Ghostbusters: Afterlife director Jason and original helmer Ivan discuss Ghostbusters nostalgia, the 2016 reboot, and where Ghostbusters 2 went wrong.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a family affair, and not just because it's about a new generation descended from the '80s spook-zapping heroes. The film's directed and co-written by Jason Reitman with the help of his father, Ivan Reitman, director of the original Ghostbusters movies.
I chatted with Jason and Ivan over Zoom about balancing Ghostbustin' nostalgia with a new direction. We also talked about the 2016 reboot, where Ghostbusters 2 went wrong and what it's like working with your dad.
Q: Jason, was your dad really on set every day? How did you communicate with each other?
Jason Reitman: We were about as close as you see us right now. Our director's chairs were positioned right next to each other in front of the monitor. You know, if your parents came with you to work every day, there would be challenging moments! But more than anything, it was the adventure of a lifetime. I got to make a Ghostbusters movie with the foremost Ghostbusters expert in the world.
When you were making a decision, was there, like, a noise you recognize from your dad? Was he, like, "Ehh..."?
Jason: Oh yeah, there's a few! My dad's watching a take -- first of all, he's acting with the actors. As the actors are performing, he's going [mimes acting]. He's doing the whole scene with them. And if he doesn't like what he's seeing, you just see him give this kind of sign, shake his head a little. Which is better than me, because if I love the performance, I start tapping the screen with my index finger, and if I don't like the performance I flick the screen with my finger.
Did you feel like you were aligned on things? Or were there sticking points, or a particular disagreement you had to work out?
Jason: I'll tell you the one thing my father was unhappy about: He wanted more slime. There was never enough slime, and I will admit, I was shy on slime. But my father's big note, always, was...
Ivan Reitman: "A little more slime here..." Not every scene though.
Obviously, the original films were made in very different eras of special effects. So I was wondering if the slime was real.
Jason: We do have some digital slime that we added, but for the most part every effort was made on this film to do everything practically.
Ivan, were you jealous of how digital effects can be done now, or was there a definite attempt to recall the way you did things for the original movies?
Ivan: In some ways it's easier to have CGI opportunities that we have here, but in many ways I think it complicates things more. When you have practical effects, like the terror dog -- it was there in the room and was responding very much like I had to deal with in 1984. I could see how it affected the actors, and what I learned was that to have the real live effects there, and have the actor with the animal -- they're really affected very positively.
Jason, when you had the idea for Afterlife, your dad was the first person you showed it to?
Jason: Oh yeah, my father has been the first read of every script I've ever written.
Were you nervous, then, that it's a film about absent fathers?
Jason: No, I think we both know knew that was not what it was about. I mean, I think my father was the first person I told this idea to, and it moved him greatly. It's a movie about nostalgia. It's a movie about going through your grandparents' basement and finding out who they are. It's a movie about legacy, and legacy is a concept that my father and I have talked about a lot. I went into the family business, and even though I made my own films for a long time, the idea that I was running with the baton, that he had passed me this storytelling torch, has always been a part of our conversation. It felt natural that we make a Ghostbusters movie that was about the grandchildren of a Ghostbuster learning to be Ghostbusters themselves.
What did you learn about each other during the making of this film?
Jason: Ha! You know what? What's amazing is how many times on set I would find myself making a decision -- for instance, how a claw rips out of the arm of a chair and then grabs the person in the chair -- and as we did it, realizing the arm needs to come up [mimes a claw coming up] and then grab [mimes grabbing]. And I realized that 35 years ago, my father came to the same conclusion in the same exact way. And that would happen on a daily basis. It was a weird deja vu for my father's life.
Ivan, what did you learn about Jason?
Ivan: That he's meticulous. [Jason laughs] I've watched his movies. I've admired his movies. But I wasn't on the set the way I was on this and just watching his process. I had to admire how careful he was and how hard he worked. And getting excellent performances from many young actors here, as well as the seasoned ones.
You already had to return to, and kind of re-create, the Ghostbusters story when you did Ghostbusters 2. Did you learn anything from that experience that you could bring to this?
Ivan: I think I did. Particularly, I think I imitated part of my first story too closely in my sequel. I think I could have done without the Statue of Liberty walking down Fifth Avenue. People love it, but I really wanted to work on the relationships that the main characters had, particularly between Bill Murray's and Sigourney Weaver's characters. I think that special effect may have gotten in the way of where that story was going.
Harking back to those original films... Jason, you mentioned nostalgia. How did you approach that balance of nostalgia with a new direction?
Jason: We wanted them to dovetail, of course. We wanted this to be a movie that had everything you loved about the original Ghostbusters, with new characters in a new location on a new adventure. And we wanted this to be something that, whether this was the 1,000th time you were watching a Ghostbusters movie -- which is actually true for many people -- or the first time you're watching, it had to work both ways. So [co-writer] Gil Kenan and I made a list of everything we'd ever want to see in a Ghostbusters movie -- everything we want to find, so to speak, in our grandparents basement while looking around, and [that] we wanted to hand fans back. The trap, PK meter, proton pack, the car, the flight suits, the sounds like the siren of Ecto-1. But everything in a new way.
Ivan: And also the family structure that we didn't quite have in the early movies. That dynamic can be very powerful.
Jason: Yeah, the original movies are always about four men who go into business together. And we were making a movie about three generations of a family needing to make amends. And I think that general propulsion of what the story was about was always going to keep it from simply re-creating the plot of the originals.
The 2016 remake with a female cast followed that original template. Were you tempted to invite the stars of that movie for cameos, or to continue that world?
Jason: The 2016 film was made in its own universe. So we have to allow that to be its own universe, and if it's going to continue and have more films, then it would happen within that universe. The real groundbreaking thing that came out of that film was Paul Feig's ability to broaden the concept of what a Ghostbusters movie could be, which of course was necessary for us to make this film.
Were you worried you would overwrite that film in the minds of fans?
Jason: Not at all. I think that there are broad fandomships out there, like Marvel or Star Wars or Superman comics, that people love, in which there's an understanding of different continuities that exist for different characters. The Paul Feig film has its own universe and mythology, with four brilliant women. It just takes place in its own place.
Speaking of nostalgia, the Ecto-1 car looked like it drew on the toy as much as the film. How do you feel now looking at the fact that decades on, there's still sneakers being released and toys being made?
Jason: The original film was about the four men who became Ghostbusters. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is about the rest of us. It's about the group of us who played with the toys as kids, who have always dreamt of being Ghostbusters ourselves. So it's not an accident that Bug-eye, a ghost that was created for the toys, appears in this film. It's not an accident that there is a nod to the gunner chair on the original Kenner toy. This is a movie for everyone who's always wondered what it's like to be a Ghostbuster, always dreamt of putting on the flight suit, wondered what it felt like to catch a ghost. We want to show a group of characters who felt like us as kids, who wanted to bust a ghost and finally got the opportunity.