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Jason Reitman does not mince words: he made Ghostbusters: Afterlife for his father, Ivan, and Harold Ramis’ family. And if the byproduct of that love letter just so happens to leave fans of the iconic franchise exhilarated, so much the better.
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter prior to the Sony picture’s release, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker noted the first person to read his script, co-penned with Gil Kenan, was his father. The Ramis family was next. Without everyone’s blessing, there was no point in moving forward.
“I was never going to make this movie unless they were comfortable with the portrayal of Harold,” says Jason Reitman. “Everyone has a favorite Beatle. And everyone has a favorite Ghostbuster. My favorite was always Egon.”
The late, great Harold Ramis died in February 2014 at the age of 69. Although he had a long, illustrious career as an actor, writer and director, the funnyman is arguably best known as the brilliant, but awkward Egon Spengler. Reitman did not have Ramis for his film, but he did have his story spark via Egon.
“When I came up with these kids, Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), I realized they were the grandchildren of Egon. And that was the reason to make the movie,” explains the writer-director. “There was something really lovely about the character of Egon, I think a lot of people can relate to, and that is Egon struggled to communicate with the world. And we wanted to create in Phoebe a character in just the same way: a 12-year-old girl, who, like all Ghostbusters, is an outsider who becomes a hero by putting on the proton pack.”
In Afterlife, the family of the Egon moves into his peculiar Oklahoma farmhouse, inherited after the scientist and inventor — who became a recluse in his later years — passed away.
Co-writer Kenan says it was clear what aspects were needed from the 1980s films and what needed to be adjusted for a new story. “We had to be aware of essential elements of a Ghostbusters film and new opportunities, such as taking it out of New York, which gave us a chance to contextualize the heart of the matter, find the soul and build it up again.”
For Jason Reitman, the key to making the story work was attempting to put the viewer into the shoes, or rather the jumpsuit, of a Ghostbuster, which he credits for helping the balance between the new and nostalgia.
“The movie is about us. It is about people who grew up with Ghostbusters,” he says. “People have always wanted to know what it was like to put on the proton pack, to drive Ecto-1, to catch a ghost. So it deals with our sense of the past and our sense of nostalgia in that it follows these mysteries. We all want to know what happened to these guys. And that was our true north: following our own desire to put on the pack and get in the car.”
For the elder Reitman, Afterlife was an emotional project to produce for a number of reasons. He most vividly recalls his original three Ghostbusters actors getting to set for the new film.
“It was a very personal and sometimes tear-inducing experience,” Ivan Reitman says. “The day that all three of them showed up for the first time and were just checking stuff out — it was just extraordinary; just feeling the vibe, not just for me, but I felt it in the crew and cast. I felt it everywhere.”
Both Kenan and Jason Reitman have daughters, which is why Grace’s Phoebe has somewhat more focus than Wolfhard’s Trevor, they explain.
“It was very important to me that when the going gets tough in this movie, we line up alongside a 12-year-old girl with a proton pack and that fierceness in her eyes that says that she is not going to take it,” the director says. “We’re telling the story of a single mom and two kids who are trying to come to terms with their family. And that is sneakily hidden inside a Ghostbusters movie. And that’s the heart of Ghostbusters — true outsiders who find themselves.”
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