It was an overwhelming sight. Surrounding Jason Reitman were dozens of screenwriters, storyboards, and artwork for a franchise he’s known intimately his entire life.
No, we’re not talking about “Ghostbusters.”
Years before Reitman decided to finally follow in his father’s footsteps and direct a “Ghostbusters” movie, he was invited by Michael Bay to work on another blockbuster franchise — “Transformers.”
Reitman had a giant smile on his face as he recounted via
his very brief time in the Transformers universe, eventually working on scripts (specifically punching up the dialogue) for “Dark of the Moon” and “Age of Extinction.” By the end of his story, he drove home the point: Filmmakers are allowed to do things beyond what they are known for.
“It’s very easy to look at a director and their work and think this is the sum total of that human being,” he told Insider back in September. “The truth is I love horror films. I love big box office movies. To play in that ‘Transformers’ world was like, I used to play with Transformers now I get to play in ‘Transformers.'”
Now Reitman is taking that thinking a step further with his latest movie, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” in theaters November 19, the latest sequel in the franchise that his father, Ivan Reitman, launched. In 1984, “Ghostbusters” became a runaway hit and made the foursome — Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson — battling evil spirits around New York City household names.
Reitman, who’s built a career making Oscar-nominated dramas like “Juno” and “Up in the Air,” is well aware of his connection to the movie, which seems to haunt him almost like a ghost.
“I don’t go a day in my life without seeing someone wearing a ‘Ghostbusters’ T-shirt,” he noted.
For most of his life, the 44-year-old director has chosen to ignore his father’s movie-making legacy — vowing never to make a “Ghostbusters” movie. But all that’s changed now.
Reitman wrote the ‘Ghostbusters: Aftermath’ script in secret and only let executives read it one at a time inside a secured room
Reitman’s change of heart began with the idea of a girl in a cornfield, wearing a proton pack.
“A decade ago, I had this vision of a girl shooting a proton pack in a cornfield and suddenly popcorn flying up and her catching and eating it,” Reitman said with a far off look in his eye as he sipped on his morning coffee inside his home office. The sun shined in from his backyard window beside his desk.
“It was just one of those images where I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know what to do with that,'” he continued.
Reitman is the first to admit that he usually doesn’t embrace these types of ideas. His movies, up to this point, have been grounded in reality. He’s preferred the independently-financed dramas that explore the human condition and usually feature women going through challenging times in their lives like a teenaged pregnancy (“Juno”) or a mid-life crisis (“Tully”).
He’s always had the same answer when asked if he’ll ever make a “Ghostbusters” movie: “No.”
“I would make the most boring ‘Ghostbusters’ movie,'” he told Howard Stern back in 2008. “It would just be people talking about ghosts. There wouldn’t be any ghost-busting in it.”
But this idea of a girl wearing a proton pack in a cornfield was special. He couldn’t kick it.
“I suddenly knew who the girl was when Harold died” in 2014, he said, referring to Harold Ramis, who co-wrote the original “Ghostbusters” screenplay with Dan Aykroyd and played Ghostbuster Egon Spengler in the movie.
He began evolving the idea into a story and it finally got to a point where he couldn’t keep it to himself anymore. He had to tell someone — his father.
“He said, ‘I’ve been thinking about this idea,'” Ivan Reitman recalled to Insider about the first time his son spoke to him about doing a “Ghostbusters” movie. “I just stayed really quiet. I was excited, but surprised as well.”
Reitman then teamed up with screenwriter Gil Kenan to write the script. By 2016, the two were pitching it to Sony’s Ghost Corps, the production company formed to oversee the “Ghostbusters” franchise.
The pitch meeting ended with Reitman’s dad in tears, the project greenlit, and the promise that Reitman could work on the project in secret.
“I think only three people at Sony knew of its existence,” Reitman said of the script. “Each executive had to come by themselves to Ghost Corps and read the script in a room and then leave.”
“I really didn’t want it out there that we were writing this movie,” he continued. “Particularly after years of me saying I didn’t want to make a ‘Ghostbusters’ movie.”
Reitman used his own issues with his father to flesh out the family dynamic in the movie
One of Reitman’s fondest memories as a kid was going to the set of “Ghostbusters” back in the 1983. Side-by-side with his dad, he watched in awe as his father directed. It was an eye-opening experience for the young Reitman; a glimpse behind the curtain of how all those movies he went to see with his dad were pulled off.
Reitman even found himself in his father’s movies, having bit parts in “Twins” (1988), “Ghostbusters II” (1989), and “Kindergarten Cop” (1990).
But as the younger Reitman got older, he distanced himself from Hollywood. At Skidmore College he studied to be a therapist. When that didn’t pan out, he pivoted to creative writing at University of Southern California. He began making movies, but not the kind his dad made.
“He went on quite a different career path than I did,” Ivan, who also directed the 1989 “Ghostbusters” sequel, said. “I sort of had a very commercial bent and wanted to entertain in my own way, and I was comfortable in the studio system. He was working independently and was doing it very effectively.”
Despite clearly carving his own career path and even scoring best director nominations for both “Juno” and “Up in the Air,” Reitman said his father would still ask him on occasion if he would ever make a “Ghostbusters” movie.
“I never thought he was going to do it,” his dad admitted.
But Reitman couldn’t shake his “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” story. Set far away from the “Ghostbusters” firehouse in New York City, the “Afterlife” story follows a single mother (Carrie Coon) and her two children (Mckenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard) as they move to their late grandfather’s broken down home in Oklahoma.
As they try to adjust to their new lives, they realize that not only was their grandfather one of the original Ghostbusters, but they have to pick up where he left off, defending the world from evil supernatural forces who are on the cusp of taking over.
The movie has its laughs and many hat tips to the original movie (including Elmer Bernstein’s memorable score from the 1984 movie), but it’s surprisingly moving with its Spielbergian look at a group of young friends teaming up to save the day. Don’t be surprised if you shed a tear or two by the end of it.
For Reitman, that feeling comes from putting himself into the characters.
“It became a metaphor for my own fears about picking up the proton pack myself,” Reitman said of making the movie.
But Reitman went deeper than that: He put a lot of his abandonment issues, from having a father who was an in-demand Hollywood director for most of his childhood, into the role of Callie, the single mother, who feels her father never gave her much attention, as he was too caught up in ghostbusting.
“Look, being the son of a director is complicated,” Reitman said. “Being the son of someone who is obsessed with their work; I think about that with my relationship with my father.”
Ivan, however, admitted he didn’t see that real-life correlation in the movie, when asked.
“I’m too arrogant and too close up to my own sort of world, I think,” he said. “Though I understand that.”
While writing the movie, Reitman said he also thought a lot about how his daughter Josie grew up the same way he did — with a father busy making movies. And on top of that, Josie is a child of divorce, as Reitman and writer Michele Lee split in 2014.
“Every filmmaker is doing autobiographical work no matter what they are doing,” he added. “I made this movie for my dad. I made this movie for my daughter. I think it mirrors the ways that we want to be connected to each other.”
Reitman says Paul Feig’s ‘Ghostbusters’ opened the door for his movie: ‘Paul really did the hard work’
Reitman never thought he could get personal with a “Ghostbusters” movie, but it ended up being the most personal work he’s ever done, he said.
Along with the family inspirations that fueled the script, Reitman and his dad, a producer on the movie, worked side-by-side on “Afterlife.” Close to 40 years after young Reitman was on the set of his dad’s “Ghostbusters” movie, he was now directing his own with his proud father looking on — and making the occasional note at times. Well, maybe more than occasional.
“Sometimes it got complicated, as you can imagine with your father coming to work with you every day and weighing in on all your decisions,” Reitman said. “It tries on your patience, but at the same time we got to have a father-son experience unlike anything.”
“Most fathers and sons feel lucky they went camping together,” Reitman added. “We got to make a movie together.”
“Afterlife” is a movie that Reitman said wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the franchise movies his dad made along with the 2016 Paul Feig-directed all-female “Ghostbusters” movie.
Though Feig’s underperformed at the box office and felt the wrath of internet trolls who were appalled that their beloved franchise would get an all-female version, Reitman said it opened the door for his story to be told, and he hopes for different kinds of “Ghostbuster” movies in the future.
“When Paul made his movie, he kind of broke the doors open,” Reitman said. “Suddenly a ‘Ghostbusters’ film did not have to be about those four original guys in Manhattan. That was a big moment.”
“I want to see all kinds of ‘Ghostbusters’ movies,” he continued. “I want to see ‘Ghostbusters’ movies from all my favorite filmmakers, coming from all kinds of different cultures and different countries. Paul really did the hard work so that I could make this movie.”
And the result is a movie that’s already been generating a lot of buzz. Both Reitman and his father have been present at two surprise screenings, at this year’s CinemaCon and New York ComicCon, and both audiences were completely enthralled.
Reitman held back tears when he thought back to attending the CinemaCon screening with his father in Las Vegas in August.
“We walked backstage after the screening and it was really dark, they were using flashlights to guide us, and my dad stopped everyone and he pulled me into a hug and he was very emotional and he said, ‘I’m just so proud to be your father,'” Reitman said as his eyes began to well up.
It’s a Hollywood ending for a director who never wanted to make a “Ghostbusters” movie ever in his life. But could it have been more fear that was holding him back from helming a franchise that’s been part of him since he was old enough to walk?
There was a long pause as he took in that question. It’s clear this was one he himself had been trying to answer for years.
“I always felt this was the dragon that was waiting for me, and that the longer I didn’t make it, the more I was simply ignoring what was at the gate,” he finally said.
“I always felt the proton pack would be too heavy, but it turns out once you put it on it feels kind of light.”