Thirty years after the debut of the beloved franchise, Ghostbusters is back on the big screen, with new ghostbusters, new tech, a new villain and new ghosts, all while providing nods to the original. This time around, the ultra funny Melissa McCarthy (who plays Abby Yates, passionate about the paranormal and science), Kristen Wiig (who plays Erin Gilbert, a physicist who also believes in ghosts), Kate McKinnon (who plays Jillian Holtzmann, an engineer and inventor) and Leslie Jones (who plays Patty Tolan, expert on all things New York City) must save the world from a crazed madman who’s looking to unleash countless ghosts on the unsuspecting population.
At the film’s press day, Collider sat down with screenwriter Katie Dippold (who worked on the script with director Paul Feig) for this exclusive interview about how daunting it is to tackle a 30-year film legacy, what she was most excited about, what she was most nervous about pulling off, why they made a reboot and not a sequel, how much the story changed during development, being frozen with fear during the filming of her scene in the movie, and what she’s learned from collaborating with Paul Feig. She also talked about writing a mother-daughter action-comedy for Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn, and how it’s best on her relationship with her own mother.
KATIE DIPPOLD: It was a real choice I made. I was terrified, at first, but at the same time, it spoke to everything I love. Not only do I love Ghostbusters, but in general, I’m a huge horror-comedy fan. It’s also hard to get a big horror-comedy made today. There were a billion reasons I was so excited to do this, but I knew the bar was going to be very high and I knew there could very possibly be painful times ahead. I just love Ghostbusters so much, I couldn’t say no, even though I knew it was going to be very tough.
What were you most excited about, when it came to writing a Ghostbusters movie, and what were you most nervous about pulling off?
DIPPOLD: I was very excited about writing new scary sequences. For me, what makes Ghostbusters so wonderful is that it’s so grounded. It’s four very real people, who happen to be funny, going on these missions. You’re just so excited because it’s so spooky and so fun that it’s magical. I wanted to work on new places in New York, just to get that feeling again, especially with these new actors. That was most exciting to me. Also, the character stuff was really fun, to think about new ways in and new dynamics. The hardest part was the villain plot line, just because the first two movies are so in our heads. The first thing we talked about was the way in. It started with us thinking about how most scientists don’t really believe in ghosts today. There’s not going to be a para-psychology department at a college. So, then I thought about what kind of person that would be. And then, I thought, what if someone wants to believe in it, but they’re trying to hide it because now they’re an established physicist at a university. And then, I thought, okay, what if she wrote a book with a friend and that friend has been following it this whole time while she hasn’t, and that friend is a fringe scientist. Starting from there was easier and more fun, but the bad guy stuff was tougher. It’s harder because the dark god, Zuul, is so in my head. We even had versions of doing a dark god for awhile, but ended up lifting it. That was trickier.
With how many films now want to build a connected universe, it’s a bit surprising this new film didn’t connect to the old one, at all, and instead just chose to pay homage. How much debate did you guys have about whether to make this new Ghostbusters connect to the older films?
DIPPOLD: What was brought to me was always a reboot. Paul [Feig] wanted to do a reboot, and it was important to him to have new characters and a new story in this ghost-busting world. He just loved Ghostbusters and the idea of busting ghosts in New York City. It’s just really fun, so why not do that again, on a big screen with today’s effects? So then, it was just a constant debate of how many nods to the original that we wanted to have. I felt like it was going to be really hard to make everyone happy because I could see the argument for having it be all new stuff, but then I could see the argument for wanting to have more nods. For me, personally, it makes me so happy to see some of those things again. Dammit, I want to see Slimer! I just want to see him. So, it just came down to what we’d be excited to see again. The bummer is that I wish none of those things were spoiled. The real fun would have been being in a new story with new characters, and then two-thirds of the way into the movie, you suddenly see Slimer. I feel like that would have been exciting. Now that that’s out there, it bums me out. But, no movie can come out that way anymore.
Was there ever a studio mandate that the new film be part of a new universe that could be continued?
DIPPOLD: I don’t know. I can’t really remember what the studio had to say about that, honestly. I would love a world where that’s possible. I have no idea what to expect. I’m prepared for anything. I’ve been preparing for worst case scenario since day one.
How much did the story change during development? Were there any big changes?
DIPPOLD: I feel like the characters pretty much stayed the same, but obviously, the actresses brought a ton to those dynamics because they’re all amazing. And the basic story stayed the same, but the bad guy plot changed a lot. There were so many different versions of it. Also, there were different set pieces. There were things that we thought we could do in one place that it turned out we couldn’t, so we had to reconfigure things. There were a ton of scenes that were cut, in the script and in the movie. In the very, very, very first draft, before anything, Act 3 was that all of Manhattan had been evacuated and they started in lower Manhattan and worked their way up, seeing all of these different ghosts from the history of New York. But then, we realized that would be a thousand billion dollars, so that didn’t seem feasible. There was so much material written for this one two-hour movie.
Did you write your own scene for the movie?
DIPPOLD: I wrote that scene, but I did not think my face would be in it, at all. Paul asked me, not that long before it was shot. I was so scared. I’ve done different small things and I usually don’t think about it too much, but there was something about that day where I was frozen with fear. I think it’s because I was also shooting in the Ghostbusters headquarters, and also with Kristen Wiig, who I’ve looked up to for so long.
What’s the craziest idea that you guys came up with that you knew there was no chance you could do, and what was the craziest idea that you’re can’t believe you were able to do?
DIPPOLD: The one that I can think of was Paul’s idea. Early on, there was a version where the showdown was at the top of the building, and the way they got to the ground was that they would all fall off of the building. And then, we had to figure out a way that they’d survive that, so we thought maybe it was the Thanksgiving parade balloons. Now that turned out to be not possible, so that’s something that is not in there. And then, something that is in there is the subway sequence when they’re dragging Kristen. I thought that would be physically impossible to pull off, but the crew was so good. I also forget that Hollywood effects exists. In my mind, I was like, “How are they going to get a real train to do that?” They are always amazing. It’s always astounding to me, the stuff that they can do.
You also wrote the new Jonathan Levine movie. Does that have a title yet?
DIPPOLD: No. Please give me one, I beg you. I don’t know why it’s so hard.
What is that film about?
DIPPOLD: That is based off my mom. When I was younger, my mom was always very adventurous. Her and my dad divorced when I was in college, and she’s gotten more concerned about safety. She wants to make sure the doors are locked. I feel like there used to be a more adventurous spirit in her. She’s still lovely and awesome. She’s like, “I’m 66 years old, just leave me alone right now.” So, we got her to sign up for a dating profile on eHarmony, and it was the most phoned-in profile I’ve ever seen in my life. She complained it didn’t work, so I looked and she had no photo and she had a typo in the first sentence, but she’s a very smart woman. And then, she got mad in one of her answers and used all caps. I was like, “What were you doing? You were purposely phoning this in!” In all fairness to her, she’s like, “I’m happy, let me be.” But I started daydreaming about, what if I took her on a crazy vacation somewhere, and then I took us off the beaten path, just to shake things up. So then, I started thinking about a movie version of that. So, the movie is that. She gets taken off the beaten path, but then everything the mother feared is correct. So, it’s then basically trying to get to an American embassy through the Amazon rainforest and whatnot. I still need to take my mom on this trip, and I swear I’m going to do it, this year. At the end of production, I will take my mom on vacation and not just mock her through this movie.
Is your mom aware of this movie?
This is Goldie Hawn’s first feature in nearly 15 years.
DIPPOLD: Thank god, it’s Goldie Hawn, so my mom can be excited.
How did it feel to get her back in a movie?
DIPPOLD: Oh, man, I was the biggest Goldie Hawn fan, my entire life. It’s really, really exciting. And seeing her back in action again, she’s so amazing and so funny. I’m really excited for people to see this.
When you write something for Amy Schumer, do you also write it with Amy Schumer? How much does she contribute to the writing and development, being a writer herself?
DIPPOLD: Amy is a really, really hilarious writer and did passes on the script. She’s super funny, and I feel like the core of our senses of humor is really similar. It’s actually been really fun. She’s hilarious, and also a great actor. There are moments in the movie where I’m like, “Oh, damn, look at you!” She’s really great. And seeing them together, they’re really awesome together. From the beginning, Amy always pushed for going after Goldie to play the mom ‘cause she was a big fan. So, them together is really special.
As a writer, is it more fun to be the person who gets the credit when someone funny ad-libs a great line, or is it personally more cool to hear someone funny saying your lines?
DIPPOLD: I always want the funniest thing, whatever that is. Whether it’s mine or theirs, I just want it to be funny. It took awhile for me to learn, but Paul always says that, if you try to control the script and control making sure things are said exactly how you pictured it, it’s a mistake because you’re not just letting things fly. If you have great improvisers and really funny, smart people, you just have to trust that what they’re doing is making it better. So, I’ve been very lucky, in every situation I’ve been in, that that’s the case. I’ve also been really lucky that these people are very smart comedians and they’re really great at that.
What have you learned about yourself, as a writer, from working with Paul Feig, and how do you think you’ve changed and evolved since collaborating with him?
DIPPOLD: There’s a scene in The Heat where Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock are arguing in the diner. The way I had it was a little too jokey, and I remember that he did a pass of it that just was really focusing on their fight and their dynamic. He’s really helped me with that. I learned at Parks and Rec to focus on the story first and the jokes second, but it’s still so hard to not do that. So, I feel like he’s really shown me more about relationships and friendships in movies, and how to really hit that as hard as possible.
Ghostbusters opens in theaters on July 15th.