Three months after Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot hit theaters, most of the backlash the film received has died down and with some distance, Feig was able to reflect on some of the larger issues behind some people’s negative reaction to his version, which starred an all-female team of Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones.
Speaking last weekend at the New Yorker Festival with writer Tad Friend in a career-spanning discussion that also covered Freaks and Geeks, Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy, Feig looked back on his controversial recent release and arguments he had with the studio as well as Ghostbusters‘ revenge in the form of its “Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts” line.
Feig said his version of Ghostbusters was made at the time of a “perfect storm” of reboot/remake fatigue and the current political climate in which “white male patriarchy is feeling threatened.” But while star McCarthy dismissed those who claimed the remake was “ruining their childhood,” Feig said he wasn’t aware of what a huge deal the original film was for men who spent their childhood pretending to be Ghostbusters.
“When [the original] Ghostbusters came out, I was in film school and went to see it on opening night,” Feig explained. “I was 20 or 21 and went with my friends, and we thought it was the funniest thing we’d ever seen. I hadn’t seen anything like it. To see comedy done on that grand of a scale with special effects was a game changer. So for us it was an amazing comedy. What I didn’t realize was then a generation after, younger than me, that was a big deal for them. They would run around the neighborhood playing those characters, and for guys that was a big thing, that movie. I didn’t realize that. I just thought for everyone it was this amazing comedy, and what I love about it is it was this amazing showcase for [a group of] the funniest people working at the time — instead of this being trapped in amber.”
He continued: “This is such a great way to showcase a new group of funny people. All the funny people that I work with are these amazing women. Let’s do it for them. And then it’s a way to avoid the comparison. I didn’t realize that Ghostbusters was the equivalent of that clubhouse that has the sign, ‘No girls allowed,’ and I basically went and took that sign and burned it and I painted the house pink and filled it with dolls, so people just lost their minds. … I didn’t realize there was going to be that much backlash, but I’m very happy that I did it and that cast of women — they’re so funny and it’s a great showcase for them.”
The film does get its revenge with the aforementioned line, included as a comment Wiig’s character reads from a YouTube video. And, yes, that was an intentional response to the blowback Ghostbusters had already received when it was in production, Feig said.
The filmmaker said he and his colleagues felt they needed “to do some nod to it” and he actually had another idea, but the YouTube comment was an alt line that co-screenwriter Katie Dippold wrote. While that wasn’t an exact quote from someone opposed to the remake (“Everything that was written to us was way worse than that,” said Feig), he said it was “very much in the tenor of things we’d been hearing.”
Added the helmer, “The minute I heard [Dippold] say that line I go, ‘That’s our revenge.’ And we moved on.”
In addition to dealing with the backlash, Feig also admitted he had some disputes with the studio, including over the movie’s first trailer, which earned the unfortunate distinction of being the most disliked trailer in YouTube history.
“Was it the greatest trailer in the world? No, it was not, and we had our arguments about it with the studio,” he said. “But at the same time, I don’t think it’s the worst trailer ever made in the history of mankind.”
Another source of conflict came in the form of having to negotiate whether a joke was too risque for what the studio wanted to be a family-friendly film. For instance, he had to cut an improvised joke from McKinnon in response to Chris Hemsworth’s character’s big-breasted ghost logo suggestion: “‘Ghost Tits’ was my nickname in middle school.”
“As we were in the editing process, [Sony] decided that they wanted to try to steer it more towards a family film. It was always meant to be PG-13. We had to start and fight a little bit for some of our — like that ‘ghost tits’ joke, I had to sacrifice that one for the studio to keep Steve Higgins flipping them off in the dean’s office.”
While Feig didn’t talk about the possibility of a sequel, the director did indicate he regretted once saying the movie would need to have made $500 million to earn a sequel, sarcastically saying, “That was really smart of me to put that out there in the press.”
He also claimed that “a lot” of the movie’s $144 million budget was due to “rights and producer deals from a project that’s 30 years old and had all of this baggage and financial baggage with it.”
Ghostbusters, which made $228.7 million at the worldwide box office, is currently available for digital download and on DVD and Blu-ray.