A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: “Don’t Cross The Streams” An Appreciation Of Ivan Reitman’s “GhostBusters”, 35 Years Later. A Sci-Fi Comedy That Was Way Ahead Of It’s Time & Is Still A Pop Culture Phenomenon.
The 35 year legacy of “GhostBusters” can be summed up best, by being described as a pop culture phenomenon. Over it’s impactful 35 years it has been ranked by many and included on numerous lists, as one of the top 10 films of the 1980’s. It had a huge effect on me growing up, where other than “Back To The Future”, “GhostBusters” was just as huge for me. I owned all the toys (which I still own most of them). The movie has given way to a sequel in 1989, an animated tv series, video games, endless toys and merchandise and conventions dedicated to the world of “GhostBusters”. But where did the idea of “GhostBusters” all start? Well it all came from the mind of one man screenwriter and actor Dan Aykroyd.
Dan Aykroyd grew up surrounded by spiritualists. His great-grandfather, Samuel A. Aykroyd, was a noted nineteenth century psychic investigator who conducted séances at the Aykroyd family farmhouse in eastern Ontario with a medium named Walter Ashurst. This interest for the paranormal was passed down to Aykroyd’s grandfather, Maurice, who was an engineer for the Bell Telephone Company. Maurice allegedly tried to use his know-how to create a high-vibration crystal radio that could contact the spirit world.
Aykroyd’s father Peter, kept a sizeable library of books about spooky subjects (including his great grandfather’s séances), which kept ghosts and ghouls in the back of young Aykroyd’s mind. His father even wrote a book titled “A History of Ghosts”. After Aykroyd left Saturday Night Live in 1979, he read an article about parapsychology in an American Society of Psychical Research publication, which inspired him to start writing “GhostBusters”.
Aykroyd found comedic inspiration in films like Bob Hope’s “The Ghost Breakers”, the horror-comedies of Abbott and Costello, and Bowery Boys fare like “Spook Busters” and “Ghost Chasers”. His original script, took place in the future and had a much darker tone. Aykroyd had written the script with two actors in mind for the three main protagonists, it included Aykroyd himself, John Belushi and Eddie Murphy.
His original concept involved dozens of Ghostbuster groups fighting ghosts across time and different dimensions. The now iconic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, which is in the climax of the finished film had appeared much earlier in the story and was one of 50 large scale monsters that the “GhostBusters” would do battle with. Eventual producer and director Ivan Reitman estimated that it would be impossible to make and would have cost up to $300 million to produce and that was back in 1984. Harold Ramis was later brought in to rewrite the script and bring it into a modern day setting. By the time he had pitched this idea to Ivan Reitman, Aykroyd had already starred in several films and had written and starred in “The Blues Brothers”.
Once Aykroyd nailed down the general concept and the narrative of the film, he brought on director Ivan Reitman to direct, but also to sell the movie to a major motion picture studio. Reitman had already previously directed two popular Bill Murray comedies “Meatballs” and “Stripes”, both of which had been co-written by another eventual GhostBuster writer, director and actor Harold Ramis. Since Reitman had a relationship with Columbia Pictures, the studio that released “Stripes”, Reitman approached studio head Frank Price with Aykroyd’s one sentence pitch, that it was “Ghost Janitors In New York”. While admittedly skeptical, Price was attracted to the project because of the tripartite of comedy geniuses Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Harold Ramis who by this time had agreed to play the leads.
Price asked Reitman how much the outrageous sounding movie would cost, and Reitman had just threw out a random guesstimate of $30 million. Price agreed to the budget and green lighted the movie with one stipulation, that it must have a firm release date of June 8th 1984, in time for summer. This was no small feat, considering this gave them only 12 months to re-work the script, shoot the film, and create and finish the special effects. The rushed production schedule immediately forced Aykroyd, Ramis, and Reitman to retreat to rented houses on Martha’s Vineyard for a non stop three week writing session to complete the final shooting script. Once they were done they would immediately begin prepping the shoot and scouting locations.
“GhostBusters” is a prime example of the mixing of genres that have rarely worked this successfully. It’s a special-effects science fiction blockbuster and a solid gold comedy with it’s three leads at the height of their powers and showcasing them as masters of their craft. “Ghostbusters” has a lot of great visual and most of them practical effects, some of them mind-boggling, others just quick little cuts. No matter how big the effects are being used, what “GhostBusters” does so expertly is by placing them at the service of the actors; instead of feeling as if the actors have been carefully posed in front of special effects, we feel they’re interacting with each ghost as they go along.
The three main stars Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis, are three graduates of the Second City, National Lampoon, “Saturday Night Live” tradition. They’re funny, but they’re not afraid to reveal that they’re also quick-witted and intelligent; their dialogue uses understatement, irony, in-jokes, vast cynicism, and cheerful goofiness. Rarely has a movie this expensive and this big have provided so many quotable lines. That’s impressive since so much of the script was improvised on set.
Almost none of the scenes were filmed as scripted and, in fact, almost all of the scenes had at least one or two ad-libs. With most of Bill Murray’s lines being ad-libs. Including the party scene where Louis Tully played by Rick Moranis, mingles with his party guests (commenting on the price of the salmon, and so on) is not only taken in one continuous shot, but is almost entirely improvised. Also the scene when Venkman mentions the time Spengler tried to drill a hole in his head, Spengler responds: “That would have worked if you hadn’t stopped me” was actually ad-libbed by Harold Ramis. The list of improvs go on and on, but that just proves the genius of these comic actors.
By the time the production started for “GhostBusters” In 1983, Harold Ramis had already made a name for himself, serving as the head writer on SCTV, writing “Animal House”, “Meatballs” and “Stripes”. Ramis then pulled double duty as writer and director of “Caddyshack” in 1980 and “National Lampoon’s Vacation” In 1983. Producer and director Ivan Reitman had two films under his belt that are considered some of the best in comedy “Meatballs” and “Stripes”. His next project after “GhostBusters” would be “Legal Eagles” one of Robert Redford’s most charming and best roles. Before “GhostBusters” Bull Murray was involved in the same projects as both Ramis and Reitman, starring in “Meatballs”, “Caddyshack”, “Stripes” and a supporting role in Dustin Hoffman’s “Tootsie”. Of course not to forget he was the original cast of “Saturday Night Live”.
As we all know the three main leads of “GhostBusters”, let’s not forget the fourth played by Ernie Hudson, who pops up late in the film. Because of this his character is never fully developed. Had Eddie Murphy who was originally the first choice had accepted the role of Winston, he would have appeared in the film much earlier. It would have been him who was slimed at the hotel, not Venkman. When Murphy declined the role, the script was re-written to have Winston appear about half way through the film.
According to Ernie Hudson, an earlier version of the script had Winston with an elaborate backstory as an Air Force demolitions expert. Excited by the part, he agreed to the job for half his usual salary. The night before shooting began, he was given a new script with a greatly reduced role; Ivan Reitman told him the studio had wanted to expand Murray’s role. In a 2015 article for Entertainment Weekly, Hudson wrote: “I love the character and he’s got some great lines, but I felt the guy was just kind of there. I love the movie, I love the guys. I’m very thankful to Ivan for casting me. I’m very thankful that fans appreciate the Winston character. But it’s always been very frustrating-kind of a love & hate thing, I guess.
For the role of Egon a few high profile actors had turned down the role, including: Michael Keaton, Christopher Walken, John Lithgow, Christopher Lloyd (who did “Back To The Future” instead) and Jeff Goldblum. Harold Ramis really had no intention of starring in the film, only writing it. But he decided to star in this film as Spengler, after he felt he was the best person suited for the role. For the role of Venkman, Aykroyd originally had written it for his friend John Belushi. Sadly, Belushi had died as Dan Aykroyd was writing the script. Once Belushi passed, actors Michael Keaton, Chevy Chase, Tom Hanks, Robin Williams and Steve Guttenberg all had turned down the role before Murray accepted.
The films big villain Gozer was originally going to be played by “Pee-Wee” star Paul Reubens, who turned down the role. In the original script, Gozer took on the form of Ivo Shandor (the ghost building’s architect, who started the original Gozer cult), who resembled a pale, slender, unremarkable man in a business suit. Gozer’s final form was described as “David Bowie meets Grace Jones”. In fact, Jones was considered for the role, ultimately a Ukrainian model got the part. The rooftop set for the final confrontation between Gozer and the GhostBusters occupied an entire soundstage, and required 50,000 amps of electricity to be properly lit. The demand on electricity forced Columbia Pictures to shut down other stages while this scene was been filmed.
The two most popular creatures, who have truly become models of pop culture is Slimer who was originally known as Onionhead, which the film crew semi-officially dubbed him. In early drafts of the script, Slimer was vaguely described as an ‘incredibly foul-smelling amorphous vapor’. The horrible odor which he had used to scare a couple in a scene cut from the original movie. The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man which was a mash up of the Michelin Man and the Pillsbury Doughboy, were built using prosthetic suits that cost Approximately $20,000 apiece. Three were made in total and all were destroyed during filming.
There was an even more ferocious version of the Librarian Puppet that was going to be used, but it was rejected. However, it was recycled and used in another successful Columbia Pictures film released one year after, called “Fright Night”. All of the frightening imagery and varied monsters throughout the film were created by Oscar-winner Richard Edlund of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Poltergeist” fame.
Nothing was more iconic in “GhostBusters” than their proton packs. In the original idea for the film, the guns on the proton packs were actually wands. They were designed as long sticks with a ball on the end. They were fired by the GhostBusters by flicking their wrists as a magician and would point the wands at the ghosts. The wands were eventually changed to what we know them as, to fit the idea that the GhostBusters had created their gear from practical equipment.
The prop packs themselves were much heavier than they looked, and some were heavier than others depending on what a scene demanded while filming. Each pack weighed about 30 pounds, or nearly 50 pounds with the batteries installed, and it strained the actors’ backs during the long shoots. According to Ivan Reitman, none of the actors enjoyed wearing the packs, but Harold Ramis complained the least. Reitman would not say which actor complained the most. Lightweight packs were designed of foam rubber, that were used for stunt work. In order to sync the visual effects of the beams, flashbulbs were used on the end of the proton pack weapons.
The GhostBusters vehicle known as the Ecto-1 was a 1959 Cadillac, built by the Miller-Meteor company. Sound designer Richard Beggs had created the distinctive siren from a recording of a leopard snarl, that was cut and played backward. The Ecto-1 like many things in the film, became a well-recognized symbol for the “GhostBusters” franchise.
With every iconic movie there must be an iconic theme song. That is of course the theme song, “Ghostbusters”, written and performed by Ray Parker Jr. Originally Fleetwood Mac member, Lindsey Buckingham was approached to write the theme song after the successful collaboration of writing two songs for Harold Ramis’ film “National Lampoon’s Vacation”. He declined because he didn’t want to get into the rut of being asked to write movie themes. Second choice was Huey Lewis and the News, who turned down an offer to write and record the theme song. The group later went on to record two songs for the “Back To The Future” soundtrack (which they were nominated for an Oscar). Huey Lewis later sued Ray Parker Jr. for plagiarism, citing the similarities between his theme song and their earlier hit “I Want a New Drug”. The settlement was settled out of court.
As revealed in an interview with Mix Magazine Online the hit song ‘Ghostbusters’ was created 4:30 in the morning when after almost 2 long days of trying to create a song Ray Parker Jr. saw a commercial for a drain company that reminded him of a scene from the film. That commercial helped him coin the popular line “Who you gonna call?”. “GhostBusters” spent number one for three weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and stayed on the chart for 21 weeks. The music video, was directed by “GhostBusters” director Ivan Reitman. The video featured numerous celebrities, some who were considered for roles but did not appear in the film. They included Chevy Chase; Irene Cara; John Candy; Melissa Gilbert; Ollie E. Brown; Jeffrey Tambor; George Wendt; Al Franken; Danny DeVito; Carly Simon; Peter Falk and Teri Garr. In addition, the Ghostbusters themselves (in costume) danced down Times Square right behind Parker Jr.
While the film was originally intended for an adult audience, much like “Stripes”. The cast and crew were surprised to find that children were going wild for the film as a fun fantasy adventure of scientists battling nightmarish supernatural threats with cool backpack weapons. As a result, not only was a successful Saturday morning cartoon commissioned, “The Real Ghostbusters” (1986), but the sequel, “Ghostbusters II” (1989) had the original film’s adult elements downplayed such as the characters’ smoking.
With only a $30 million budget, “GhostBusters” has grossed over $295 million and has become a pop culture phenomenon. It was the highest-grossing film of the year and the highest-grossing comedy of its time. It was later in the year surpassed by “Beverly Hills Cop”, which became the highest-grossing film of 1984, grossing $315 million. Until the release of “Home Alone” in 1990, “GhostBusters” was the highest grossing comedy of all time.
At the 57th Academy Awards, it was nominated for Best Visual Effects and Best Original Song (for the theme song). The American Film Institute ranked “GhostBusters”, number 28 on its 100 Years…100 Laughs list of film comedies. In 2015, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
A script for a potential third film was under development by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, the writing team that worked with Harold Ramis on his 2009 comedy “Year One”; according to Ramis, the four main cast members from the original film were potentially to have minor on-screen roles: “The concept is that the old GhostBusters would appear in the film in some mentor capacity”. Comments from Murray in August 2010, after Year One’s release, suggested the latter’s poor reception made a new Ghostbuster sequel unlikely.
Two months later, Aykroyd downplayed Murray’s comments, saying Stupnitsky and Eisenberg “wrote Bill the comic role of a lifetime, and the new GhostBusters and the old are all well represented in it”; they wrote a “strong first draft” that Aykroyd and Ramis would have worked on. In February 2012, Aykroyd then said, “The script must be perfect. We cannot release a film that is any less than that. We have more work to do”.
On February 24, 2014, Harold Ramis passed away, causing Sony Pictures to re-evaluate the script that they were writing for “GhostBusters III”. Sony was planning on starting production in New York in 2015, but Reitman decided to pull out of directing the film in light of Ramis’s death. Reitman, however, was willing to help find a new director. On March 20, 2014 it was announced that Phil Lord and Chris Miller were in talks to direct the film, but by April 2014 the duo had decided to pass on the project. I’m May 2014, The Wrap reported that Ruben Fleischer (“Venom”) was being considered to direct the third film. Then in August 2014, the Hollywood Reporter revealed that Sony wanted Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids” and “Spy”) to direct the film and wanted to make it an all-female Ghostbusters team.
On October 8, 2014 it was announced that screenwriter Katie Dippold and director Paul Feig would write the script, while Feig directed. In January 2015, the main cast members for the all-female lead film, were announced as Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon were signed onto the project. The global release dates for the reboot, titled “Ghostbusters”, was July 2016.
Earlier this year in January 2019, it was announced that a new “GhostBusters” film is in development, to be helmed by Ivan Reitman’s son, Jason Reitman (“Juno”, “The Front Runner”). The film is to be set in the same universe as the first two “GhostBusters” films, with Reitman directing and writing the film alongside Gil Kenan (“Monster House”), and aiming for a 2020 release.
“GhostBusters” has always been a favourite of mine, as it was for much of my generation. It has such a following because the film is so good, the legacy of the film has lived on in spinoffs, cartoons, video games and endless references. Also because the marketing people behind it made sure that people were buying “GhostBusters” related merchandise for years after the event. It all makes you wonder what they were thinking when they came up with the whole concept for the film. It was way ahead of its time where imagination is concerned, but it’s so impressive what an imprint it’s left behind and how well the film stands up and is still so beloved 35 years later.