Paul Feig Moves Past the ‘Ghostbusters’ Backlash
The director talks sequels and why he decided not to cross the streams
by John Boone
What’s the current status on a Ghostbusters sequel? “Nothing that I am aware of,” director Paul Feig said with a slight chuckle, before thoughtfully choosing his words: “You know, I think everybody is going to wait and see how the DVD sells and how our digital sales are. It’s expensive to make these movies and the people who paid for it, the studio, they’ve got to be the ones who want to make it and so far, no word. But I’m very proud of this film and if this is the only one I get to do and the only one with this team, I’d be very, very proud of it. And if they want to do another one or do more of them, I think that’d be really fun too.”
If that weren’t motivation enough to go out and buy Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (available now on iTunes and DVD), there are at least 15 more reasons in that many minutes of brand spankin’ new footage added for the extended cut. And not just a few seconds here or there, but entire sequences with new jokes, new ghouls and even more dancing from Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon. There is also enough bloopers for two gag reels, a handful of deleted scenes and one iconic reference to the original movie, all of which Feig broke down during a chat with ET.
ET: The movie is out and many people loved it and no childhoods were ruined. When you look back on all the controversy and the backlash and the think pieces, what do you make of it all now?
Paul Feig: I make of it the same thing I made of it when it was happening, which was, Everybody, can you just wait and watch the movie? Even more so in retrospect, as you come out of it, you do feel a little like, Everybody, you know you all just lost your mind over a funny movie about people catching ghosts, right? [Laughs] And I don’t mean to be flip about it! I get it! Remaking a classic and something you grew up with is such a sacred thing — but at the same time, the original movie was made to let you have fun. That’s the only reason that movie exists. And that was the same ethos we brought to making this movie. All we wanted to do was make you laugh for two hours and give you some thrills and have a fun time. I’m just glad to be pulling away from that highly politicized time of it, because now the movie can stand on its own. If people like it, that’s great, and if they don’t like it, at least they’ve given it a shot and they watched [it] versus judging it before they even knew what it was.
The worst part was the abuse and hatred and racism directed at Leslie, which she’s handled so gracefully and with such humor. What have you had the chance to say to her?
I was with her the entire time. We were constantly online together, going back and forth about it. It was horrendous! It was inexcusable. Look, there’s a racist segment of that community that went after her, but more than that, there is just this segment of the internet that considers themselves to be provocateurs. What I call that is really bad amateur comedy. I’ve been a comedy professional my entire life. I was a stand-up. I had my time when I was a teenager, [when] I would make really bad jokes and sometimes they were not exactly — I don’t want to say politically correct. Like, if there’s some terrible story in the news, you’ll kind of make a joke about it, because you don’t know what the world is at that moment. You don’t know that there’s stuff that’s just not cool to make fun of. The night that everything was melting down for Leslie with all the super racist stuff, the people that I saw that followed me, I direct messaged a few of them and just said, “What you’re doing is inexcusable. Do you have any idea what you are doing?”
Especially when they were doctoring tweets from she and I that had racist things in them that they were using to say, “Look! They’re as bad as we are!” But they were false, and I would DM some of these people and they’d write back, like, “Get a sense of humor! This is funny! This is why your movies aren’t funny!” And it’s like, Guys, this is not comedy, this is not funny. I know you think you’re being provocative, and I know it’s really fun to kind of fight the system and say, ‘F**k the system,’ but this is not cool and this is sh**ty. So, it’s a long way of saying, what she got hit with is so ridiculously terrible and it’s just the natural outcome of the anonymity that some people can get online. And most of the people online are just wonderful, supportive people and having the outreach with them is so exciting. But there’s this little tiny group that makes a lot of noise and the media blows them up to make them seem bigger than they are and they feed off it and they think it’s hilarious and think they’re really challenging the system. And they’re not. They’re just being really not funny.
It was nice to see a groundswell of love for Leslie, too.
That’s the thing! People always say to me, “Just get off the Internet.” But I’m not getting off the Internet. That’s like telling somebody, “Just move out of your house.” This is where we meet great people and this is where find out that people are actually cool. And the fact that fans put together those videos for Leslie, it was so wonderful. That’s when you go, like, “You know what? Good. This is where we see that humanity is great. And a small group of people that want to try to challenge that or screw that up, that’s their problem and they’re not going to affect the majority of us who are just decent people.”
One of the new scenes features the villain, Rowan, talking about pestering spirits and how they’re “mostly dudes.” It goes back to the backlash, but I love that you weren’t afraid to poke fun at that, even as you were making the movie.
That actually was an ad-lib by Neil [Casey]. I remember when he did it, we were just, like, “Oh my god, that’s the funniest thing we’ve ever heard.” We never wanted to wallow in it, but at the same time, we were so surrounded by it that you just kind of had to point it out and have fun with it. We knew it wasn’t going to go away. We knew it was always going to be something hanging over us. And it wasn’t done in a revengeful way! It was just a funny way to play with it!
There’s more of Rowan and his evil plotting in the extended cut. How did you decide what to keep and what to lose of him for the theatrical release?
It’s a very tough dance, because Neil is one of the funniest people that I know. The problem with having a villain in a comedy is that if they’re too funny, all the danger goes out of the movie. So, all that funny stuff was making his character a little less threatening. We had to make the decision of, “Let’s just keep him this very intimidating, scary, nerdy guy who has this terrible plot to get back at the world.” Very sadly, we had to strip out a lot of his jokes, but I knew we’d be able to put them back in as we did the extended cut.
Well, thank god for the extended cut, because we were also almost deprived of that amazing scene when Melissa is possessed by Rowan and starts vomiting goo.
That was in for a long time! That was a very last minute pull, just because when you make a movie for an audience sitting in the theater of four, five hundred people, you have to face it differently than you do a movie that people are going to sit at home and watch on their own or with a few friends. Some of those scenes just extended things too long and just wallowed in some of the fun stuff we wanted to do a little too long, at the expense of moving the story along. But again, it was like, “OK! Good! We can put that back in!” Because poor thing, she worked hard to have a rig on her face and spin around spewing slime. That’s a tough day at the office. [Laughs]
It kind of reminded me of the bathroom scene in Bridesmaids. I love a Melissa bathroom scene from you, I guess.
[Laughs] When you get Melissa and a bathroom, you know something funny is going to happen. Or at least disturbing. Or both! That’s the sweet spot.
There is also a bit about not crossing the streams in this version. The theatrical cut had a bunch of winks to the original movie, why did you decide to take that one out?
It just felt like a complication we didn’t need, and it also felt like one too many nods to the original movie. And there’s something about the idea of crossing the streams that tends to be a bit of a guy joke, if you think about it. Especially the way it came up in the — you know, whatever! I originally put it in there because I liked the idea that the audience would think, “Oh, they’re solving it the way they solved the original movie.” And then it doesn’t work and they have to go beyond that. But it was just starting to string out that third act a little too long, where we just wanted to get in it and then race to the end and get to Erin saving Abby. That’s really the meat and potatoes of the ending.
Watching the gag reels reminded me of how much fun this movie must have been to make. When you look back, do you have one standout day or scene or memory from set?
It really was such a fun shoot. I feel like that first day that we had Chris Hemsworth and we did the big job interview scene, that was just very fun, because those are my favorite kinds of days — when you can just shoot for hours and hours and keep coming up with jokes and you just laugh. Then it becomes the fun of like, “Oh my god! Try this! Try that!” And we get more absurd and more ridiculous with the things that we start to pitch and see if the actors can actually justify them. Then they’ll start improving stuff that you realize is completely ridiculous. Even down to Chris with the glasses with no glass in them. That came from the fact that we did the first scene and he was getting all these reflections off of the glass, so I said, “Let’s just take the glass out, because I can’t paint out all these reflections in post. It’ll cost a fortune!” Then, in the middle of the take, he just reached through and scratched his eye and it started to become a bit and we built off of that. It’s that kind of organic comedy that I love. That’s the stuff that’s the funniest to an audience, because that’s the stuff that you instinctively know is fresh and hasn’t been rehearsed a million times. The same way when you’re hanging with your friends, the funniest moments are something that pops up out of nowhere or when somebody makes a joke and everybody riffs off it. That’s the stuff you remember the next day when you say, “Oh god, I had so much fun with my friends last night.”
You joked — or maybe you weren’t joking — that the original cut of the movie was four hours long.
The original assembly that my editor put together was four hour and 15 minutes long. [Laughs] Then I went and did my first cut and it was three and a half hours long. So, we had a lot of movie there. We had an embarrassment of riches.
Even with the 15 minutes of new footage, what are we still missing out on?
There’s some really fun stuff — a lot of it is in the deleted scenes. There’s a lot of backstory or emotional story between Kristen and Melissa’s characters, because it was really a movie about legitimacy and validation. Kristen’s character, who’d been called crazy her entire life because she saw a ghost and everybody thought she was nuts, when she finally find out it’s real, she is so desperate to let everybody know she’s not crazy. But then either they can’t prove it or people don’t believe them or when they finally are ready to believe them, the mayor says they have to say they’re frauds so they don’t cause mass hysteria. So, there are scenes dealing with that. Kristen’s character ends up going back to the college to try to get her job back and then she and Abby have kind of a breakup scene outside that I find very touching and sweet. Sadly, there was just too much of it. Or just move than a movie like this could hold. You can’t put out a three hour cut of a comedy about people catching ghosts.
Have you started thinking about an idea for a second one?
Oh yeah! When we were in production, we talked about it a bunch. I definitely have some ideas, but nothing that we ended up writing a script for, because we barely got this one out in time! I think we’re all still recovering from this one a little bit.
There’s that mention of Zuul in the post-credits scene. Is that the story you would want to pursue in a sequel?
There definitely was a world in which we thought we could start to bring that element in and possibly that character. It was a fun little thing to drop in, and once you go into the next thing, then you try to figure out exactly what you’re going to do with it.
[This interview has been edited and condensed.]
Originally published at www.etonline.com.