Paul Feig On The Ghostbusters Backlash And The Emotional Stuff You Didn’t See In Theatres
Talking about Ghostbusters can be frustrating. For fans of the 1984 comedy, news that Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Kristen Wiig would star in Paul Feig’s reboot was largely met with joy that was quickly tainted by certain dark corners of the internet claiming that an all-female version of the iconic comedy would “ruin their childhood[s].” For more than a year, Feig and the cast, particularly Jones—the only woman of colour—had to deal with misogynistic ire from online trolls.
It was a bummer.
But here’s the thing: The Ghostbusters reboot was actually a lot of harmless fun, a goofy film anchored by the great chemistry of its four female leads, each a master at balancing loud humour with a bit of pathos. To be honest, it was a lot like the old Ghostbusters. So it’s frustrating that it got ravaged by dudes who put the original on a pedestal and failed to see how important female Ghostbusters could be to a new generation.
As it turns out, even after all the angry tweets and the boycotts, Feig himself wasn’t feeling frustration. I caught up with him this past weekend at New York Comic Con in the Ecto-1 (as one does), while he was promoting the DVD/Blu-ray release of Ghostbusters.
“I didn’t realise how much of an impact Ghostbusters had to a certain group of guys,” Feig told me in the back seat of the Ecto-1 as we drove around Midtown. “I’m a little older, so when I saw it, I thought it was an amazing comedy film. Having funny people fight the paranormal? That’s the greatest idea ever. That was really my only motivation: I work with all of these funny women, so let’s make them the Ghostbusters.
“Originally, we thought, should they be [the originals’] daughters? But I wanted it to be an empowering tale, and there’s something about them getting handed this mantle that didn’t feel empowering to me,” he added. “It felt limiting. I want these outsiders to figure it out from the very beginning. I wanted them to be smart and own it. I want to see them kick ass and save the day.”
Feig revealed that there was a lot left on the cutting room floor in the making of Ghostbusters. Having to balance a supernatural summer comedy with grounded, character-focused moments, while also paying homage to Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd’s original ’84 film was a challenge for Feig. His first cut of the film was three and a half hours long—some of this was added to the extended version on the DVD and Blu-ray—so I got him to talk me through the film’s deleted scenes. Here’s what I learned:
There was a lot of story to get through.
The first assembly of the film was four hours and 15 minutes; the first director’s cut was three and a half hours long.
“I’m always hung up on making sure the relationships feel real, and to me, it was really a story about people needing legitimacy,” Feig said. “How much outside approval do you need? Or if you’re doing what you love, should that be enough? Melissa’s character, [Abby], was the one who was the true believer. She didn’t care what people said about her, and Kristen’s character, [Erin], had been tortured her whole life because nobody believed her. She really needed for the world to find out she wasn’t crazy. To me, comedy is only funny when people are vulnerable and weird and make mistakes, so we had a lot of story.”
There was way more backstory about Erin and Abby’s friendship, including one “breakup” scene that still makes Feig emotional.
With so much story, and a full-on ghost invasion in the third act, Feig had to cut some of the more character-focused moments, including one emotional scene in which Erin and Abby effectively break up. “Erin tells Abby, ‘I know you don’t care what people think of you,’ and Abby says, ‘No, I do care, but I care more about our friendship,'” Feig said, breaking down the deleted scene.
The scene concludes with a sullen Erin watching a YouTube clip from her and Abby’s college days; it’s from a lit-themed show the pair were supposed to shoot together to promote their paranormal book, Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively, but she flaked.
“Erin was tired of being called crazy all the time [for believing in ghosts], so she never showed up,” Feig explained. “So we had this scene where Erin’s watching a YouTube clip of the book show, and because she didn’t show up, it’s basically Melissa’s character being uncomfortable and trying to make excuses for why her friend wasn’t there.” (Meanwhile, Bridesmaids standout Michael Hitchcock got to go toe-to-toe with McCarthy as the host.)
Kristen Wiig was the one most likely to break character.
Once Wiig starts laughing, she really can’t stop—no, really—so it’s no surprise that she had to take a few minutes every now and then to get herself under control on set. “She is the most likely to break [character],” Feig admitted. “If Rose Byrne isn’t in the movie, Kristen takes the mantle of being the one who’s going to laugh first.”
Kate McKinnon inspired her own character.
For the most part, critics were divided over Ghostbusters, but there was one thing on which they unanimously agreed: McKinnon’s lovable weirdo, Holtzmann, was the film’s breakout. Part of the character’s appeal stemmed from her brazen sexuality and zero-fucks attitude. She was flirtatious; everything and everyone turned her on, from proton packs to Wiig’s character, Erin.
Having known McKinnon several years from her time on Saturday Night Live, Feig knew she had to be in his Ghostbusters from the moment they sat down to talk about possible characters. Once Feig discovered that McKinnon had a keen interest in electronics and circuit boards, he knew he had found his “fantastic weirdo,” Holtzmann. “Then we were able to build out the cast from around her,” he said, adding that once in production, “I was making her be a version of herself, and I don’t think she was used to that. She would come up to me and say, ‘I’m not exactly sure what what I’m doing,’ and I’d say, ‘Well, what you’re doing is perfect.'”
McKinnon’s cat, Nino, nearly made a cameo as Mike Hat
Back when Mike Hat was a cat and not a dog named Michael Hat, there was a possibility that McKinnon’s beloved (furry) son would play the role of secretary Kevin’s (Chris Hemsworth) pet, Mike Hat. However, it didn’t quite work out. “We thought possibly Nino (McKinnon) could show up as Mike Hat,” Feig said. “There was a whole gag that didn’t get in that Mike Hat walks on his back legs because he doesn’t have front legs, so we thought, well, we can’t chop off Nino’s front legs.”