill to read it for about a year and he read a couple pages but his head wasn't in it. He didn't want to turn us down because that would have been insulting, so he just sort of dragged his feet.

RT: As he does, legendarily.

IR: Meanwhile Harold got really sick. He was seriously sick for two years where he really was incapable of doing it and finally he passed away. I think that combination made me think that I should probably pass the torch myself as the director.

I concentrated on freeing the rights up to one organization to Columbia who deserve it so that a studio could continue making Ghostbuster movies with Danny and I involved as producers and with us running a company called Ghost Corps to expand the opportunity of Ghostbusters which is such a great idea and as you know one of the reasons that it's become so beloved. And that's really how the Paul Feig movie came about. He actually had a really simple, but really wonderful idea which was to look at it from a female point of view as if they were the Ghostbusters because it’s the kind of thing that women have not been allowed to do in movies to date very much and it was a way to sort of differentiate in a very straightforward and clean way from the classic, the movie that I directed.

RT: And this new cast is so great. I mean they’re the four funniest women in the country right now, arguably.

IR: Yes, they really are.

RT: The pushback for me has been a real surprise. Was it for you? Did it catch you off guard?

IR: There's been a lot of squabbling back and forth even from the cast and and my director. Yeah, gender is an issue and it caused part of the problem, but I think it's going to go away once people see the movie.

Unfortunately the first view was a trailer and good as it was or bad as it was, it was not relevant as much as I think there was no way that suddenly looking at two minutes from the movie was going to somehow make it OK and it was kind of a shock to the system.

I think a portion of the extraordinary fans we've had for decades responded negatively, but all the screenings we've had have been really wonderful and the key to Ghostbusters is the characters.

These are people that you want to be with, you hope could be their friend, they’re really smart, they're smarter than everybody around them. They’re goofy and silly, but at the same time there's something wonderful about them and they do these extraordinary things that are put in these really difficult situations.

That was the key to my film and this is the key to the newer film and I think once they see these four women working together, it's going to knock a lot of people out.

RT: It's such a perfect film for 3D. Did you ever consider the old school 3D for the first film?

IR: I was interested in 3D way back. I’m an old science fiction comic book guy and I actually produced a movie called Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone with Molly Ringwald. We shot it traditional 3D with two cameras linked together.

Unfortunately, it was just a very difficult technology back then and the images ended up being too dark when viewed through those old 3D, but it was something that I've always been interested in and it's great that this new one is in 3D.

RT: So how is it connected? I know there are some cameos from the old cast and whatnot, but how do you... how is that written, the connection between the old films and the new?

IR: I'll let our audience discover that for themselves, but I think like there's an enormous amount of iconography that basically we invented back in the 80s and that find its way into this film and it's really everything that we've loved - the uniforms, the equipment, their headquarters, the trapping and the conceptualization of what is going on.

So I think there's actually a ton of connection and it will be part of my job as head of Ghost Corps to keep doing things that will link all these movies together in a universe that is cohesive and makes sense.

RT: The technology certainly he has changed, but directing 35 years ago and directing today, are there a lot of things the same, particularly working with actors and storytelling. Has that changed much?

IR: No, I think storytelling is the same. What you're always trying to do with an actor is make sure that he's honest in the sequence that you're shooting, that it makes sense that you believe what's coming out of his mouth, and that you believe that there's a life beyond the frame that you suspend your belief and accept as truth even the outlandish things that you're watching on screen.

Yes there are a lot of new tools. I think editing has basically picked up, and shots are shorter, and certainly what started as rock videos and then evolved into a kind of editorial style that is the lifeblood of the Internet has now become sort of normal editorial technique in our finest feature films. So those kinds of things have evolved much like the 1980s movies look different from the 1950s movies which look different than the 1920s movies, but really acting and storytelling is still the same.

Click here to hear or read part one of our conversation with Ivan Reitman about the 35th anniversary of the Cold War comedy Stripes.