Ghostbusters cast reunited. RUVEN AFANADOR for EW
Ghostbusters cast reunited. RUVEN AFANADOR for EW
Ghostbusters has been such a huge part of our popular-culture for the last 30 years that it's easy to overlook what it represented at the time. In June 1984, when the film opened in theaters, Bill Murray was only 33 years old. Dan Aykroyd was just 31 and director Ivan Reitman was 37. Saturday Night Live had yet to celebrate its 10th anniversary, but the seeds of SNL and Second City sketch comedy had already begun to bear fruit in Hollywood, with movies like Animal House, Caddyshack, and The Blues Brothers scoring at the box office. Still, those hits were safe bets: raucous thumb-nosing comedies that mostly consisted of slobs outrunning or outsmarting Nixonian snobs.
When Columbia gave Ghostbusters a green light, though, they handed the keys to the kingdom to an irreverent creative dream team that refused to flinch or be reined in by a bigger budget. In fact, they went even further, with a B-movie plot that was both ludicrous and stuffed with images—Mr. Stay Puft? Terror dogs?—that seemed like the inhabitants of an epic ’shroom trip. But whereas Stripes and the Harold Ramis-directed Vacation appealed to the red-eyed college-kid demographic, Ghostbusters surprised everyone, including its creators, when virtually everyone, kids and grandmoms, began singing its theme song. "This movie is an exception to the general rule that big special effects can wreck a comedy," wrote Roger Ebert. "Rarely has a movie this expensive provided so many quotable lines."
Ghostbusters wasn't as massive as Star Wars at the box office, perhaps, but it represented something just as seismic by validating the new craft of comedy that had been knocking for nearly a decade. All four of the core creatives—Aykroyd, Reitman, Murray, and Ramis—would go on to better, if not bigger, things, but Ghostbusters remains the moment when their brand of humor and our culture crossed streams, and invited all of Hollywood to the other side.
Ivan Reitman director/producer: I was always a big horror and science fiction fan—as much as a comedy fan—and I had always had this dream of doing a movie that successfully combined both, comedy and scary stuff. Dan had written a treatment for something called Ghostbusters for himself and John Belushi. Then Belushi passed away and the script sort of sat dormant for a couple of years. He sent it to me and said, ‘Look, do you think this would be something you'd like to direct with me and Bill?’ I read it, and it was sort of a futuristic thing and it was competing groups of Ghostbusters and out in space.
Dan Aykroyd co-writer, "Ray Stantz": It never went to outer space. That's Ivan's misinterpretation. It went to inner space. Now, superstring theory—23 different dimensions, 11 different dimensions, what's in the 7th or 8th? We live in four. But anyway, it was my family business, the paranormal. My great grandfather was an Edwardian spiritualist. There's a book called History of Ghosts. You can get it on Amazon. My dad wrote it. It's about mediumship and transmediumship and the afterlife and survival of the consciousness after death, so that was the kind of stuff I was reading as a kid. I originated Ghostbusters based upon reading that material and the real work of J.B. Rhine and [William G.] Roll and the Maimonides Dream Lab—real scientists who were into this. I took that from my family history, my family business, and married it with the ghost comedies of the 1930s—Abbot and Costello, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, and the Bowery Boys. I mean, everyone did ghost movies. I just thought, "Let's do a comedy ghost movie, but let's base it on the real research." From that, I wrote a script, which is much darker than what was seen and was less accessible.
Joe Medjuck associate producer: We loved the idea. We loved the name Ghostbusters, which we didn't own. It wasn't cleared legally. We loved the idea of it, but the film seemed impossible to make. It was set in the future and there were lots of Ghostbusters. They were kind of blue-collar guys and half of it took place in another dimension. But it did have the concept of Ghostbusting, and it did have the marshmallow man. Ivan didn't want to blow it off, because he thought there was something there. Then one day, he turned to me, and I still remember this, and he said, “What if the Ghostbusters were university professors?”
Reitman: I told Dan there's a great idea here and I think we should set it in New York and it should tell the story of how they go into business together and the business turns out to be really successful. Manhattan was the best-known city in America. And this was at a time when there wasn't a supernatural force destroying the Earth on a regular basis the way there is now, so it seemed like a very important addition to set it in what was then contemporary Manhattan.
Medjuck: He took Danny to lunch at Art's Deli and he came back to our office with Danny, and said, “Do you think Harold would be interested?” Harold had an office across the street, so they walked over and came back: “Yeah, I think he's going to do it.”
Ramis, Reitman, and Murray on the set of Ghostbusters.Columbia Pictures
Brimming with confidence after three hits—Animal House, Meatballs, Stripes—Reitman went into Frank Price's office at Columbia short on details but armed with the murderer's row of comedians, led by Bill Murray, who was presumably onboard.
Reitman: It took me half an hour. I said it was going to be [Dan] Aykroyd, [Harold] Ramis, and of course, Bill Murray. I made up the budget off the top of my head. Stripes had cost $10 million; I figured this was going to be three times as much. And they said yes.
Medjuck: In some ways it was the easiest “Go” we ever got. I remember Frank Price said, “What will it cost?” And Ivan held the treatment up in the palm of his hand and he said, “Feels like $30 million.” Which we had no idea, but Stripes had cost about $10, I think. Frank said, “Well, can you get it ready for June of 1984?” And we said “Sure.” Not knowing that most people would've said this was impossible. Honestly, we didn't know any better.
Reitman: Although $30 million was more expensive [than Stripes], it was still not that expensive. There were a lot of movies that cost around $30 million then. A big movie in that time was $60 or $70 million so it was a relatively modest budget. I said, "Look there's no script. Aykroyd, Ramis, and I are going to go off in Martha's Vineyard and write this." They said, “Fine, we trust you're going to get there.”
Medjuck: Frank had confidence but no one else in the upper echelons got it. Lots of people didn't. I remember while we were making it, people thought we were crazy. The last big-budget comedy had been Spielberg's 1941, and it kind of bombed. They said, “Even Spielberg can't make a big-budget comedy work.”
Annie Potts "Janice Melnitz": It was a very unique property and I think everybody saw that. Even with Bill and Ivan's success, it was like, “What is this? A comedy? Sci-fi? It was almost unclassifiable. I'd never seen anything like it. I thought, this is just going to be totally awesome or totally awful.
Reitman: This [“Go”] meeting was in May 1983, and we still had no script. Only 13 months to get everything done—including starting a special-effects house. You see, there was only one real big-time special-effects house, and that was ILM. But ILM was already booked up doing Indiana Jones so I called Richard Edlund.
Richard Edlund visual effects: Basically, I had just finished Return of the Jedi when I got a call. When I got Dan's original script, which was about 180 pages, it was like, “Oh my God.” So I worked with Ivan and Harold to pare down the effects. We basically cut it down to the shots that were necessary to tell the story and get the laughs.
Aykroyd: Without Ivan and Harold, it would've had no shape. Ivan did a good job of taking my whole throughline, as Harold encouraged us to do, and keep it alive: the industrial-hazard aspect of cleaning these spirits up and making sure that they don't bother us here in this dimension. That was the throughline: This is a tough job. That's why they smoke cigarettes—not because I'm promoting smoking. These guys were under stress, and I wanted to show the stress of being ghost cleaners, what it really would be like.
Ernie Hudson "Winston Zeddemore": Danny’s belief in [the supernatural] gave it a certain grounded quality that you can laugh at it but there's something there that's a little weightier. It gave the film a sense of realism that, as crazy as these guys were, that there's something possibly real about this.
The Ghostbusters make their first bust after Bill Murray got slimed.Columbia Pictures
Bill Murray, in theory, was onboard to play the romantic lead. Though Aykroyd had originally started writing Ghostbusters as another tag-team vehicle for him and Belushi, he'd had Murray in mind for Dr. Peter Venkman after his friend had died of a drug overdose in 1982. But even then, Murray marched to the beat of a different drummer. For Meatballs, his first starring role, he made Reitman and Harold Ramis sweat by not showing up on set until after production began. While Reitman and the writers huddled together and collaborated on the Ghostbusters script, Murray was doing his own thing. They had no choice but to trust that he would eventually deliver.
Aykroyd: It's hard to pin Bill down. He read the first drafts, enough to flick through them and go, “Whoa, whoa, ooh, that's interesting, I already like this.” I think there were little things that grabbed him, because he's a literate man.
Medjuck: We just never thought he wasn't going to show up. I think he promised Danny. They had had one meeting with him, where they discussed the story before he'd gone off on his travels or to make The Razor's Edge. And he had very few comments.
Karen Rea casting director: Even back then, Bill was that way. But he and Ivan had a good thing. Because you know it's hard to get Bill to fall in love with a script—back then, more so.
Medjuck: I've heard a rumor and truly don't know how true this is, that Bill told Columbia he'd do Ghostbusters if they'd let him do The Razor's Edge. So he was actually shooting The Razor's Edge before Ghostbusters while the writing was taking place. But he had said he would come. And Bill and Harold go back a long way. And Bill and Danny obviously. And Ivan and Bill. They all went back a long way.
Ernie Hudson, who'd worked with Reitman on the 1983 movie, Spacehunter landed the role of the fourth Ghostbuster, Winston Zeddemore. Aykroyd initially envisioned his Trading Places co-star Eddie Murphy in the role, and Winston's status as the Ghostbusters' Ringo has always been a curious controversy.
Hudson: The original script that I got, the character [of Winston] was much more involved, and it was a bigger part. Now I've heard, over the years, that the part had been written for Eddie Murphy—all of which Ivan says is not true. But it was a bigger part and as an actor, I thought it was an amazing part. I thought, this would be career-changing.
Medjuck: I have no memory of us ever thinking of [Eddie]. I think partly because I’m not sure his rhythms would mesh with Bill's. I don't know. We knew Ernie's work from Spacehunter and we knew he was solid.
Aykroyd: I was writing for Eddie and I was writing for Belushi. I always had Eddie in the movie. The Ghostbusters are the four of them. From my very first script, he was in on the first bust, you know. All I can do is just imagine what Eddie would've done with that part.
Rea: They wanted Eddie. Because Eddie was a major star. He was huge, so it would've been another huge name in our movie. But Ghostbusters was a bigger ensemble—compared to Beverly Hills Cop—and sometimes stars don't want to share the movie. And Bill Murray was the lead in this. So in a way, maybe Eddie's thinking, “Why am I going to share a movie with Bill Murray when I’m already a superstar?”
Hudson: The character had an elaborate background: he was an Air Force major or something, demolitions guy. And the day before our first day of shooting, I got the new script, and the character was all gone. The character originally came in at the very beginning of the movie, like page 8. And now the character came in on page 68. So that was pretty devastating.
Medjuck: He was written as an incredibly overqualified guy. I think in the first run-through, he had a Ph.D. or something. I think it was Ivan saying, “We need someone in here who's more of an Everyman. Someone who's not as crazy as they guys who can ask these questions that the audience [needs], who they can explain things to."
Reitman: We broke down the characters to be parts of the human body: Harold was always the Brain, and Aykroyd was the Heart, and Bill was the Mouth. The Ernie Hudson character was brought in as the voice of the common man, someone who was not involved but could ask the questions that a normal audience would ask. So the other Ghostbusters could then answer technical science issues for our audience.
Rea: It’s probably a bigger role [with Eddie]. Probably more scenes with Bill Murray.
Hudson: I run to Ivan [the next morning] and plead my case. He basically says, “The studio felt that they had Bill Murray, so they wanted to give him more stuff to do.” I go, “Okay, I understand that, but can I even be there when the Ghostbusters are initially established?” And of course, he said no, there's nothing to do about it.
Rea: Well, what are you going to do? This is a Bill Murray movie. How do you take stuff away from Bill? And you're not going to take it away from Rick Moranis, you're not going to take it away from Danny. So it's just the way it goes. And you know, Ernie's had a nice career. I think it really helped his career.
Aykroyd: Ernest Hudson did a great, great job on the part by being the Everyman, the man off the street, included suddenly in this world that was foreign and strange to all of us. He played that beautifully. And then finally, as a comrade who understands it all by the end of the movie.
Hudson: The character changed a lot, from where the original thing was to what we ended up with. But now 30 years later, I look back and kind of go, “You know what? It worked out exactly the way it should have.” But that career boost that I thought was going to change my life, that didn't happen. And in my mind at least, a large part had to do with those changes that the studio made. I think the character works with what he has to work with, but I've always felt like, “Man, if I could've played that original character...”
The victorious Ghostbusters bask in New Yorkers' adulation after dispatching Mr. Stay-Puft.Columbia Pictures
Belushi and Murphy aren't the only famous funny actors in the Ghostbusters what-if conversation. When Aykroyd was writing the character who became Louis Tully, the nosy neighbor who harbors a crush on the beautiful Dana Barrett, Reitman was eager to recruit his Stripes scene-stealer and fellow Canadian, John Candy.
Medjuck: It was written for John Candy, and it was very much his brassy Johnny LaRue character.
Reitman: John Candy was supposed to be the neighbor down the hall, but he didn't like the treatment that I had sent. He didn't get it. He said, “Well, maybe if I played him as a German guy who had a bunch of German shepherd dogs.” I said, “Well, maybe you can do it with an accent, but I don't think all that's really necessary.” He basically passed, and I called up Rick Moranis who I knew in Toronto, and said, “Look, Rick, why don't you take a look at this. I think it’s going to be good.” He read it in like one hour, called me up, and said, “Wow, please thank Candy for me. This is the greatest thing I ever read.”
Rea: We had stand-up comedians come in for that role, but once you saw Rick do it, that was it. You don't go any further. Rick must've fell in love with the script, because he came in and basically said to Ivan, “Look, this is kind of the way I see the guy.” Then he went into the character of Louis, and just started gimping around the room, and that was it. You know John Candy would’ve been fabulous, but Rick brought a whole different thing to it. He really made our movie special.
Medjuck: Rick immediately said, “Well, I got this thing about a nerd,” which is not how the original character was written. So Rick really created the character.
Aykroyd: He wrote all that stuff at the party. He delivered my speech about Gozer the Traveller. That speech alone, he did it so detached, it was so cute and fun.
Edlund: What ever happened to Rick Moranis? He was such a talented guy. He could do Johnny Carson doing Tarzan. He could do an actor doing another actor, and see both of them. He had incredible talent.
Sigourney Weaver "Dana Barrett": Talk about improvising. I know a lot of it was in the script, but Rick was just a genius at continuing, and his behavior and everything is just sort of break-your-heart and made you smile. I was actually watching one of our scenes together recently, and [you can see me laugh]. That was the one they used, but frankly, I think Dana's trying not to burst out laughing because it's so absurd but she doesn't want to be rude. But I think I probably couldn't help it, because [Rick’s performance] was so dear.
Sigourney Weaver was all class. Tall and strikingly beautiful, she was a Yale Drama grad who then served a tour with Ridley Scott in Alien and invented the modern female action hero. In the political thriller The Year of Living Dangerously, she and Mel Gibson had generated plenty of heat. But she'd seen and enjoyed Stripes and to everyone's surprise, she was extremely motivated to star in Ghostbusters as Dana, the cellist who's courted by Venkman, Tully, and the demon that resides in her building.
Medjuck: I think everybody was slightly in awe of Sigourney. We didn't know she’d done all these comedies at Yale with Christopher Durang. We'd seen Alien and The Year of Living Dangerously. For us, it was like, “Wow, we have this serious actress in our midst.”
Weaver: Comedy actually was what I felt I did best, but after Alien, no one could imagine that I could be funny. I'd been offered an Andy Kaufman project about two robots that fall in love, and I was so excited to work with him. But my agent convinced me that the script just wasn't good enough, so I had sort of tearfully let that go. So with Ghostbusters—which was brilliant and so funny and so full of heart—I was really determined.
Rea: Sigourney wanted to do comedy, obviously, so she came in and auditioned. Normally, women of her caliber don't audition. Because what did we have under our belt: Stripes? It wasn't like Ivan had been around for 20 years. So we looked at Sigourney as a big deal. We were real excited that she was interested.
Reitman: I auditioned a ton of people, and she knew immediately how to play it. It was her idea, by the way, for Dana to be a terror dog. She said, "I should get possessed," and then she got on my coffee table on all fours and started howling like a dog.
Weaver: It was spontaneous, because being from the theater, it really didn't occur to me that I would rely on special effects. I really was thinking that I would do it all, that I would actually be the terror dog. I assumed I was possessed because it's in the script: I'm possessed by a terror dog. I didn't realize that Ivan actually didn't want me to do this, so after I was jumping around and picking up the cushions in my teeth and howling etc, Ivan—who has such dignity—stopped the tape. And he stood up and he said, “You know, you really shouldn't do stuff like that because if you did that on a film, it's so grotesque that the editor would want to use it.”
Reitman: It was, frankly, a lovefest. She's very sophisticated, very smart, very elegant, and could trade punches with anybody. I think Murray really adored her—adores her.
Weaver: Bill’s so charming, and he's so disarming. And I didn't really have time to be nervous, because when I met him, I met him outside of the public library on 42nd Street. And he literally said, “Hi Sue,” and picked me up and threw me over his shoulder and walked down the street with me. Something I have to say that's never happened to me before or since. Guys don't usually throw me, 6-feet tall, over their shoulders. And I just fell in love with him right then and there.
Though Weaver's character took her time to warm up to Murray's incorrigible doctor, she found her co-star extremely endearing.Columbia Pictures
Murray came through, and filming began in New York in the fall of 1983. Though Aykroyd and Ramis had delivered a script that everyone was excited about, everyone felt free to tinker on the set.
Medjuck: Literally the day Bill got back from somewhere, we shot with him. We sent someone to the airport to pick him up, brought him back, put him in the outfit. Ivan was shooting something, and he saw Harold and Bill and Danny in their uniforms, walking down the street towards us. And Ivan turned to me and said, “This is going to be f--king great.” He saw the image of them and he knew this was going to be great.
Potts: Ivan was very confident, and he had a lot of experience with the guys, of course. He had an established way of working with them, especially with Bill, which is kind of like working with some really gifted capuchin monkey. He had a way of corralling that and appreciating it.
Reitman: Murray came up with some of the great lines in that movie. I've made five movies with Bill, including the two Ghostbusters, and his work gets done in the shooting process. But he’s as important at script-writing as any of us were.
Aykroyd: Basically we were fortunate to have the greatest comic leading man of our generation come on and see the appeal of it and carry the ball right down and win the game for us. There would've been no success without Murray. We don't do these things alone, but I credit 50 percent of the success of that whole adventure to him, and we'll never see the likes of it again.
Reitman: It's not that people were just winging things as we were shooting. It's more like looking at it as writing the final draft while you're shooting it. People would think of things, we would try things on various takes. My job was always to continuously edit while we were working, as the thing evolved.
Aykroyd: It got written on the set for the large part. Right there, on the set, you change things every day, and you let the actors do what they do best. And sometimes, actors do have a brain and can write. Ivan recognized that in all the cast.
Weaver: Sometimes Ivan would come up to me and he'd say, "You know, you're not the funny one." [Laughs] He did that to me on Dave too. It was almost like I wanted to go, “Well, just you wait.”
Hudson: You ever go to a dinner at someone's house and it's a real strong family? You're trying to be polite, but they're just reaching and grabbing stuff, and suddenly, you kind of go, "Oh, okay, well if I'm going to eat, I better jump in." They were very, very close in that family way.
Weaver: I never really lost my complete awe of these guys. Ivan was able to create consistently a situation where these guys could all really bring their best game and they were all so generous with each other. They were always giving the other person the laugh. It was a very powerful film to be a part of in that way.
Medjuck: I remember Rick saying, “You know, it's great. You're in a group, and people would come up with a line, and they'd say, ‘No, you take it.’ There was not people saying, 'This is my line.' It was always, 'Who does this fit best for?'”
Hudson: Bill would always look out for me to make sure I was okay. With the line, I think the line at the end of the movie, “I love this town”—or some of my other best lines—Bill would say, “Well, wait a minute, what about Ernie here?”
Weaver: Having gone to the Yale Drama School and trying to really do a good job, I'd be off to the side—I don't know what I was doing, breathing?—just trying to think about where I was and what I did five minutes ago. And suddenly, Bill would be right next to me: “Sue…? What are you doing over here, Sue?” And then he'd start tickling me or something. He wouldn't let me ruin everything by getting all method—not that I was method. And it was the best possible training for me, because I think you can tell what a good time we're having.
Reitman: I don't think this movie would work without William Atherton playing Peck. He just played it with such Shakespearean intensity. He just makes Bill look really good; I love that very first scene together when he suddenly shows up with such menace and comedic power.
William Atherton "Walter Peck": We decided—because it's essentially a cameo that keeps popping up—I didn't want to change my suit. And we decided not to do that, so that whenever you saw me in this kind of great big cartoon, you knew what I represented. Bureaucracy 101, that's my tone. He’s everybody at customs or an airport that's made your life hell. I grew a beard because I figured what the hell. If I'm going to be a little strangely bad, I may as well pole-vault over the top. And then we had a little Phi Beta Kappa pin. So we really kind of got it down to visually what he represented.
Peck cast the Environmental Protection Agency as the bad guy, and when he shuts down the Ghostbusters containment facility, all hell breaks loose.Columbia Pictures
Ghostbusters was hardly the first big movie to film in New York City, but the relationship between the cast—especially Murray and Aykroyd—and New Yorkers made for a memorable experience. Never before or since has New York been so gracious to a film crew causing traffic jams.
Reitman: I saw this as an opportunity to make a quintessential New York film in the way that Woody Allen used Manhattan in his own way in those early movies of his. I thought of a different Manhattan, whose comedy was more of a contemporary nature, a younger nature. There's something about the personalities of what was then contemporary Manhattanites that would be an important sort of character for the movie.
Medjuck: When you're asking for permission and you say Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd are in this movie, it helps, yeah. Everybody loved them. Wherever we went, people would be yelling at them. Bill loved yelling back. “Hey! I know you!” They were like the kings of the city. People would keep restaurants open.
Reitman: Bill and Dan, having been on Saturday Night Live for a number of years, were really beloved in that particular city. People felt comfortable with them. I made another film [1986's Legal Eagles] with Robert Redford, who's beloved in a whole different way. People stayed away. They were almost diffident with him. But guys like Bill and Danny, there was a sense people could go up to them, like they were buddies.
Harold Ramis "Egon Spengler" [Interviewed in 2010]: The first day we were shooting on the street in New York, Bill and Danny and I were just hanging out on the street, and everyone recognized Bill and Danny from SNL. Someone walked by and said, “Hey! Bill Murray!” And Bill said, in a mock angry voice, “You son of a bitch!” And he grabbed the guy and he wrestled him to the ground. Just a passerby. The guy was completely amazed—and laughing all the way to the ground. And then Bill left him there.
Hudson: I saw people driving down the streets and go, “Oh my God!” and slam on their brakes and jump out of their cars while they're still running. And run over and go, “Bill Murray! Holy sh-t, man! Oh f--k, I can't believe it's you!” Bill just never ran from it. He would just wade down the street, like he was the mayor. We all knew that there could be a bunch of crazies out there, but if there were crazies out there, Bill Murray never seemed to notice. A guy would say, “Bill, you know, I got this record collection...” And Bill would take off with him. You go, “Wait, wait, Bill, he got this [movie].” But he really didn't care.
Weaver: Bill was always himself. Not eager, but just very present. And would do very unexpected things. If he wasn't shooting, I think he could easily end up spending the day with someone who came by to ask him something. He's very free-form. And I do admire that. I think he's not only probably enriched his own life, but a lot of other people's by being that way. It's almost like he's hoping to have something pull him away from whatever he's supposed to be doing. He's really open to it, and I admire it very much.
Violet Stiel Ramis' daughter: In the part when they're running out of the library after they see the first ghost, they had to do that scene at least 20 times because lens caps would fall off the camera or somebody's thing would fall out of their pocket. And the crowd that was watching was just enjoying it so much so that every time something would fall off, they would cheer because they knew it meant another take.
Reitman: If we started a scene with 100 extras that we had hired, two hours later there would be 400 people on the scene, people just showing up.
Atherton: They were shooting on Central Park West, at like 5 o'clock on Friday. And it's kind of like, Jesus Christ. [Laughs] There are big movies and there are big movies. You'd look down Central Park West, with all these lights and everything—it looked like Triumph of the Will. We were all joking, saying the location manager of this is probably running a radio station in Zaire or something. It was just extraordinary, how enormous it was. And it just made for a different energy. Anything that's shot in New York is just bumped up. You get that New York ambiance. You're in the center of the world, and you feel it.
Hudson: We just took over.
Potts: We tied up so much traffic. I think all of Manhattan was in gridlock, and nobody seemed to be very pissed off about it. Because of what it was for.
Medjuck: We weren't trying to cause trouble, but it was amazing what they let us do, in the sense of, you know, we closed down Central Park West. I remember people would come up to me and say, “What's going on here? This is terrible.” They were shooting The Cotton Club at the same time. And I remember the night we were doing the marshmallow man coming up Seventh Ave., someone said, “What is going on here?” And I said, “It's The Cotton Club. Francis [Coppola]. He's crazy. He'll do anything.”
Weaver: I remember when we came out on Central Park West, and they had filled the entire street with every kind of New Yorker imaginable, cheering for the Ghostbusters. It was one of the most moving things I'd ever seen, and you knew right then this was such a special picture and certainly a love letter to New York. These guys are so loved, because of Saturday Night Live. There's something about them that made it very different from the usual welcome of the film in New York, which is, “Oh Christ, here's another movie blocking my neighborhood.” There was none of that.
The four Ghostbusters take aim at Gozer in a rooftop showdownColumbia Pictures
While production wrapped in New York and shifted to Southern California, Edlund and his new f/x company, Boss Films, were hurriedly trying to deliver the ghoulish special effects that would make 1984 audiences squeal. Simultaneously, his overworked team was developing the visuals for 2010: The Year We Make Contact. As the June release-date deadline for Ghostbusters approached, they raced to make the best of an impossible situation.
Edlund: Basically, we just had to invent our way out of the corner once we painted ourselves into it. The biggest challenge was to do all the work in the time that we had. We had basically one shot at compositing each of these shots. About 80 percent of the shots were take-1s. We just didn't have more time to do any more. The same with the animation. The animation of the terror dog is a little on the funky side, like the scene where the dog busts out into the hallway. The effects are a little bit on the raw side, but the thing is, it works with the movie. Because the movie has that kind of quality.
Medjuck: We started working on the designs and special effects while Danny and Harold and Ivan were still working on the script. The idea for the logo had been in Danny's original treatment. I think Danny had said it's the international Do-Not-Go symbol over Casper the Friendly Ghost. I said right away that Casper's owned by Paramount, so I don't think it's going to be Casper. And [producer] Mike Gross designed the logo. We had to have it done before the movie, not just for advertising.
Edlund: Slimer was Dan Aykroyd's idea. That was an ode to John Belushi. I think Dan wrote that character as John.
Medjuck: Danny himself and a friend of his had actually designed some equipment. He sent sketches and a demo of how to catch a ghost. Now the special-effects guys changed them a bit, for various reasons, but a lot of it comes from Danny's basic ideas.
Edlund: I thought up the rubberized light from the neutrona wands. What kind of rays were the neutrona wands going to emanate? I figured, well, let's rubberize light, so it's not like a laser that's shooting out, because everyone's seen that already.
Medjuck: The idea about what Gozer would look like changed really a lot. For a while, we thought of David Byrne of Talking Heads, don't ask me why. Then Ivan came in one day and said, “Let's make it a woman.”
Edlund: Ivan was trying to get Grace Jones to play Gozer. That would've been great. She had this great coffee-can hairdo. And she was really quite a character. I thought that was a great idea. But I think maybe the money came into it. She wanted too much money or whatever.
Medjuck: We may have said Grace Jones or a Grace Jones look.
Aykroyd: I think we felt we better go with an unknown, because you're dealing with a manifestation of a thought-form, so you don't want that thought-form to be already known.
Slavitza Jovan "Gozer": I was doing lots of modeling, like runway shows and things like that. For my audition, I was just following my own ideas about how she needs to be, between the classical and the futuristic, a type of timelessness. I was doing this goddess type of thing, like she's strong and powerful, like she's an almost arrogant Roman empress. Regular humans are kind of beneath her.
Stiel: I ruin the movie for people all the time, telling them, “Oh, Gozer couldn't walk down the stairs in those high heels because of the fog and there was a big argument about, ‘Can she walk without the heels?’”
Jovan: Those contact lenses were painted red, so that I don't see anything. Going all the way up the stairs—it's like acting blind. That was kind of a challenge—to stand in the proper place. To where I'm looking, and then looking all the way down. And then, I'm kind of flying up in the air and then landing on a rock or something, so I was a little bit scared. We worked on it for three weeks, and that outfit was like a body stocking—to give that effect of something like the skin of Gozer. They had to sew it up on the back, so I was stuck in this outfit. It wasn't that comfortable, but I guess that's how it goes.
Reitman: Mr. Stay Puft was one of literally dozens of major effects in Dan's original conception, but it was the one that I thought was the most original and we borrowed to use it for our last act.
Aykroyd: Stay Puft was designed by my old college body, John Deveikis. He was so brilliant, I said, “Give me a brand symbol that kind of looks like the Michelin Man and the Pillsbury Dough Boy—mix ‘em. He comes up with the sailor, which was brilliant.
Medjuck: Ivan was really worried about marshmallow man. He was worried that people would just think we'd gone too far. This was the climax of the movie, and he thought, “What if people just think this is too silly?”
Reitman: I kept saying it during the shooting. I said, “I believe in the kind of evolving reality of this movie where people are playing quite naturalistically, the city plays naturalistically, and these weird things happen that are frankly quite scary as well as funny." But I was really concerned that we would destroy ourselves in the last act of the film.
Edlund: The original script had the marshmallow man coming out of the Hudson River. It just wasn’t feasible in those days for us to do that, especially with the time that we had.
Medjuck: Three weeks after we finished shooting, we screened the movie for about 200 university students, who were very raucous, and it only had one special effect in it. Fortunately, the one special effects shot—because it was actually done by Richard Edlund live, there's no optical to it—was the very first glimpse you get of the marshmallow man, with just the head coming around the corner.
Reitman: When the marshmallow man appears, we had that great shot of that bobbing head behind the skyline of downtown. That very first audience went literally crazy when they saw it, in a very good way. I remember the feeling of relief that I had, that, “My God, it works.” And not only does it work, it's actually topping everything that's happened in the movie so far.
Edlund: It was a work print, with signs that said, “Scene Missing.” It had grease pencil marks all over it. The shots were not finished, and yet it still got like a 90 percent of audience approval.
Medjuck: We stopped worrying about the marshmallow man. So we knew the movie played.
Reitman: Here it is 30 years later, and it's one of those things that people remember the most. We even created a baked Alaska desert in my new restaurant in Toronto that is based on the Stay Puft marshmallow man.
Mr. Stay-Puft gave Reitman nightmares. He worried the film would fall apart in the last act.Columbia Pictures
Ghostbusters opened huge on June 8, 1984, winning the first of seven straight weekends. But there were doubts and cold feet, especially since it opened up against Gremlins and just two weeks after Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In August, it passed Tootsie to become the all-time biggest box-office comedy, and Ray Parker Jr.'s theme song reached No. 1 on the Billboard hit chart. It was the summer of Ghostbusters.
Atherton: The movie opened very quickly. We finished in March and it opened in June.
Medjuck: I remember seeing a teaser trailer around January. People went crazy for the trailer, so we thought it was the Stripes audience, plus.
Edlund: There was no question in my mind that it was going to be a big hit. In fact, I spent extra money to negotiate a deal, which has been paid off to me over the years, because the studio was kind of flummoxed by its success. It didn't have time to hide all the [profits] before the creative bookkeeping overtook them. It was like Star Wars.
Medjuck: Not everyone had that much faith in the movie. There was no merchandising. I remember there was a toy fair in February in New York right after we finished shooting, and whoever represented Columbia went and said, “Look, nobody thinks this is going to be that big of a movie. It's a comedy. Is it for kids? Is it not for kids?" We didn't think it was for young kids, to be honest.
Hudson: The studio was always sort of behind the curve on that. Some fans made me a backpack, an amazing backpack, better than the ones we had in the movie.
Medjuck: It opened opposite Gremlins, and we got a little nervous. Ivan said, “We have to get Bill to do more advertising.” And Bill said, “Ivan, calm down. It's a freight train. Just get out of the way.” I still remember that, Bill being completely optimistic about it.
Hudson: I think Harold said something like, "We are the Ghostbusters." There was something about it, so when it opened at No. 1, I don't think anybody was surprised. And it didn't even surprise me that it held on that summer and did as well as it did. You have to give credit to Ray Parker for that song. If you didn't see the movie, you heard the song. The song was phenomenal.
Medjuck: It's funny. There's two pieces of music where this has happened for us. In Stripes, they start singing “Do Wah Diddy,” and I remember going to a football game after and the band started playing it. It suddenly became a marching-band thing. Then, the Olympics were that summer in 1984 in Los Angeles, and we got tickets to a bunch of stuff, and I remember going to things and the band playing “Ghostbusters.” Not because Ivan was there. Just because it was the thing. It was everywhere.
Atherton: There was a time afterwards where I was walking down the street and people calling my D-ckless and stuff. It took me aback a bit because I was still a young guy, 36 years old, and I was still playing leading men, and all of a sudden I was D-ckless. But the irony of all of it was that it gave me a whole new dimension that I would never have had otherwise. Because I did the Die Hards, I did Real Genius, I did the comic bad guys. It just gave me a whole new dimension and longevity to acting in movies that I wasn't aware of at the time, that now I'm pretty grateful for.
Medjuck: That Halloween, so many poor mothers had to make fake Ghostbusters costumes for their kids. I think Jason Reitman was the only one who had a real Ecto gun. His father brought one home from the studio.
Jovan: Ghostbusters still had elements of the old Hollywood. It had some class, some glamour. To be kind of a dreamer that perhaps I was. We don't have that element of Hollywood in today's film industry.
Reitman: It was one of those lucky experiences where everything just turned out to be right, and the mixture of actors turned out to be really magical together.
Slimer, who wasn't officially named until the subsequent animated TV series, was a tribute to the John Belushi character in Animal House.Columbia Pictures
Ghostbusters' reign as the all-time biggest comedy was interrupted by Eddie Murphy's Beverly Hills Cop, which opened in December 1984 and edged Ghostbusters as the year's No. 1 movie. Columbia re-released Ghostbusters in theaters in August 1985, and it soaked up enough to reclaim the all-time crown. Its record would last until Home Alone in 1990. Getting the gang back together for a Ghostbusters sequel, however, proved more difficult than the first time around. When Ghostbusters II finally arrived in 1989, the theme song sounded slightly off key.
Medjuck: Bill moved to France after Ghostbusters after came out. I think Bill's been hard to get into any film after Ghostbusters. I had someone phone me once and say, “Hey, you worked with Bill Murray. What's he like?” I said, “Why?” “He said, “Well, I'm making a movie with him.” I said, “Are you sure? After he shows up, call me.” And he never called me.
Reitman: Bill was very nervous about doing any sequel, like sequels were an artistic sin of some kind.
Hudson: Bill's not the kind of guy who [makes sequels]. I always felt that if you're always in the moment like that, if you can create in the moment, you probably doubt that you can do it again.
Ramis: That’s quite a load to carry, especially when the scripts for these movies are always kind of unfurnished and the expectation is that Bill would come in and be funny. And in fact, Ivan would sometimes say, “C’mon, goddammit, make me laugh.” That’s quite a burden to put on an actor.
Reitman: The sequel came out literally five days before Tim Burton's Batman, which was the flavor of the month at that moment. Somehow, ours felt unsatisfactory. Also, there was such amazing originality in the first movie that it was very hard to live up to it, even with all the original cast. When people look at it again, I think they start to discover there are really these delightful sequences: Bill with the young baby and with Sigourney, and great stuff with Rick Moranis and Annie Potts, and this guy Janosz, played by Peter MacNichol, who's so delicious with that crazy accent that he does. It's so funny.
Murray has made a habit of crapping on Ghostbusters II, which he constantly held up as Exhibit A why he would never make another sequel, despite pressure from his colleagues and a passionate fan base.
Reitman: Yeah, I think he's unfair. He keeps saying we sold out to the special effects. I just think we never got the last act right, with the Statue of Liberty. We couldn't top the ending of the [first] movie, but I thought it was a worthy sequel.
Despite Murray's reluctance, the rest of the Ghostbusters planned to make another sequel and tried to appease Murray by promising to kill his character off in the first reel of the proposed film. But on Feb. 24, 2014, Ramis died of auto-immune inflammatory vasculitis. He was only 69. Murray and Ramis, who'd known each since Murray was a teenager, and collaborated on some of the funniest films of the last 40 years, including Groundhog Day, had not spoken to each other in years before Murray visited Ramis when he was sick. At the Oscars, he made a special tribute to his friend.
Ramis was considered the "Bill Whisperer" for many years, and in fact, most of their funniest films were those they worked on together.Columbia Pictures
In October, director Paul Feig announced that he was working with Sony on a new Ghostbusters film that would focus on a new all-female version of the crew.
Reitman: With Harold's passing, I announced that I was going to withdraw as kind of the director of it and would only continue as the producer. It was a terrible thing that he passed away. We were very close, and it was sort of the final blow for me as the potential director of another version of this particular movie. I didn't have the stomach for it any further.
Stiel: When my dad died, there was like an altar of Twinkies and letters and pictures and flowers and candles at the Manhattan firehouse where they filmed the movie. It was really nice.
Potts: He was such an awesome nerd.
Stiel: Bill Murray gets most of the love, but there's a subset of people for whom Egon is their fantasy man. He used to get letters from Japanese girls, saying, “Egon I love you. Please marry me. Let's fly away together.” I love that the nerds sort of unite behind Egon and I know that he always really enjoyed that.”
Reitman: I had this wonderful advantage [because I’d worked with Harold on the National Lampoon Show]. To me, he was an equal to Bill and Belushi and Gilda Radner because he was on the same stage as them and I saw them in the same light. We did it all together. I think Harold's characterization of Egon is remarkable and it's really interesting to see what resonates after decades. Everyone has his own sort of favorite Ghostbuster, and he held his own against Bill and Danny and Ernie.
Aykroyd: A third Ghostbusters [with us] is not to be, because you can't do it without Harold. Billy doesn't want to do it. I'm not going to do it alone. But you could cast them younger. Just cast those three guys in early college, before their post-doctoral phase, which is where the movie begins. That's some place that maybe Ivan and I should be thinking about. But now we'll have a third movie with hopefully some miniskirts. I think they're going to kick ass on the concept. I've always wanted lady Ghostbusters. We at Ghostbuster Corporate Headquarters in Culver City are so excited to see what Paul Feig does.
Potts: It’s the age of women. I think our next president will be a woman, so I'm happy for the Ghostbusters to be all women too.
Weaver: Maybe there might be a couple of us in it, with supporting roles or something. Or we'd walk by, like Alfred Hitchcock or something. I'd walk by dragging a cello case.
Aykroyd: You know. there's an electronic ghost-hunting team in about every county in the States, and all over the planet. And I think the two movies had a little bit to do with encouraging people to maybe look and do some serious scientific inquiry and go out ghost hunting.
Potts: I was just in New York doing a play, and I came out one night and there were a couple of guys waiting for me in the crowd who were very excited. They were from Chicago, I think, and they were on their Ghostbusters tour of New York, and they felt very lucky that I was onstage and accessible at that time, so they had me part of their tour. All I could think of was, “Don't you have a life?”
Hudson: I left Salt Lake City yesterday. On my way to the airport, a guy got on the elevator and he quoted the entire line: "Do you believe in [UFOs, astral projections, mental telepathy, ESP…]?” He knew every word, the whole thing. And then he looked at me when he finished, waiting for me to say, "If there's a steady paycheck in it, I'll believe anything you say." Which I did. And he was so elated.
The four Ghostbusters ready for battle near a Central Park West high-rise.Columbia Pictures