Ghostbusters screenwriter Katie Dippold and her cowriter and director Paul Feig fully anticipated some blowback for rebooting the 1984 comedy classic about a rag-tag team of New York paranormal experts. But Dippold (The Heat, Parks and Recreation) didn’t expect to be slimed with viral vitriol so quickly. The haters came out in force on social media and comment boards from the moment it was announced Feig would be helming an all-female spin on the revered horror-comedy franchise that hadn’t had a new movie since 1989′s Ghostbusters II. With the new version hitting theaters on July 15, we recently spoke to Dippold about how the production handled all that backlash.
“I knew this was going to be tough, and I knew there would be a high bar. Because I feel the same about the original as everyone else does. It’s a really special, magical thing,” Dippold told Yahoo Movies. But, she added, “I didn’t think people would get mad in advance.”
The widely ballyhooed backlash certainly has something to do with nostalgic feelings for the first film, as reboot producer and original director Ivan Reitman has stated. But much of the criticism has also been rife with unabashed sexism and misogyny. It’s been a headache for the filmmakers to deal with — especially Feig, who has pleaded with trolls to come at him, not his cast members. In April, news hit that the Ghostbusters anti-fan army had mobilized to make its first trailer the most disliked in YouTube history.
Katie Dippold at the premiere (Photo: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
But as it turns out, the backlash also yielded comic opportunities. Some of the biggest laughs the new Ghostbusters earns come in the form of thinly veiled cracks at their critics’ expense. Since the hate erupted so early, it gave Feig and Dippold the rare chance to respond to naysayers within the actual movie.
It starts after scientists Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), and Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) post a video online of their first encounter with a ghost, a class-4 apparition. “We have over a hundred comments already and they’re not all crazies,” Yates says. “Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts,” Gilbert reads aloud. (Dippold told us the original screenplay version was more profane: “In the script it was, 'I wanna slap dem with this d—,’” she said, adding that it was tweaked to the more direct and family-friendly final version on the day of shooting.)
Later, after posting another video of malevolent spirits, Gilbert complains, “Everyone thinks this video is fake. Look at these comments…” To which Yates quickly fires back: “You shouldn’t be reading that stuff. You’re not supposed to listen to what crazy people write in the middle of the night online.”
Dippold insists the cracks emerged organically. “I honestly don’t even know if we were looking to do it, but it was so in our brain,” she said. “Because it really was our beginning to the story — them putting up these videos and being shut down. But then when that stuff was happening at the same time, I think it just made its way through."
Because of the controversy, and the heated, often-ugly debates surrounding the film’s gender swap, for better or worse Ghostbusters has become bigger than just a movie. It’s become part of a larger cultural conversation at a time when there is increasing attention being paid to lack of female representation in higher-profile film industry jobs, as well as lingering disparity in how much men and women earn. And that’s not lost on Dippold.
"I appreciate the pressure that it’s added,” she said. “I think people are looking at this to help push a movement, and I really hope it does. It’s nerve-wracking, but I wish it wasn’t even an issue.”
Watch our interview with the ‘Ghostbusters’ cast: