Paul Feig explains his vision for a female-led 'Ghostbusters'
Just a few months ago the future of Ghostbusters seemed uncertain, with Ivan Reitman deciding not to direct a new movie after the death of Harold Ramis. Feig, however, has taken Ghostbusters in an entirely new direction. He’s not making a follow-up to the ’80s classics, but rebooting franchise with women as the titular ghost-fighting heroes. The concept fits within Feig’s oeuvre. His critical and commercial successes, Bridesmaids and The Heat, were comedies led by women, and he has enlisted The Heat‘s writer, Katie Dippold, to script the new Ghostbusters with him.
Feig got on the phone to talk to EW about his plans for Ghostbusters.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did this all come about?
PAUL FEIG: I had been contacted by Sony and Ivan a number of months ago when I was in Budapest shooting my new movie Spy. But I was like, I don’t know if I want to take that on because the first two are such classics and just because of how do you do it? Who do you bring in now that Harold’s gone? I know that Bill didn’t want to do it and I love Dan, but it was just like I don’t know how to do it. Then I had lunch with [Sony Pictures co-chairman] Amy Pascal when I got back to town. She was just saying, gosh, nobody wants to do this. I said, yeah, it’s really hard to take that on, especially since it’s 25 years later. how do you come back into a world that’s had these ghosts and all this? It just felt too difficult. How do you do it and not screw it up? But then it was bugging me for the next few days because Ghostbusters is such a great thing and everybody knows it, and it’s such a great world. It’s a shame to just let this thing sit there. I want to see another one. My favorite thing to do is work with funny women. I was like, what if it was an all female cast? If they were all women? Suddenly, my mind kind of exploded: that would be really fun. And then I thought, well, what if we just make it new? It’s not coming into the world that existed before. It’s always hard if the world has gone through this big ghost attack, how do you do it again? I wanted to come into our world where there’s talk of ghosts but they’re not really credible, and so what would happen in our world if this happened today?
So in the universe that you conceived, it’s like the world of the first two movies didn’t exist?
Yeah. I love origin stories. That’s my favorite thing. I love the first one so much I don’t want to do anything to ruin the memory of that. So it just felt like, let’s just restart it because then we can have new dynamics. I want the technology to be even cooler. I want it to be really scary, and I want it to happen in our world today that hasn’t gone through it so it’s like, oh my God what’s going on?
Do you suspect that you might make room for any returning cast member cameos?
Well, I mean, look, those are my comedy heroes. So as far as I’m concerned, anybody wants to come back I welcome with open arms. It would just be in different roles now, but it would be fun to figure out how to do that.
Are you freed from having to have one person who’s the Venkman and so forth, or do you feel like might adhere to some of those familiar dynamics?
We want to have fun with giving nods to what came before, but we don’t want to be bound by it because Katie and I already have talked at length and we have really fun ideas for things. But we want to tell the stories that we would like to tell, which means we want to tell the character arcs that we want to tell, which means we want to start with some of our characters in a different place or with different personalities and things they have to overcome and learn through the experience of this first movie. My number one thing is always about character and what is somebody learning from or transforming through whatever happens to them in the movie. So I think there will be definitely room to play with that. We want to do clever nods to it, but not cloying nods to it. We want to have the ability to really bring it into modern day.
Was re-teaming with Katie something you always had in mind?
I love Katie. Right after we did The Heat we got together and came up with an idea for The Heat 2,and she wrote that and it was great. It’s just Sandra’s not wanting to do it—not likely to do a sequel to anything. So that’s on hold. Katie wrote another script for us that we’re developing in our company that we love. I love Katie. Our sensibilities and our comedic tastes completely dovetail with each other so when this one came up there was no other name I thought of.
It probably didn’t take too much convincing to get her on board.
Both she and I are obsessed with how do we make comedy really scary? The sequel to The Heat was going to be pretty scary and funny. Almost like in a Silence of the Lambs type thing but funny. I think funny people in peril and in danger is one of the best forms of comedy, and I really like things to play very real while funny things are happening. So that’s what both Katie and I really want to do with this one is make it crazy funny but also you’re scared at the same time. Katie loves to do that stuff and I do too. I went down to Comic-Con with Jessie Henderson who is my producing partner and we were down there, and I was like, “I’ve got to get Katie to do this.” Jessie goes, “she’s here.” We met up on the floor of Comic-Con and then went to have lunch and that’s when I brought it up to her and she was really excited about the idea. It was a done deal right in that moment.
Bill Murray was asked about his suggestions for a female cast. He mentioned Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Linda Cardellini, and Emma Stone. I wanted to get your opinion on his dream cast.
It’s an awesome cast. For me there’s so many ways I can go with this because there are so many funny women that’s going to be the hardest thing to narrow down is who to put in. I’ve got a lot of ideas on that but nobody set in stone. That’s part of the fun for me is figuring out what’s the best combo, what’s going to be relevant and fun. Bottom line: I just want the best, funniest cast.
Do you know who the characters are going to be and know what the story’s going to be?
We have a very rough, rough outline that we’re working with, but definitely know the basic story, know what we want the basic characters to do, know what we want the world to do and what the rules of our world are, but nothing I want to discuss obviously. It’s cool. I think it’s a really strong origin story that feels real—as real as a ghost story is. It’s going to be really fun and real. We’ll make it scary and funny.
Do you see it existing in a totally different world from the original movies? Do the outfits look different? Do you think we’ll hear the Ghostbusters theme song?
Everything is up for grabs right now. I look at this the same way a superhero movie launches where it’s always fun to see, like, what are they going to do with the costumes this time? What are they going to do with the hardware this time? It’s not going to be, here is the exact same stuff. It’s also not going to go, screw you, if you like that stuff, it’s all completely different. We’re going to have fun with it, but again, bring it into our time period. I’m a big hardware nerd when it comes to sci-fi and all of that so I love all the gear and I love all that. We’re really going to have fun with playing with the science of it. I think fans will be very happy with what we do because it has fun with what came before but it’s new. It’s just a new, fun take on it.
You’ve worked with so many funny women, but when news first came out of your plans there was still backlash to the idea. Deadline ran a piece with the headline “Do We Want An Estrogen-Powered ‘Ghostbusters?’” What is your reaction to that?
I just don’t understand why it’s ever an issue anymore. I’ve promoted both Bridesmaids and The Heat and myself and my cast are still hit constantly with the question, “will this answer the question of whether women can be funny?” I really cannot believe we’re still having this conversation. Some people accused it of kind of being a gimmick and it’s like, it would be a gimmick if I wasn’t somebody whose brain doesn’t automatically go to like, I want to just do more stuff with women. I just find funny women so great. For me it’s just more of a no-brainer. I just go, what would make me excited to do it? I go: four female Ghostbusters to me is really fun. I want to see that dynamic. I want to see that energy and that type of comedy and them going up against these ghosts and going up against human detractors and rivals and that kind of thing. When people accuse it of being a gimmick I go, why is a movie starring women considered a gimmick and a movie starring men is just a normal movie?
It’s such a beloved property, do you have any nerves going forward? There’s probably always going to be someone for whom it doesn’t live up to expectations…
Look, if you go into any project without nerves you’re going to to make a bad project. If you walk into a project going, I’m going to f–king ace this, then expect the worst. At the end of the day, all we want to make is a great movie and people are going to attach a lot of energy to either being nervous about this or being excited about it, and all Katie and I and the rest of the team, who we slowly assemble, can do is just make a great movie that’s super funny, that’s scary, that’s real, that has great characters that people identify with and want to see in these situations. It’s a world that they’ve experienced before in the old ones, but the hope is the minute they sit down they’ll go, “I love the old one, oh my god, I’m loving this new one.” Everything’s got to live on it’s own merits. It would be terrible if we just go, oh we’re just doing an update where we use the same dynamic and scripts. If we just flop four women into the exact same personalities and roles as original, then that’s lazy filmmaking on my behalf, and who wants to see that? I don’t want to do a shot by shot update of a movie that existed. It’s the difficult thing about remaking a great movie. So that’s why we’re not remaking a great movie. We’re doing our take on it.