A very good thing just happened, and you should probably be more excited.
Sony recently announced that Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon will star in a Ghostbusters reboot written and directed by Paul Feig – who did not actually write Bridesmaids. He only produced and directed the movie – which feels like an important distinction to make at this point, for some reason.
McCarthy and Wiig – who both starred in Bridesmaids – are teaming up again for the first time on-screen since their 2011 hit comedy, which earned them both Academy Award nominations. Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, two of Saturday Night Live’s top performers, are both being tapped for this iconic big-screen franchise despite not being known outside the SNL bubble. It might sound bad at first, but truthfully, this is the best thing that could happen to the Ghostbusters franchise; it just feels like few fans seem able to see the facts for what they are.
First, let’s throw out the “all-female Ghostbusters” angle as a reason for concern. The far simpler, far less controversial, far less interesting truth is that most mainstream moviegoers simply want to see the original cast – Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson – back onscreen. This is absolutely true, and it’s upsetting; but it was also never going to happen, ever.
The Death of Ghostbusters III
When Harold Ramis passed away on February 24, 2014, so went any hope for Ghostbusters, as we knew it, to return. In reality, it happened three years before that, late 2011, when Ramis’ vasculitis reportedly returned, an affliction from which he sadly never recovered. Actually, it happened a year before that, in October 2010, the moment Office producers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky – aka not Ramis and Aykroyd, the writers for Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II – were tapped to write the third film.
Then, surprisingly, no one asked J. Michael Straczynski – who essentially served as showrunner for seven seasons of the extremely popular Real Ghostbusters cartoon – to write any draft of the Ghostbusters 3 script. On The Real Ghostbusters home video release, Straczynski revealed he was forced to fight the network in order to maintain the quality of the stories, rather than simply turn it in to a children’s show with Slimer. He eventually quit the series, and for a brief moment on Saturday mornings, Slimer! And the Real Ghostbusters aired, until ratings dipped and Straczynksi was asked back to run the show, with a “hands-off” promise from the studio and network, as well as full creative control.
Overall, Straczynski wrote 55 hours of memorable Real Ghostbusters stories – far more than franchise creators Aykroyd and Ramis, who essentially only wrote three hours between two films. Straczynski said he would never be asked to be a part of a new Ghostbusters film because, as he told us in 2012:
“We did the animated series – which got great reviews; fans loved it – and then [Ghostbusters 2] came out and didn’t do terribly well. Everyone kept saying that the animated show was better. That caught in the craw of some of the people who make [Ghostbusters] – that [people] were saying the animation was better than their film. So I think there’s a personal awkwardness, on their part, to come back to me on [Ghostbusters 3].”
The much more likely truth is that all hope for Ghostbusters III was lost on June 16, 1989, when Ghostbusters II premiered and received negative reviews from fans and critics alike, including the infamous two thumbs down from Siskel and Ebert. Thing is: Ghostbusters II is not a bad movie, it’s simply not the original — which again, brings us to 1984 and back to chasing a 30+ year-old dream.
Just the Facts: Meet the New Cast
McKinnon came up through the ranks of the famed Upright Citizens Brigade, eventually starring in The Big Gay Sketch Show in 2007 on Logo, then cast as a featured player on Saturday Night Live in 2012. Since then, McKinnon has been one of the top performers on SNL with an impressive list of characters as well as her celebrity impressions (which range from Ellen DeGeneres to Justin Bieber). What’s not so strong on SNL? Most of the guest hosts, as of this season.
Why this matters: SNL creator Lorne Michaels is famous for wanting to create stars, not hire them. Original MadTV cast member Artie Lange famously told a story on The Howard Stern Show where Michaels, following Lang’s exit from MadTV, made him wait all day in his office only to be dismissed from SNL consideration after Michaels said, “It’s your dream to do the show, right?” and “Well that’s not possible” and “If you did MadTV, I can’t have you on the show.”
In 2001, Jeff Richards, known for “Drunk Girl,” became the first MadTV cast member hired for SNL; Richards had appeared in three episodes of MadTV. In 2011, Taran Killam, who appeared on MadTV for 13 episodes, joined the cast and quickly became one of the show’s new standout stars. It’s proof that Michaels is willing to hire stars, as long as he believes they can still grow and deliver each week on SNL – as Killan and McKinnon consistently do. Love him or hate him, Lorne Michaels has proven his comedic sensibilities time and time again, going as far back as 1968, when he wrote for NBC’s Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, which eventually led him to create Saturday Night Live.
Jones is the veteran comedian of the group, believe it or not, having performed stand-up since the late 80s/early 90s. She came up through the LA comedy scene and in the early 2000s, it was Dave Chapelle who told her to move to New York City to shape her act, and that she was done with the West Coast. Since then she has been performing stand-up, and appearing on shows including Def Comedy Jam and ComicView. In 2010, she was part of Katt Williams’ “It’s Pimpin’ Pimpin’” tour, and most recently appeared in Chris Rock’s film Top Five, where she shared scenes with, and stole scenes from, infamous scene-stealer Tracey Morgan. Jones joined SNL in 2014.
Why this matters: Regardless of talent, Jones is now best known as the SNL writer hired alongside LaKendra Tookes and new cast member Sasheer Zamata. Surprisingly, she’s far less known for accomplishing the impossible task of climbing out of the writers room and becoming a featured performer (outside of her entertaining Weekend Update appearances). Here is a complete list of all SNL writers who made this transition over the years, so far: Leslie Jones, Jason Sudeikis, Al Franken, original SNL writer-turned-producer Alan Zweibel, and longtime SNL writer-turned-producer Jim Downey. There’s a reason why the list is so short.
McCarthy comes from the school of TV, most famously Gilmore Girls, Samantha Who and her current hit show Mike & Molly, which began in 2010. In 2011, she was cast in Bridesmaids, became a breakout actor, and ultimately received an Academy Award nomination for her performance. She also starred in Identity Thief, The Heat, Tammy, and most recently St. Vincent, which was nominated for two Golden Globe Awards – Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy and Best Actor, Musical or Comedy.
Why this matters: McCarthy realizes that she’s playing similar parts in many films – it’s also the reason why she’s in the role, because she can deliver. Her so-called “shtick” is a tool, and she is a performer. Her career – especially television, and especially her films before Bridesmaids – paints a clearer picture of her abilities as an actor. Even CBS’ Mike & Molly proves that she doesn’t always need to lean on her familiar feature-film “personality” to garner a laugh. If anything, it’s no fault of hers that she’s simply being asked to play a familiar part. Comedy is hard, remember, and that rings especially true for those who write it and not just perform it.
As an Academy Award and BAFTA-nominated writer, Wiig is best known for neither of these things, or for her role as Dr. Pat on Spike TV’s The Joe Schmo Show season 1. Instead, outside of her seven seasons of SNL, she’s best known as leader of Team Bridesmaids, much in the same way Bradley Cooper is the leader of Team Hangover – only Cooper didn’t write The Hangover.
Why this matters: Wiig has long been a standout performer in mainstream films such as Despicable Me 2, Anchorman 2: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, and the How to Train Your Dragon franchise, while also keeping her indie film side alive with more than a few sleeper hits like Extract, Adventureland, Friends with Kids, and most recently The Skeleton Twins.
Wiig is in a position where she doesn’t need to say “yes” to a job, or else upset the powers that be (and her future). Her resume is impressive enough that it can stand on its own, which is not something that can be said for any of the original Ghostbusters. For instance: Bill Murray admits, time and time again, that he thought one of the Coen Brothers (Fargo) wrote the 2004 Garfield, only to find out it was a different Cohen, Joel (Cheaper by the Dozen), when showing up to record. Then he did Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties in 2006. Honestly, the only item on Wiig’s resume to question is the Ghostbusters relaunch.
The Truth About Ghostbusters
To take on Ghostbusters is essentially career suicide, if we’re all being honest – but no one is willing to admit it. The franchise has worldwide brand awareness, and the public genuinely cares about it. This essentially means many people are looking at the filmmakers to fail, plain and simple, and no one wants (or needs) that type of pressure in Hollywood. That is, unless you have an idea.
In early 2014, The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street writers Phil Lord and Chris Miller famously turned down the Ghostbusters reboot. This is, of course, after Sony put it in front of every funny, unfunny, used-to-be-funny, might-be-funny person they were able to get their hands on. Josh Gad, Kevin Hart, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogan, James Franco, etc., have all had their forced “Ghostbusters talks” with the studio – clearly something wasn’t working out.
All of this came, of course, after Murray never responded to the various Ghostbusters 3 scripts that were being sent to him. In passing, Murray joked in a candid interview with Howard Stern, in 2013, that the script is under his desk, helping keep it level.
In reality – as Murray eventually told Stern in the same interview – the reason is far simpler: He heard that the Jack Black and Michael Cera comedy Year One – which Ramis wrote with Stupnitsky and Eisenberg – was simply not good. Ramis sold the duo to Murray as the next big thing, and Murray remembered it when Year One bombed, losing faith in the Ghostbusters 3 script.
Murray made up a good portion of his lines in Ghostbusters, and even waited until the first day of shooting to read the script; he also felt lied to about what Ghostbusters II was ultimately going to include (more Ernie Hudson), so perhaps he had a good reason to be so cautious about a third film. He was also concerned about the age of everyone involved – namely, whether or not people would still be entertained by them. Again, a valid concern for an actor looking past the obvious financial gains of doing the project (ask Indiana Jones fans whether aged Indy in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull helped or hurt the franchise reputation).
Who is Paul Feig?
This is Paul Feig (above). You’ve probably liked him for years now without realizing it. Feig played Tim in the 1995 cult-hit comedy Heavy Weights, which also starred his friend Ben Stiller. Heavy Weights was written by Judd Apatow and Steve Brill, which likely helped it became a cult hit. It’s safe to say you know Apatow’s work; Brill, however, is most famous for creating and writing The Mighty Ducks franchise. He also wrote the cult wrestling comedy Ready to Rumble and the famed Adam Sandler movie, Little Nicky. Hopefully now you’re beginning to see the sensibilities and influences at work here, as well as the relationships that have been forged – through similar tastes in humor.
Most importantly, in 1999, Paul Feig created everyone’s favorite canceled NBC show Freaks and Geeks, which Judd Apatow produced. Freaks and Geeks starred young James Franco, Jason Segel and Seth Rogan, among others – including John Francis Daley, who co-wrote Horrible Bosses. Apatow went on to create the cult series Undeclared after the show was canceled; still, Freaks and Geeks is considered a beloved series even today, despite having only been on the air for two seasons. One of the main reasons? Paul Feig.
Think of Paul Feig as the Michael Shur of his day, if you will. Shur is a breakout writer and producer of the Emmy Award-winning show The Office, who then went out to create the Emmy Award-nominated, Golden Globe-winning show Parks and Recreation (with Greg Daniels) and the Golden Globe-winning show Brooklyn Nine-Nine (with Dan Goor). He also played Dwight’s cousin Mose in The Office and won audiences over with his bearded embodiment of “fear.” Sensibilities like Shur’s have been fortunate to arrive at a time when television is willing to give creators room to prove themselves; Feig, however, was forced to play into the same system that forced a laugh track on Aaron Sorkin and his cult show Sports Night, despite Sorkin having proven himself as a playwright and a screenwriter/script doctor already. Even Shur wouldn’t stand a chance on TV in 1999.
Outside of writing, Feig is also one of the few directors on the cult favorite (see the trend?) television series Arrested Development during its initial run on Fox. Other names include: Anthony and Joe Russo, who wrote and directed Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the upcoming Captain America: Civil War; Jay Chandrasekhar, writer and director of Supertroopers (and Broken Lizard fame); Greg Mottola, writer and director of The Daytrippers, Adventureland, and director of Superbad and Paul.
In short: Even if you’re skeptical about him for Ghostbusters, Paul Feig hails from a school of comedy you’ve probably enjoyed on more than one occasion.
Doing the Math
Paul Feig, creator of the unceremoniously canceled, and still beloved, Emmy Award-winning cult series Freaks and Geeks; producer and director of Emmy Award-winning The Office and Emmy Award-winning Nurse Jackie; and director of the Academy Award-nominted Bridesmaids, came up with an idea for Ghostbusters in the summer of 2014, months after the death of the Harold Ramis, at a time when (almost) everyone turned down the project, and the Sony Corporation – not simply Sony Pictures – hadn’t turned a profit in quite some time. The Lego Movie guys even turned Sony down, and they’re largely considered (legitimate) geniuses outside of their industry work.
When hiring acting talent, Feig used the same sensibilities that gave him the cast of Freaks and Geeks – which won an Emmy for Outstanding Casting – and the cast of Bridesmaids – nominated for Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Cast (losing to The Help) – to find a talent he believed would be outstanding. Feig and Apatow famously spent an hour doing improv with Rebel Wilson during her Bridesmaids audition, and you can see how well audiences enjoy Wilson as an addition to Hollywood’s list of talent. Casting is still one of the most underrated skills in the business, and it’s purely Hollywood’s fault for not making the importance of the process much clearer – even for TV.
In summary, Feig decided on Wigg, an Academy Award-nominated writer; McCarthy, an Academy Award-nominated actor; Jones, a (more than) accomplished comedian who Dave Chappelle and Katt Williams – among many others – are fond of; and McKinnon, who is such a breakout star of Upright Citizen Brigade that Lorne Michaels hired, her despite her previous sketch show debut, which garnered rave reviews.
It’s alright to admit that you don’t watch Saturday Night Live; but it’s no reason to think that the show still isn’t the same creative force of nature that it has always has been. SNL is considered a television staple for a reason, and it’s not because the same people continue to watch. Like the cast, audiences cycle out and new viewers find the show. Lorne Michaels is famous for acknowledging that everyone considers the cast they grow up with as the “best” cast. Like it or not: It’s hard to debate a man whose career has overshadowed too many audience cycles to count (not to mention executives).
As for Ghostbusters: it’s sad to see the originals go, never to return again – and that bittersweetness won’t ever change. If you want to experience a true Ghostbusters sequel with the originals’ familiar souls, play Ghostbusters: The Video Game, which is what Aykroyd’s Ghostbusters 3: Hellbent script turned into; no worries, the whole original cast is involved. There are entire sections of the game with new story, which were recorded then removed before completion. There are also entire sections of the two films which were never released. Remember Fort Detmerring in the original Ghostbusters? Likely not. The Fort Detmerring scenes were cut and all that’s left is Ray and a ghost having a “fling” during a montage. There’s still a lot of original Ghostbusters footage out there to see, if you didn’t know.
The big question: How can you ever recreate Ghostbusters? Answer: you can’t, and will not be able to. Bill Murray simply wanted to make a movie with his friends, so he did. Aykroyd simply wanted to write a movie about paranormal exterminators for him and his friends, so he did. You can’t replicate the imperfectly causal storm that lead to the creation of a comedy milestone. But Paul Feig has an idea, and a talented cast.
So how about we wait and see what Tim from Heavy Weights has to show us?
Ghostbusters is set to premiere Summer 2016. You can follow me on Twitter @anthonyocasio