Jason Reitman, son of a Ghostbuster, on making a sequel about the daughter of a Ghostbuster
Seemingly out of nowhere, Ghostbusters has become the most preciously held franchise outside of something like Star Wars. What started as an eccentric sci-fi comedy from the mind of Dan Aykroyd has now turned into a third rail of genre filmmaking. In the decades between Ghostbusters 2 and the 2016 Paul Feig reboot Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, countless attempts were made to resurrect this universe. Perhaps all that waiting is why the response to Answer the Call and this month’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife seems so fraught. Audiences expect something from these movies, but what that is is a bit of a mystery. Too much nostalgia. Not enough nostalgia. More or less irreverence. The original film was a lightning bolt into the popular consciousness back in 1984. Replicating that might be the hardest thing to do in franchise filmmaking.
Despite all of those existential hurdles, Jason Reitman, son of the original director Ivan, took on the job of rebooting and continuing the Ghostbusters mythology with Afterlife. Reitman and I spoke the day after the first screening of the movie, at New York Comic-Con. Reitman was upbeat in that moment, luxuriating in the aftermath of that successful exhibition. But now, the film faces wider audiences who might be more skeptical of the path he’s chosen. When we sat down, we discussed why he chose that path, assembling his cast of kid Ghostbusters, and his philosophy on directing Bill Murray.
[Ed. note: This conversation has been edited for clarity.]
I want to ask you, first up, how did it feel yesterday to finally show it to fans? And that reaction, and that emotion come out of people?
Jason Reitman: Amazing. I mean, look, we’ve been waiting to show this movie for awhile. It feels like this secret that we’ve been holding on to and like, it’s like Christmas Day. Christmas Day got pushed a year. Yeah. And I’m just waiting for that audience to open up the present. And I really only had one experience at Comic Con. Prior to this, I had been to Comic Con 10 years ago for Jennifer’s Body and to be there with Ghostbusters and to be there with my father. And to be there with, you know, the cast. And my writing partner Gil Kennan and to watch them enjoy this film and hear those chairs and watch my father cry. I don’t know how to explain it like it.
The only screening I’ve ever had, like this was when Juno played Toronto 10 years ago. And even still, it didn’t have that familial thing of watching my father watch this film. It was overwhelming.
There’s a serious amount of catharsis to this movie. And when I was watching it, people around me were like, gripping the arms of their chairs at the end. Like people were holding it in as best they could. So I can only imagine what it was like for Harold’s family and Harold’s kids to see this. What was their reaction when they saw this movie, and saw their father recreated in the movie.
I don’t want to speak too much for them. But they love this film. They were moved by this film. The first person who ever read the script was my father. The next people who read the script were Harold’s wife, Erica, his children, his daughter, Violet, who I grew up knowing on set myself. And they’ve been a part of this film from day one. Reading it, coming to set, coming to the edit. And it was obviously really important to me. I wasn’t gonna make this film unless they were okay with it. From everything I can tell, they’re very proud of it. And beyond that, I think I’d rather they speak for themselves.
This is a departure for you in a sense. It’s a blockbuster. You’ve done a lot of smaller movies before. But it’s still a movie about family drama, secrets, how you communicate across generations. Why is it still so common and so relatable for audiences to see that kind of issue, but then see it played out in that catharsis that comes out at the end of the movie?
This is the big thing: No matter how long humans have been around, we’re still figuring out a way to talk to each other. And we’re particularly still trying to figure out a way to talk to each other as family.nAnd each generation kind of leaves the next one with this kind of equation to solve. And I really wanted to tell the story of a single mom and her two kids discovering who they were. And through that discovering their relationship with Ghostbusters. My story is the story of being the child of a Ghostbusters. And it’s kind of no shocker that the Ghostbusters movie I would write is that of a girl learning she’s the granddaughter of a Ghostbuster.
Was there any trepidation as you’re going through this process? Or the feeling of weight on you? Or even just that your father will be judging you? Because I think every child goes through that. Are they judging me? But now you’re doing this very publicly with a film.
Tell me about it. I’ve experienced this relationship since my father looked over my homework. And since I developed the courage to show my father, my first short film scripts. He made an early decision to always approach me as though I was a professional screenwriter, even when I was writing my first few pages of dialogue. And it was challenging. It made me a better writer immediately. And it gave us this language to talk about life in a whole new way.
My father and I talk almost every day. We talk almost always about movies. Our relationship with the world goes through movies. And the most intimidating thing I’ve ever done is pick up my father’s franchise and attempt to make a film in it. And he sat next to me the whole way through. God knows I wanted to make him proud. And last night at Comic Con, I watched crowds cheer for him. And he cried. And it made me feel like a good son.
Talk to me about the development of this, because it’s been through so many iterations. And I’m sure you saw many of the false starts that your father went through to make a continuation of the first film. All the things that they tried to do that they just couldn’t get off the ground. When you’re taking on this job, and you say, I’m going to do this, I’m going to try and make this work, at what point did you decide it’s going to be kids? Because it could have been adults, it could have been teenagers. And you chose this very particular age and these very particular children, these characters. When did you decide on that approach to revitalizing this thing?
Jason Reitman: Right. I mean, I think they found me and I know that sounds … I don’t even know what it sounds like. But this image popped into my head of a 12-year-old girl with a proton pack. I’m not sure if that’s because I had a daughter, but I just saw her with a proton pack. Originally she was in a field of corn. She fired into the corn and the corn popped up into popcorn, she ate the popcorn and smiled. That was it.
And then there was this teenage boy who finds Ecto One in a barn and starts drifting through the wheat field, almost like a snowboarder on a run. I didn’t know who they were. But eventually, I knew that there were Spenglers. And that became my way into the story.
You know, I think at the end of the day, storytelling is an instinctual thing. You’re pursuing something you don’t even know why. And I didn’t know why I needed to tell the story and then I was already telling it.
There’s something very elemental about kids in this franchise. And, you know, especially people of my age, who grew up with the toys and everything. It’s very tactile, all the gadgets and things. It feels right. And the kids that you cast in this movie made me feel like how I felt when I discovered Ghostbusters. What was that process of finding this great cast of four kids who really embody different aspects of why children love Ghostbusters?
That’s a great question. You’re right. A big way into this movie was, my father made a movie about the Ghostbusters. This is a movie about all the people who grew up wanting to be Ghostbusters. And we needed to find four young people that really brought to life that idea of wanting to pick up the proton pack and wanting to get behind the wheel of Ecto One. And McKenna Grace is someone who’s wanted to pick a proton back basically, since she was born. There’s photos of her in the flight suit going back to her being an infant. She’s always loved Ghostbusters. When she finally put on a proton pack, she just started to weep. And we knew we had found our girl.
Finn Wolfhard is also a lifelong Ghostbusters fan. You know, we got a nice preview of what it looked like to see him in a flight suit on Stranger Things. And Logan Kim and Celeste O’Connor, two people that I didn’t know prior to this process, were both Ghostbusters fans but also just great actors. They had this kind of innate talent to them. Celeste is like a subtle, indie kind of actor. And Logan feels like he would have been cast on Saturday Night Live in 1975. I mean, he’s just this kind of rare talent with so much confidence and they had this wonderful chemistry together.
Let’s talk about the return of the original cast because, I think a lot of people are going to be so thrilled when they get to that part of the movie and to see Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson come back in the costumes. What was it like to direct them specifically because you’ve got the new cast and everybody and then you have the cast of your father’s movies. And when you’re directing them, maybe they’re like, I know how Venkman talks.
Jason Reitman: Again, great question. When I was directing McKenna and Finn, I felt like I was directing my Ghostbusters movie. The moment the original guys showed up, I felt like I was a kid on again on this set of my dad’s Ghostbusters movie. And there’s only so much you can tell Bill Murray how to be Venkman. He knows what he’s gonna do. He knows what he’s gonna say. And you just got to make sure the cameras are rolling.
Did any of them have particular pieces of wisdom either for you or for the new cast? About taking this on and carrying this story forward?
Jason Reitman: You know, they each approach it from a different angle. Right? And, you know, Dan Aykroyd actually originated the idea of what Ghostbusters is. And his relationship with the mythology and his knowledge base — old sci-fi and ghost stories — makes it so that you just kind of want to write down everything he says because he speaks in Ghostbusters dialogue. Ernie, frankly, represents the heart of it for me. He speaks and you immediately see the kind of connective tissue of what made the Ghostbusters friends in the first one.
Bill’s sense of humor. His ability to be ironic in the face of anything represents the ethos of Ghostbusters. So I think we were all kind of picking up on that energy and finding out how much to toggle between those different identities.
Last question, and this is one I’m sure you can’t answer. Will we see Vigo again? In the sequel, it’s gotta be the painting.
I have a deep affection for Ghostbusters 2. I am, of course, in Ghostbusters 2 which is probably why I don’t watch it as much as the original. And I love the character of Vigo the Carpathian. I have no idea when or if he will be resurfacing.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is out now in theaters.