Flipping the script on ‘Ghostbusters’
When director Paul Feig told screenwriter Katie Dippold that he wanted her to co-write a reboot of the 1984 action-comedy “Ghostbusters,” with four female leads, she knew she had her work cut out for her.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” Dippold said in a phone interview. “I know how sacred the original was, and I knew that it was going to be very hard to pull off.”
However, she said, “I didn’t know people would be angry about it before it came out.”
The new “Ghostbusters” (opening in theaters nationwide Friday, July 15) has been a target of internet vitriol since Feig — who has directed the female-fronted comedies “Spy,” “The Heat” and “Bridesmaids” — announced that the reboot would not feature the four male characters from the original film, but four women characters, played by comedy stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon.
“The very first conversation, he said, ’I want to do a “Ghostbusters” reboot with females,’?” Dippold recalled. “I wasn’t even really sure in the beginning if he meant remake or reboot. When we talked next, he said it was really important we have new characters and a new story — we’re just playing in that world.”
In the new version, a hard-science physicist, Erin Gilbert (Wiig), loses her position at Columbia when an old book about the paranormal, written by Gilbert and her former best friend Abby Yates (McCarthy), resurfaces. Gilbert and Yates reluctantly join forces, along with Yates’ tech-head engineer, Jillian Holtzman (McKinnon), to investigate a ghost sighting. Eventually, they are joined by Patty Tolan (Jones), a subway worker with an encyclopedic knowledge of New York City’s dark history.
Finding a balance between creating a fresh story and sticking to the original was a challenge, Dippold said.
“It was constantly debated,” said Dippold, who wrote the Feig-directed buddy-cop movie “The Heat.” “That was a really tricky one. I feel like that’s one of the things that’s not going to make anybody happy.”
The new movie makes nods to the original with icons and cameos. The trailer gives away a few moments — including the gruesome green ghost Slimer and Dan Aykroyd’s appearance as a cabby — but there are others that will surprise and delight audiences.
Dippold believes that funny is funny, whether it’s men or women delivering the jokes.
“When it comes to the humor, I don’t see the gender making a big difference,” Dippold said. “I always think about ‘Bridesmaids’ — that opening scene, where Kristen puts on makeup and then goes back to bed and pretends she woke up like that. I loved that so much, and that’s something I did in college. That joke to me is funny to everyone, but it’s a perspective that I hadn’t seen before.”
With “Ghostbusters,” the comedy is pushed even further by the four performers, who Dippold said are quite skilled at improvising.
“They know what the scene needs and will know how to improvise in a way that stays on story, because they’re incredibly smart,” said Dippold, a former improv performer who has a cameo as a real-estate agent.
“It’s a really collaborative set, because everyone’s really working together,” she said. “Sometimes Paul will throw out an idea, or maybe Melissa does something and it’s super-funny — and that will give me or Paul an idea, based off what she did, and throw something else back at her.”
One of those improvised moments turned out to be the perfect response to all the internet-fueled anger. In one scene, after the women’s work ends up on YouTube, Erin starts reading the comments and finds some sexist criticism that isn’t too far removed from the real thing.
“We had a bunch of different alt-jokes for that, and they tweaked on the day to something more direct to what was going on,” she said. “It’s not like me and Paul were like, ‘We’re gonna get ’em!’ It’s just that all that stuff was in our heads every day, and you just kind of write what’s around you.”
(The haters are still at work. This week, there was a concerted campaign to drive down the movie’s rating on the Internet Movie Database, with thousands of negative ratings posted by people who haven’t seen it.)
As Dippold celebrates the release of “Ghostbusters” (while also watching director Jonathan Levine film her next script in Oahu, a mother-daughter action-comedy starring Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer), the writer also is contemplating why the backlash was so harsh.
She believes much of the anger stems from the fact that fans never got a third “Ghostbusters” movie with the original cast, and this reboot — along with the death last year of Harold Ramis, who co-wrote the 1984 version and played the nerdy Egon Spengler — means they never will.
“In hindsight, people were looking for a sequel, and that wasn’t looking like it was going to happen,” Dippold said.
The ironic part is that Feig and Dippold are as gaga about the 1984 “Ghostbusters” as the angry internet commenters are.
“We were kind of writing a love letter to the original, and we wanted to see those things again,” Dippold said. “As a fan, I want to see all those people again.”