INDIE REVOLVER EXCLUSIVE: The Plot and Problems of Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters

by: Douglas Sullivan

Please be aware that the following story contains numerous spoilers for Paul Feig’s upcoming film. Do not read any further if you want to go into the film spoiler-free.

Relatively speaking, filmmaking is a medium still in its infancy, and as a uniquely expensive popular art form it has spent the entirety of its formative years shackled to industry. Economic and creative interests rarely coincide, but Hollywood has spent a century seeking harmony between great storytelling and larger profits. The studios’ batting average has climbed and dropped throughout the seasons, and from time to time they’ve stepped up to smash one over the fences. Ghostbusters was a grand slam when it was released in 1984, one of the most beloved films that Hollywood has ever produced.

For twenty-five years, hopes for a third entry in the series were at lifted upon waves of Dan Aykroyd’s enthusiasm only to be smashed each time upon the rocks of Bill Murray’s inhospitable shores. The former has more invested in the property; the concept was his brainchild and Ghostbusters represents a distant high point in his career. While Peter Venkman may be Bill Murray’s most famous role, the eccentric actor has found new success and late-career validation in offbeat indies and dramatic parts. Together with director Ivan Reitman and their co-star/writer Harold Ramis, the two were said to exercise veto power over the Ghostbusters franchise and seemed eternally out of sync on its future. Sony Pictures, who inherited Ghostbusters by purchasing Columbia Pictures while the second film was still in theaters, remained hesitant throughout to revive Ghostbusters without Murray’s involvement. It wasn’t until Ramis passed away in February of 2014 that the studio began to consider the viability of new directions.

In October, Sony announced that they’d chosen Bridesmaids’ Paul Feig to write and direct the next installment of Ghostbusters. Feig revealed that the new film would be a hard reboot set in a world without Egon Spengler, Ray Stantz, Peter Venkman, and Winston Zeddemore, and that the new ghostbusting team would be comprised entirely of women. The director found himself facing intense and immediate backlash, and has responded to the criticisms with public statements about his detractors’ misogyny and oversensitivity.

“It’s so dramatic,” Feig said in a Variety interview published this week. “Honestly, the only way I could ruin your childhood is if I got into a time machine and went back and made you an orphan.”

The reboot’s naysayers do not all belong to the camps which Feig has called out. In sniping back at the bored Twitter fringe, he addresses tangential social issues but sidesteps the growing frustration with the way Hollywood executives make creative decisions. It’s unsurprising that Feig’s not able to summon a strong defense for his approach. He wasn’t interested in the job, but former head of Sony Pictures Amy Pascal kept pushing to bring him on board.

“I was courting him for like a year,” Pascal told Jenelle Riley. She was convinced that the project needed “somebody who was going to do an entirely different idea, equally brilliant and completely their own thing.”

Sony Pictures is home to precious few dependable franchises. While James Bond is enjoying a critical upswing, the studio has somehow managed to misfire on three consecutive outings with Spider-Man while fast-tracking a second Smurfs sequel which nobody wants. Pascal and Sony saw Feig as a sure thing in the wake of the director’s impressive run at the box office, and their business-first approach led them to pursue a talent who admitted he had no clue how to approach the property. When Feig eventually suggested that he could deliver his usual brand of female ensemble comedy wallpapered with the Ghostbusters brand, Sony celebrated that they’d signed their man.

The problem with the new Ghostbusters is not that Feig wrote his story around a team of women. What’s troubling is that Sony hired a director who’s got a limited comfort zone and force fit an iconic property into that mold.

Filmmakers have been reinterpreting stories in movies and television from the beginning. The lack of respect often shown to remakes by critics is not always reflected at the box office, as familiar brands continue to fill theater seats. Nor can it be said that a derivative film can’t be an interesting exercise. Alfred Hitchcock and Michael Mann each revisited their own stories in order to improve upon them. Gus Van Sant attempted to relive Hitchcock’s Psycho experience shot-for-shot. For most, the titles of Ocean’s Eleven and The Maltese Falcon conjure images of their impressive remakes over the originals. When a talented filmmaker has a bold vision for a new direction, it’s often worth giving them the opportunity to try. Sadly, that doesn’t appear to be the fate for Ghostbusters.

Recently, we had an opportunity to read a breakdown of the reboot’s story. Far from being inspired or confident, the outline of the new Ghostbusters film represents a departure from the familiar story in mostly unimportant ways. The scientists who strike out on their own business venture are, of course, women instead of men. Their adventure begins at Columbia, the real-life school which stood in for the university which banished Venkman, Stantz, and Spengler to the private sector. The script goes out of its way to reference the original film unnecessarily – a realtor shows the women a firehouse before they find their ultimate headquarters above a chinese restaurant (where one might assume they’ll spend “the last of the petty cash”). The movie promises an origin story for a reinterpreted Slimer; their company car is an old white hearse. If the film is going to spend so much time winking at its predecessor, why discard its solid foundation to begin with? Ghostbusters was a concept ready-made for expansion, as an eager Venkman once promised that “the franchise rights alone” would make them rich beyond their wildest dreams.

Pascal was reassigned within the Sony Pictures organization after hackers released her private emails featuring racist jokes about President Obama and complaints about working with Angelina Jolie. In the months since her departure, Sony has projected a confused image on the Ghostbusters front. With Feig’s film in pre-production, the studio let slip that another team (including Channing Tatum and Chris Pratt) was also developing their own Ghostbusters script. It may be too much to hope that Pascal’s replacement, the notoriously penny-pinching Tom Rothman, is reconsidering the Feig project for creative reasons, but it would certainly be welcome.

The true magic of great comedies rarely lives on the page, but is revealed only when the writing, direction, performances and editing succeed together. Paul Feig’s attempt at Ghostbusters may ultimately be funny when it elbows its way into theaters in July of next year, but being funny alone will not earn it a place with the original.

The story outline (which we’ve confirmed is legitimate) is reprinted in full below. This is a lazy treatment for a treasured property. Ghostbusters deserved better.

______________________________________________________________________________

  • Kristen Wiig will be playing Erin Gabler, a science professor at Columbia University, who years prior co-authored a book with Abby Bergman, played by Melissa McCarthy, titled “Ghosts From our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively – The Study of Paranormal Knowing.“
  • The two have not spoken in years but are brought together when Erin is approached by a gentleman looking for help with a haunting. It’s during this interaction that Erin learns that Abby has made their book available online. Erin fears what the book could do to her credibility if it’s discovered and approaches her old friend to take the book out of circulation. Abby agrees only after she offers to bring her and her colleague Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) along to look into the haunting.
  • Abby is a professor of paranormal studies at a third-rate university in the Bronx where she works with Jillian.  Jillian is the Egon of Feig’s story. She’s invented a PKE Meter that she brings to test during this first investigation.
  • At the site of the haunting they encounter slime followed by the ghost of a young girl who proceeds to slime Erin. (Sound familiar?) Abby catches the incident on film. The video goes viral but the majority of the public doesn’t believe the video is real. The circumstances around the situation cause Erin to lose her job at Columbia.
  • Abby proposes the three set up a business investigating paranormal disturbances. Erin reluctantly agrees and the three embark on setting up a paranormal extermination business.
  • They next need to locate an office for their new business. The realtor shows them a perfect spot, a renovated fire house that is way too far out of their price range. They instead end up in an apartment above a Chinese restaurant.
  • We are next introduced to Patty Tolan, played by Leslie Jones, who works in the tunnels under New York City. While underground she encounters the film’s villain Rowan Elgin (The role Peter Dinklage is rumored for) carrying a device. She pursues Tolan but he gives her the slip. After losing him, she stumbles upon his device attached to the wall. A ghost in clothing from the 1600’s appears from the device and chases Patty until a train appears and hits the ghost, causing it to vanish.
  • Meanwhile, Erin, Abby and Jillian and their new intern named Kevin are brainstorming ideas for a logo for the business website when Patty arrives. Patty brings them down to the tunnel to show them the device. A graffiti artist in the tunnel draws a picture of a big white ghost on the wall. Patty yells at him and spray paints a red line through it, creating the logo for their new ghostbusting business.
  • Patty proposes that they let her join the team, offering them the use of her uncle’s vehicle for the business, an old white hearse.
  • The newly formed team gets their first official gig at Rockefeller Center where they are hired to get rid of the ghost of a fat Mafioso. They test out Jillian’s newest invention, the Proton Pack, on the ghost. The pack ends up shooting off the ghost’s arms, legs and torso, leaving only a disembodied green head (Yup, Slimer). The head manages to get away.
  • Much like their previous video, the video of their fight with the fat green ghost again goes viral, but again it’s viewed as a hoax. The evening news reports on the event, jokingly referring to them as the Ghostbusters.
  • The team’s next call brings them to a comic convention where they arrive dressed in old underground maintenance uniforms provided by Patty carrying Proton Packs, blending in with all the other cosplayers. A battle breaks out when they locate the demon-looking ghost. The crowd cheers, thinking it’s all part of the convention.
  • The Ghostbusters eventually deduce that the rise in paranormal activity is the result of Rowan who has ties to very old secret society and has been working on building a machine that will release all the ghosts in the city to facilitate the release of an ancient Sumerian god of darkness who will bring about the end of all humanity.
  • They get to Rowan too late as his machine has created a large supernatural cloud that begins to rain slime. The Army arrives to provide assistance but the raining slime causes them to become possessed. The team must find a way to stop Rowan as his machine begins to release a horde of ghosts from all periods of New York history.  While there is no Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, there is a ghost T-Rex.
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15 thoughts on “INDIE REVOLVER EXCLUSIVE: The Plot and Problems of Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters

      • Oh, how dare Stephen make a positive comment. You really showed him! Even though what you said doesn’t make a bit of sense. Opinions can’t be wrong, but he’s wrong for having that opinion? That statement kinda self implodes.

    • I agree. This isn’t a bad remake outline.
      The only thing I don’t like is the new Slimer. I don’t think he should have a backstory and the floating head idea is too much of a departure. It makes him too grotesque.

  1. After reading the plot outline the only positive thing I have to say about this is that at least Mr Feig isnt planning on turning McCarthy into the Paul Blart of Ghostbusters. Other than that its an obvious rehash of the original film so whats really the point? Why not just watch the original if the only real new concept is that theyre all women? Which really Isnt even a new concept Janine Melnitz was the first female to dawn a Ghostbusters uniform and strap on a proton pack. Then there was Kylie in Extreme Ghostbusters IDWs comic series which introduced multiple female recruits and of course countless female Ghostbusters networking on places like gbfans who have built their very own uniforms and proton packs etc. so ok they dont want to do a direct sequel but why do a reboot? Why are those the only two options? I am fortunate enough to own a copy of Making Ghosbusters by Don Shay and in it theres a story of Dan Aykroyds first concept was that Ghostbusters was in international paranormal organization with super high tech equipment a car that could travel through other dimensions etc. Ivan Reitman looked at it and told him it would be the most expensive movie ever made so he needed to simplify it a lot which is when he was paired with Harold Ramis to write a new story focusing on the founders of the organization. That was thirty years ago Im sure by now there could be tons of Ghostbusters franchises all over the world and some of them might be all female. Really my biggest concern is that Ghostbusters has been classified as a comedy and ok it was written by and Stared SNL members and yes it is a funny movie but it transcends simple comedy and ventures into the realm of sci-fi fantasy. After all Dan Aykroyd wasnt just a comedian he is a firm believer in the paranormal and supernatural and is also a paranormal investigator so he didnt just choose ghosts as a subject because he thought it would be funny rather because its amongst other things a subject hes very familiar with. Because of that there was really interesting science behind it some of my favorite moments in the movie were them talking about how the ghosts were made up of ions in a state of decay that causes them to drip ectoplasm after going on the premise that if the ionization rate is constant than a sustained energy beam of positively charged ions and a box with a constant ionization field should be able to catch and contain any such ectoplasmic entities. Or to put it simpler terms think if you remember being a kid in science class and you could use two magnets to repel each other ya know Science! So reading the outline about how slimer is created by blowing the arms and legs off of a ghost… So i guess all that sciency stuff is going away i mean the original proton packs wouldnt be able to blow a ghost to pieces and if thats the equipment being used i dont see how they could possibly contain a ghost either. Personally that i think is the hardest pill for me to swallow i mean The Ghostbusters were there at the dawn of geek culture when we went from heroes who used their guns and fists to heroes who taught us that the best weapons we could be armed with are our brains. Indiana Jones was an archeology professor, Spock was a Science Officer, Doctor Emmet Brown was an inventor one of my favorite lines from Back to the Future was when Doc was explaining to Marty he chose a DeLorean (aside from style) because the stainless steal construction allows for the flux dispersal Look Out! ah if only the car reappeared a few seconds later… speaking of Doctors Tom Baker was armed with a sonic screwdriver speaking of Doctors The Ghostbusters were all Doctors with degrees in psychology and parapsychology. One of the best quotes from the original Ghostbusters that sadly I dont hear often anymore but yet was popular enough that I had a t-shirt ok more than one shirt that said “Back of man I’m a Scientist.” Even with all that being said there still could be some hope for the next Ghostbusters movies sometimes things just need to be tweaked a little. Since Mr Feig is a Walking Dead fan heres an example of what i mean. there was a recent episode where Daryl and Aaron are in a truck yard and Daryl opens a truck releasing a hoard of zombies. No one who regularly watches the show was buying that super tracker Daryl Dixon would fail to hear the hoard of zombies inside and release them but right before that happened Aaron was pulling an out of state license plate off one of the trucks for his boyfriends collection a simple tweak of Daryl listening and then knowing something wasnt right and then turning to see Aaron removing the plate and yelling dont touch that or something along those lines because he sees that Aaron focused on the removal of the plate is about to spring a trap and so on could have made that a really great scene. Why not take the current story and tweak a little do something different not a reboot or sequel either more like a story that takes place in the present and in the same world as the original Ghostbusters movie rather than just sweeping the original under the rug. Why not for example when the Main Characters post the viral video of a ghost encounter and everyone thinks its fake maybe they research a way to prove it isnt and come across the old ghostbusters add and one of them says something like hey i bet these guys would believe us and the other says why do you think that well because it says so in their add see we’re ready to believe you. Maybe after some investigating they find that eventually all the ghosts disappeared and Dean Yeager and Walter Peck managed to convince everyone that the Ghostbusters were just a bunch of con men. The firehouse is boarded up and fenced off and labeled a hazard zone by the epa and with modern day tech street security and smart phone cameras everywhere and no one seeing any ghosts eventually everyone believes it was all just an elaborate con and that there are no such things as ghosts. Eventually our Female heroes find the fire house and break into it finding all the old equipment stacked in the basement that they then refurbish into their own ghostbusting gear. there could maybe even be a small tribute where one of them finds Rays journal with a final entry about the death of Egon was like losing his brother and then maybe a photoshopped picture falls out of the Pete Ray Egon and Winston looking much older. eventually maybe even the New Female Ghostbusters uncover that the reason the ghosts all started disappearing decades ago was because they were being gathered to create some kind of army for this stories villain or villians who knows maybe even the villian turns out to be gozer or gozers offsrping who after gathering their army and preparing for decades confronts the Ghostbusters for revenge and sees the new ghostbusters and says something like who are you and they say we’re the ghostbusters and maybe said villian says im looking for the real ghostbusters and they respond we are the real ghostbusters! to me some of the current reboots like JJ Abrams Star Trek or even The Evil Dead reboot worked because they were reboots in the sense that they had a new cast or team but they still kept the continuity of the original stories in tact rather then just hosing them away like piss on the sidewalk… that seems like a rotten way to end my rant but sadly it feels appropriate…

      • Thanks Jay,

        I wouldn’t say well thought out though, didn’t have much time. Yet after I read this article I just started hammering away at the keyboard like some angry chimpanzee, as if my fingers needed to vomit out my thoughts on this… Hence, the GPS nightmare.

        Oh by the way,
        “Opinions can’t be wrong, but people can be. And you are.”
        That made me laugh.

  2. seems a bit too hard on the treatment. guys wait until u see the dammed thing! 90% of reboots will have the same concept as the original, as oceans eleven, planet of the apes (serkis version) showed us, its all about execution, and in paper, im sure they seemed rehash of the originals…wait and judge when the thing is finished.

  3. I’m trying to keep an open mind about the GB reboot… but this summary isn’t helping. When it’s not more or less just repeating ideas from the first film, it’s plugging the gaps with total guff – a slime cloud? A ghost T-Rex? Slimer is a ghost with it’s limbs and torso blown off?

    Maybe these things will work in the execution…

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