‘Ghostbusters’ director talked about film’s origins

Writer, director and producer Ivan Reitman died Saturday at the age of 75, leaving behind a legacy that included celebrated films Animal House (1978), meatballs (1979), Stripes (1981), twins (1988), Kindergarten Cop (1990), Dave (1993) and Space Jam (1996).

It’s the Ghostbusters franchise, however, that Reitman will always be most closely associated with as visionary creator and pop culture steward. Reitman directed both the 1984 classic Ghostbusters and its 1989 sequel, Ghostbusters IIand had a heavy hand in producing its two recent installments, 2016’s all-women reboot Ghostbusters and last year’s same-universe spin-off Ghostbusters: Afterlife

The 2021 movie was directed by Ivan’s son, Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air), who in November told us about the pros and cons of having his father on set with him every day.

“You could imagine what it would be like if your parents came to work with you every day, and weighed in on all of your decisions,” he said. “I mean, look, it’s both things at the same time. One, I have the world’s greatest Ghostbusters expert and storyteller there. It was only helping me become a better filmmaker, who can weigh in on whether — is this the right color slime, or is that how the terror dog would really move. But yeah, every once in a while, there’s a little bit of friction. We had to figure out how to be father-son and producer-director at the same time.” (In a new post shared on Twitter Monday, Jason eulogized his beloved father: “I’ve lost my hero,” he tweeted

Ivan Reitman was so embedded in the series’ universe that he regularly worked out of a Ghostbusters production office on Sony’s Culver City lot — an office easily recognizable by its iconic signage and the presence of the Ecto-1 parked on the turf outside

In the summer of 2019, Xdigitalnews Entertainment visited Reitman at his Ghostbusters offices for a schooling on the history of the 1984 favorite (watch above).

Director Paul Feig, left, and producer Ivan Reitman attend a “Ghostbusters” fan event in 2016. (Photo: Michael Kovac/WireImage)

The project originated in the early ’80s as a treatment the paranormal-obsessed Dan Aykroyd wrote for himself and fellow SNLthere and Blues Brother John Belushi to costar in. Belushi, though, died of a drug overdose in March 1982.

“It was impossible to make once he passed away,” Reitman told us. The filmmaker, however, was still intrigued by its prospects, even if the original more “fantastical” version had to be scaled down for budgetary reasons — or literally brought back down to earth. Aykroyd’s original version had the guys — ultimately played by himself (Raymond Stantz), Bill Murray (Peter Venkman), Harold Ramis (Egon Spengler) and Ernie Hudson (Winston Zeddemore) — traveling through space and time to bust ghosts.

“I thought there was this wonderful central idea to it, which was there was a group of people who functioned much like firemen whose job was to rid their environment of ghosts.”

Also deeply steeped in Ghostbusters lore is the list of actors who almost starred in the film, names like Richard Pryor (Venkman), Eddie Murphy (Winston), John Candy (Louis), Sandra Bernhardt (Janine) and Paul Reubens (Ivo).

“Because there was a five- or six-year period after Belushi passed away [before the film was made]I think [Aykroyd] spoke to a number of people about perhaps doing a duo with him,” Reitman explained.

Ghostbusters promo photo

Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver and Dan Aykroyd in a Ghostbusters promo photo. (Photo: Sony Pictures/ The Everett Collection)

There was one future A-lister, though, whom he did encounter in the casting rounds: “Julia Roberts came in and auditioned,” he said of finding the film’s lead female role, Dana Barrett. Roberts was a complete unknown at the time, at least four or five years before she broke out in movies like Mystic Pizza (1988), Steel Magnolias (1989) and pretty woman (1990). She ultimately lost the part to Sigourney Weaver.

“I thought Sigourney was perfect, and I think one of the lovely things we found as we were playing together on the set was the kind of great chemistry that developed between Bill and Sigourney,” he said.

Casting the film’s lifelike ghouls was also key. And though many of the original creatures Aykroyd dreamed up in that first script (like a Godzilla-esque ghost lizard) didn’t make the cut, perhaps his most ambitious creation survived.

“One of the things that did originate in Aykroyd’s very [first] treatment, along with dozens of other ghosts that never made it into our film, was the Marshmallow Man,” said Reitman.

“And the Marshmallow Man was the thing as a director that I was most frightened about… whether that was really pushing the reality level envelope a little too far. It was the thing that I was most nervous about going into post-production, but it turned out to be this most magical moment.”

Video/story originally published June 7, 2019.

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