Study Guide

Ghostbusters Behind the Scenes

  • Director

    Ivan Reitman

    Reitman was a king of comedies from the late '70s to the early '90s. He's the guy who directed like half the movies that parents the world over still have on VHS in the back of the closet somewhere.

    You've got to hand it to Reitman, though; a lot of those movies are worth blowing the dust off of and digging out the VCR. (Well, we guess you could just stream them, but then you wouldn't get the full retro experience.) With Ghostbusters probably being his crowning achievement, Reitman's other flicks include Stripes, Meatballs, Twins, Kindergarten Cop, and Ghostbusters II (of course).

    Ghostbusters is proof positive that Reitman really had the comic touch. It's crazy how the movie still manages to be funny after all these years. This is no easy thing, for example... um. Dang—we were about to give you an example of an 80's comedy that's not funny anymore, but we can't remember one—which sort of proves our point. Reitman was the Right-man.

    Reitman's take on Aykroyd and Ramis's masterpiece of a script feels just as sharp as ever, and the choice of letting Bill Murray fill out his character with improv still makes Peter Venkman one of the most loveable huckster heroes in film.

    Oh, and Reitman's list of credits as a producer is actually way longer than his directing credits; some of his producing highlights include Disturbia, Up in the Air, Old School, Beethoven, and Animal House.

  • Screenwriter

    Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ivan Reitman

    Ghost Dads

    It all started with SNL veteran Dan Aykroyd's secret (or not so secret) obsession with ghosts. Aykroyd came by his spectral fixation honestly. In a Vanity Fair article, he's quoted as saying, "It's the family business for God's sake" (source). Turns out his great-granddad was actually a renowned spiritualist, and the Aykroyd family farmhouse in Ontario used to be the scene of tons of séances (!).

    On top of that, his grandfather researched ways to communicate with ghosts via radio technology, and his dad wrote a history of ghosts. So it might've seemed out of left field to some when Aykroyd came up with the idea of making a comedy about some dudes who bust ghosts, but to Aykroyd it was a no-brainer.

    Dimension Hopping

    Aykroyd's first draft of the script was way different than the version of Ghostbusters that we know and love. The original vision was more out there with the Ghostmashers, as they were called, traveling through different dimensions to bust (er, mash) tons of gargantuan ghosts (including the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man).

    However, Aykroyd's dimension-hopping dream got squashed after he pitched the script to big time comedy producer/director Ivan Reitman. It took Reitman like two seconds to say, "Danny, baby. It's a fab idea, but it's going break the bank." (That's how producers talk, right?) Reitman then pitched some massive changes to Aykroyd, which totally redefined the movie, like when he said "Danny, baby. What if it's set in NYC?" and "What if they go into business? It's the 80's; everybody and their mother is going into business."

    (Again: we have no idea if Ivan Reitman actually talks like this.)

    Ramis Has Entered the Building

    To help Aykroyd bring his script down to Earth, Reitman drafted Harold Ramis, who'd written a slew of top-shelf comedies at this point, including Animal House, Caddyshack, Stripes, and Meatballs.

    After that, Aykroyd, Ramis, and Reitman hunkered down in a bunker on Martha's Vineyard and hammered out a drastically different version of the script in about two weeks. Ramis is quoted as saying "Dan's great at creating funny situations, whereas my strength is more in the area of strong jokes and funny dialogue. Essentially, we wrote separately, and then rewrote each other" (source).

    Whoever did whatever, the script that emerged from that bunker turned out to be what many call the best comedy of the '80s. Who knew a bunker was the place to go to find that creative spark?

    And who knew Martha's Vineyard had bunkers?

    The Lovecraft Connection

    Okay, time for a quick tangent. Don't mind us.

    As we noted earlier, Dan Aykroyd actually had a lot of knowledge about the supernatural, which he drew upon to put the film's weird mythology together. But he also drew upon a fiction writer when creating Gozer, Zuul, and the general nuttiness going on in Dana Barrett's apartment. HP Lovecraft, considered second only to Edgar Allan Poe among American horror authors, provided a template on which they could create these demonic gods.

    Lovecraft's stories often revolved around creatures older than time that dwelt in outer space or other planes of existence. The universe actually followed their rules of morality, not ours. We were an anomaly and, sooner or later, they were going to show up and wipe us all out. Lovecraft wrote about characters stumbling onto this disturbing truth, and usually going mad as a result.

    Ghostbusters wasn't willing to go quite that dark, but they drew on some of Lovecraft's seasoning to make the threat of Gozer real. So, we get Egon's speech about the weird composition of Ms. Barrett's building and the creepy cult that used to operate there. When Gozer arrives, it quickly gets put into a ridiculous shape (we love you Mr. Stay Puft), but the threat is still there, and Gozer isn't talking about just knocking over a few buildings. If our boys don't step up, the whole human race is going to come to a gooey, sugar-coated end…and if you look past the sheer ridiculousness of it all, you can spot Lovecraft, winking merrily at us.

  • Production Studio

    Reitman is the Man

    As a producer and director, Ivan Reitman put a big Stay Puft Marshmallow Man-sized footprint on the movie. We mention this in our Screenwriters section too, but it's worth repeating here that he was the guy who helped shape Aykroyd's original un-filmable script into something that could actually get green-lighted. (Green-lit?)

    Where Aykroyd originally had the boys hopping dimensions to bust ghosts, Reitman suggested that our heroes start a ghostbusting business in NYC. This made the script more commercially viable by grounding it in reality and also by massively cutting the amount of moolah needed to make it.

    Price is Right

    Even with Reitman's budget-cutting influence, a big studio needed to sign on to make the thing happen. Luckily for the world, Columbia Pictures Chairman Frank Price had faith in a project written by Aykroyd and Ramis, with Reitman directing and Bill Murray starring.

    Sure, all these guys were hot stuff in Hollywood at the time, but they'd made their names in comedies that had way smaller budgets than what Ghostbusters would need: a whopping $25 million dollars.

    Despite the huge financial risk, Price rolled the dice and green lighted the project. Needless to say it wasn't a popular decision with the powers-that-be at Columbia. Columbia CEO Francis Vincent actually sent a lawyer to talk Price out of it.

    Thankfully, Price trusted his gut. As we know, Price didn't pull out of the picture and was probably worshipped as a god around Columbia when Ghostbusters was a gigantic success, spawning a huge moneymaking franchise with a sequel, two cartoon series, toys, video games—the works. So take that Francis Vincent: in the end, the Price was right.

  • Production Design

    Live From New York

    As we say in our Setting section, Ghostbusters is a valentine to New York City and was filmed almost entirely on sight in the Big Apple. The filmmakers didn't rebuild the Public Library's famous Reading Room on a soundstage, they filmed it right there in the Library, itself (where the tranquility of library-goers is still sometimes disturbed by people running through the room dressed in Ghostbuster outfits).

    Why rebuild a replica of Columbia University's impressive campus, when you can just film on location? Especially when it's way cheaper to use the real places. Throughout, the authentic NYC locations ground the out-there movie in reality, while also making great use of some New York's inherently spooky architecture.

    Very Special Effects

    Ghostbusters basically invented the genre of special effects comedy, so we'd be selling you short if we didn't mention the effects of the effects here. Reitman, Aykroyd, and Ramis were kind of stressed out about the effects at first because all the best effects production houses were tied up with other big-deal projects like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Return of the Jedi.

    Luckily for our boys, an FX wizard named Richard Edlund just happened to be free.

    Edlund had cut his chops on far-from-obscure films like Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Poltergeist, so no doubt he had the skills to pay the bills. The production still had no production house, though, so Reitman and Edlund decided to build their own.

    It was a crazy amount of work for the short production schedule Columbia had stuck the team with, and the last of the effects were put into the film just before its first screening. When an industry audience first laid its critical eyes on the film, its makers had never seen it all put together.

    These days, Ghostbusters' special effects look pretty goofy. Compared to the CGI craziness that effects wizards can pull off now, the stop-motion terror dogs, eighties neon proton pack blasts, and puppet Slimer look a little dated. Even at the time, Edlund admitted that the effects came out a little funky.

    If you ask us, they're perfect for the film though. Slimer is supposed to be funny looking. This is a comedy-horror, not horro-comedy, and the fun-but-cheesy effects totally catch the tone.

    Want all the deets on Ghostbusters' FX? Go here for a great series of videos that show you all the tricks.

  • Music (Score)

    The Legend of Elmer

    Reitman called in the big guns to score Ghostbusters when he enlisted the legendary Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004). From the 50's, the Academy Award and Golden Globe winning composer had been a heavy hitter in the soundtracking scene.

    Seriously, check out Bernstein's filmography here; it's off the charts. To Kill a Mockingbird, Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Magnificent Seven, True Grit—these are just a few of the many classic flicks to Elmer's credit. Not long before Ghostbusters came out, Bernstein also scored Reitman's comedies Animal House and Meatballs, making him a shoe-in for the job. 

    The critics give Bernstein's Ghostbusters score lots of props, for the most part saying that the music supports the action of the film, perfectly capturing the spooky yet quirky mood of the whole thing.

    One of the things that critics mention most is Elmer's use of the ondes martenot (an antique French synthesizer) to capture the ghostly feel of the film. You can hear the martenot creep-ifying the first scene in the library; it's the high-pitched synthy thing that kind of reminds you of B sci-fi movies.

    The cool thing is that Elmer took grade B sounds and wove them into a Grade A soundtrack. From the opening creepy music in the library, to the full orchestra blasts to announce the coming of Zuul and Gozer, to the romantic cello music of Dana's theme—Bernstein's ghostly score is dead-on.

    Ray Parker Jr. Ascendant

    If you ever meet the ghost of Elmer Bernstein and you feel like ticking him off, ask him if he's the guy who wrote the Ghostbusters theme song. Elmer's ghost will probably immediately slime you, and fly shrieking through a wall.

    In fact, the famous song that made "Who you gonna call?" a household phrase for an entire decade was written by a loveble one-hit-wonder named Ray Parker Jr.

    Ray's upbeat, catchy-in-an-80's-way theme song replaced Bernstein's quirky main theme in a lot of places in the film—a fact that nobody but poor old Elmer probably cared about.

    Seriously, America ate "Ghostbusters" up with a spoon. The song was a major hit and stayed at the top of Billboard Charts for three... yes, three weeks, adding around twenty million dollars to the movie's earnings. If you yelled "Who you gonna call?" out in the mall (it was the 1980's) probably a hundred people would immediately answer you with "Ghostbusters!"

    Yeah, it was creepy.

    Parker the Plagiarizer?

    Besides the fact that a movie theme song was his biggest hit, the only fly in Ray Parker Jr.'s chardonnay came in the form of Huey Lewis. The front man for the band Huey Lewis and the News sued Parker and Columbia Pictures, saying that the song stole the melody from Huey's song "I Want a New Drug."

    You be the judge.

    Whatever the case, Lewis settled out of court with Parker and Columbia, and the whole thing simmered down until Lewis mentioned the suit in a VH1 interview, violating the settlement's confidentiality agreement. After that, it was Ray Parker Jr.'s turn to sue.

    Fellahs, fellahs... you're both kings of the 80's, all right?

  • Fandoms

    People flipped for Ghostbusters when it came out. It was popular with kids, teenagers, parents, grandparents... well, some grandparents. Basically, the fandom consisted of almost everyone in America and anywhere in the world that had a movie screens.

    Kids were their favorite buster for Halloween, people got the characters' faces tattooed on their bodies, and one lady even convinced Ernie Hudson to give her away at her wedding while in costume as Winston Zeddemore. We're seriously not making this stuff up.

    Sure, the Ghostbuster fever has died down these days, since the movie did come out over 30 years ago, and (let's face it) the sequel didn't quite measure up to the original. But that doesn't stop a faithful cult following from maintaining tons of fansites. Like this one. Or this one. Oh, and don't forget the Ghostbusters fanfic. (Watch out; some of that fan fic is pretty steamy.)

    We could keep linking out to websites, but you probably get the point. Ghostbusters was a major hit in the 80's, and now it's a cult classic. You're not going to see as many Ghostbusters as you do Klingons at Comic Con, but you will see a few proton packs in the convention center. Now the question on every fan's mind is, "Will Ghostbusters III reboot things?"