Girl Power: Paul Feig calls Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig for new take on ‘Ghostbusters’

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An all-female Ghostbusters? Who you gonna call?

Ivan Reitman—who directed that classic comedy-spooktacular from an original screenplay by two of its title-players (Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis) and is currently co-producing with Aykroyd the reboot that bows July 15—called Paul Feig.

And why not? When it comes to directing female-driven vehicles, Feig is the latter-day George Cukor. And, considering that Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy are all outlandish laugh-fests for the ladies, you could even call him a kooky Cukor.

Feig was in Budapest putting Melissa McCarthy through Spy 101 when the call from Reitman came to direct Ghostbusters 3. “I was very flattered because I was such a fan of his and of the original films,” Feig recalls, “but it was still a sequel script, and when I read it I got the feeling that a sequel this far afterwards wasn’t a good idea. The plotline it pursued was along the lines of a new team being taught by the old gang. I couldn’t find my way into it creatively, so I regretfully turned it down.”

But Sony Pictures’ Amy Pascal was not one to take a single no for an answer. She took Feig to lunch and re-popped the question. “She said, ‘Why don’t any of you comedy filmmakers want to do this? It’s a great franchise just sitting there.’ So, I told her why—that it was so famous and would be impossible to top, all of that—but she really did plant a seed in my head that Ghostbusters was a great idea going to waste.”

Truth to tell, that seed was planted a long time ago. When the original Ghostbusters premiered at the Mann Chinese Theatre in Hollywood in 1984, a 22-year-old Feig was in wide-eyed attendance—a susceptible film-school student seeing God.

“It was mind-blowing,” he remembers distinctively. “I’d never seen a comedy like that before. To have that kind of scope and stakes—just the idea of funny people fighting the paranormal with technology—it played so big! I’ve never heard an audience go so crazy in a theatre than when the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man first showed up. I remember thinking: God! If I could ever make a movie like this…”

And now, thanks to the prodding of Pascal, he at last had the chance. Starting with a clean slate, he began pondering exactly how he would make a movie called Ghostbusters, utilizing none of the characters or the action of the two previous films.

“I thought, ‘Gosh, if I could cast it with the funny women I know, that would be great—and that would help remove it from the direct comparisons I’d get if I tried to recreate any version of the earlier movies. It would just take it out of that world.’

“When I decided to use these funny women, I considered making them the daughters of the original ghostbusters, but I really didn’t like the idea of a new team being handed technology by the old team, so I didn’t go there. Also, I didn’t want a world that had already seen two giant paranormal attacks. I wondered what it would be like if it was our world today, which had never seen anything like that, and into this world comes this paranormal activity. I just liked the idea of establishing an origin story—a new origin story—planting a flag with totally new characters.”

Ex-Bridesmaids Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy suit up with current “Saturday Night Live” stars Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones to form this new ghostbusting sorority. Wielding state-of-the-arts special effects, they go after a mad scientist (Neil Casey) who takes it out on the world for years of bullying by inventing devices that are capable of creating ghosts.

Feig and Katie Dippold, who collaborated on the scripts of The Heat and this, were deliberate about making the villain a man of dubious science. “I didn’t want to do ‘The gods are angry, and they’re sending us evil spirits.’ I liked the idea of ‘I’m such a science head’ and I wondered, ‘How could science actually bring ghosts about? What would be the science for that?’—especially since our ghostbusters have their own science that they use to capture ghosts. I thought it would be really interesting to figure out how a bad guy would build machines that cause ghosts to happen.”

Big-budget visuals are being poured on the film—enough to make Stay Puft look like the Pillsbury Doughboy. “Lots of ghosts, definitely,” promises Feig, “and we have fun with things that people won’t expect—especially when New York starts to get taken over. When scary/funny works, it’s great. Comedy is best when it’s emotions pushed to the edge. Funny people in peril, I’ve always said, is one of the greatest recipes for comedy. Look at the old Abbott and Costello things. When they’re scared, there’s a lot of comedy to be had. But it’s a difficult tone to hit because you gotta make sure it’s scary enough. You have to play everything for real, because the fun is how funny people react to fright. If it’s just silly, it’s hard to stay engaged.”

Except for Rick Moranis and the late Ramis, the whole ghostbusting gang (class of ’84) is present and accounted for here in bite-sized bits. “I wanted to have cameos of the original cast, but since it’s a different world, they’re not playing their original characters. Those characters technically don’t exist. This is a whole new take.

“To me, cameos in anything like this should be surprises when you least expect them, or you’ve gotten so far into it you aren’t thinking about the others. You just have to figure out the right place to put them—usually more in the second half of the movie.”

The first sighting of the new Ghostbusters—i.e., the trailer—drew some Internet fire, which didn’t surprise Feig. “People are passionate about this property,” he points out. “It’s an iconic movie. It’s like remaking The Godfather. There are strong opinions just about the fact that it is being made, and I respect that. I understand that. All you can really do is just say, ‘Look, gang, judge the film on its own merits.’”

You can’t tell a film by its trailer, he contends—especially his own. “You’ve got to get to know the characters. I don’t do big punchline jokes. They’re all based on the situation. It’s behavioral comedy. When you just pluck out jokes and put ’em up—if you don’t really know the characters, it’s hard to laugh. I’d sum it up this way: When you’re in a restaurant with your friends and everything is making you laugh, you’re having the greatest time in the world. But when you’re sitting next to that table and you don’t know those people, you just want them to shut up. They don’t seem funny to you. They drive you crazy because they’re just loud. They’re laughing at things you don’t understand. As a comedy filmmaker—or any kind of film artist—you have to, very quickly in your movie, create the sense of ‘We’ve got to make everybody be friends with those people and understand them so we can laugh with them.’”