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Mixed reviews of the female-fronted Ghostbusters reboot were still rolling in when a packed audience at New York’s SVA Theatre gathered Monday night for an early screening of the film presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Over the next two hours, the crowd laughed, clapped, cheered and overall enthusiastically received the Paul Feig-directed film, starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. Following the movie, co-screenwriter Katie Dippold participated in a Q&A in which she talked about the process of making the film and dealing with the online trolls who have attacked the movie since the idea of remaking the beloved 1984 film starring four women first surfaced.
One audience member prefaced a question by saying that those who said terrible things about the reboot won’t have anything to say on Friday, something Dippold said truly meant a lot to her. And the Academy’s director of New York programs and membership Patrick Harrison echoed those thoughts when he spoke to The Hollywood Reporter after the screening. “I think that after tonight’s screening, the naysayers won’t have a leg to stand on,” Harrison said. “It’s a good film. They did a really terrific job.”
The screening was part of the Academy’s Spotlight on Screenwriting series, which this year previously featured New York screenings of and conversations about films written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett and Walter Bernstein. Harrison said the Academy wanted to end the series with a sneak preview of “a really hot” summer movie.
“And also in this world of commitment to diversity and inclusion, we really wanted to have another voice represented in this series,” Harrison told THR. “So when Ghostbusters presented itself, we looked at it and thought it would be so great to end the series with a sneak preview, a coming attraction, and have the screenwriter there, who just so happens to be a woman.”
As for Dippold, she added to THR that she “felt very honored to be there,” calling the screening “a really special night,” but admitted that the process of making and promoting the film has been such a whirlwind she hasn’t really had a chance to let things sink in.
During the post-screening Q&A with Women and Hollywood founder Melissa Silverstein, Dippold discussed her and co-writer and director Paul Feig’s approach to the reboot, saying he decided almost immediately that he “wanted to do something with new characters.”
“We just felt like you can’t touch [Bill Murray’s Dr. Peter] Venkman. We didn’t want to try to redo those characters—[the original is] such a special movie,” she said. “But we thought, we really love Ghostbusters and we love the idea of busting ghosts, and we thought, ‘Is there a way to do it with new characters and a new story?’ “
In fact, Dippold said she hoped that approach would appease those who saw the reboot as ruining one of their favorite childhood movies.
“I truly get the passion, because I really loved the original very much,” she said of extreme reactions from die-hard fans of the original, admitting that she tried to block out as much of that negative energy as possible. “But I also wouldn’t have wanted anyone to touch those characters. Maybe I’m naive, but I’m hopeful that this version lets those characters be. I don’t want to tell people what happened to Venkman.”
She also conceded that there’s a different group of Ghostbusters reboot opponents that “truly hates women that will say the nastiest, most horrible things that I’ve ever read in my entire life.”
“It makes me gasp and clutch my pearls,” she added.
As part of that focus on new characters, Dippold said she and Feig wanted to get the movie going before the audience saw any of the original cast, pointing out that they intentionally saved the cameos for the second half of the film.
Dippold added that they wanted call-backs to the original film, which are peppered throughout the reboot, to feel like a “bonus,” not a “crutch.” And while the three living Ghostbusters (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson) all make cameo appearances, as do original cast members Annie Potts and Sigourney Weaver, they’re playing new characters, too.
Hudson, after some foreshadowing by Jones’ character, shows up at the end as her funeral-home-owning uncle. Potts appears as a hotel desk clerk toward the end of the film, and Weaver is the last to make an appearance, popping up in scenes during the credits, with McKinnon’s Jillian Holtzmann introducing Weaver’s Rebecca Gorin as her mentor, a character Dippold says there were “many different versions of.”
With Murray, who plays paranormal skeptic Martin Heiss, Dippold said she was worried the elusive star wouldn’t actually show up on set and film his scene. “We already had that part for him and then we sent him the script and just waited and waited and waited until the day before shooting that scene, and we did not know if he was going to come,” Dippold said of working with the hard-to-reach actor. “And then I think we received word he was flying in, but then it was still like, ‘Will he come here?’ We sent a car. [And then we heard that] he’s in the car. He [finally arrived] on set and everyone gasped.” Ultimately he was “super nice and supportive,” Dippold said.
Aykroyd pops up briefly toward the end of a film as an uncooperative cab driver who refuses to pick up Wiig’s Erin Gilbert. But originally she and Feig had another, longer scene planned for Aykroyd that they had to cut. “Originally he was this spiritual advisor named Rick Gale, who they had to go talk to,” Dippold explains. “He was one of those guys who would be like, ‘Keep the door open, I like to have positive energy flow in.’ “
The film also pays tribute to late Ghostbusters star and co-writer Harold Ramis, who died in 2014. A bust of his character, Dr. Egon Spengler, appears toward the beginning of the movie, when Gilbert’s colleague Harold Filmore, played by Charles Dance, walks out of her Columbia University office.
“We knew we wanted to [pay tribute to him], and we were walking around Columbia University and noticed there were just so many busts of old professors everywhere, so we thought, why don’t we do that with Harold Ramis,” Dippold told THR.
Ramis‘ son Daniel also makes an appearance, as a concertgoer who says “Ozzy rocks” as villain Rowan (Neil Casey) walks by. There was even a third tribute that was filmed but might not have made it into the final cut. The Tribeca firehouse from the original film appears a couple of times in the reboot, and Dippold says they filmed a scene with Ramis‘ daughter walking by holding Ramis‘ baby grandchild.
McKinnon’s already earned praise for what critics are calling a standout performance, and Dippold revealed the idea for the character came from how viewers first encounter her, as someone who’s been studying the paranormal with McCarthy’s Abby.
“We thought, ‘If Abby’s this weirdo who’s been working in this basement lab of a terrible college, she’s been pursuing the paranormal full time and she doesn’t care what people think of her. What kind of person has been happily working alongside her all these years? Probably someone a lot stranger.’ And we just started thinking of someone who really thinks outside of the box but doesn’t care about social norms,” Dippold says. “She’s the kind of person that if something’s stressing out everyone, she would find that delightful.”
As for what McKinnon specifically brought to the role, Dippold recalls two moments as being particularly illustrative of McKinnon’s approach: when she starts singing “Come out, come out wherever you are” to Rowan and, in a scene that was mostly cut, where she improvised a full song about it being “sandwich time” when she tells Abby her lunch is there, not realizing her colleague has been possessed.
Another one of Dippold’s favorite improvised moments has already popped up in previews, when Chris Hemsworth’s pretty, dumb assistant Kevin reveals that he’s wearing glasses without lenses in them, saying he took them out because they just kept getting dirty. Dippold explained that the lights and cameras were reflecting in Hemsworth’s lenses, so the crew took them out, and then during a scene, he started scratching his eye.
“So Melissa, being as quick as she is, was just like, ‘Hold on one second. Can I just ask you why no glass?’ And they just riffed back and forth,” Dippold said. “A lot of that whole scene was improvised, and Chris Hemsworth is also shockingly funny, which is also infuriating to mankind.”
Patrick Harrison and Katie Dippold at Monday night’s Academy screening in New York.
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