‘Ghostbusters’ screenwriter Katie Dippold (Getty Images)
“I was super-psyched, and also terrified.” That was Katie Dippold’s reaction to a lunch meeting she had with Paul Feig two years ago at San Diego Comic-Con, where the writer-director asked her to co-pen his yet-to-be-announced, all-female Ghostbusters.
Dippold already had the pedigree. She wrote The Heat, the Sandra Bullock-Melissa McCarthy action comedy directed by Feig that became a box-office smash in 2013 and gave the young scribe what they would call in Hollywood, well, heat. She was also on the writing staff of NBC’s beloved comedy Parks and Recreation and Fox’s MADtv.
But this was a whole other beast. It was a Marshmallow Man-sized responsibility, and the project instantly faced scrutiny for treading on the hallowed ground once occupied by Venkman, Stantz, and company in the 1984 fan favorite. In the end, though, “it was all from love,” Dippold told Yahoo Movies. “It was a love letter to the original.” And like any major studio blockbuster produced, there were countless tweaks between Feig and Dippold’s first draft and the film’s arrival in theaters this past weekend. Dippold, who is currently on the Hawaii set of the still-untitled comedy she wrote for Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn, broke down a bunch of those changes in our recent interview.
Warning: Ghostbusters spoilers ahead
I imagine a lot of the earliest conversations you and Paul had revolved around defining the film’s tone. Where did you start, and what ultimately did you strive for?
It was first to have new characters and a new story. At first he wanted it to be really scary. And so I actually think the first draft of the script is actually a lot scarier than it came out. Which is intentional, we wanted people younger to see it and for it to be fun for everyone. So I think that’s one thing that changed over time.
And we both love horror comedy, and for me the ones that work — it’s so rare that it works — I love Shaun of the Dead and American Werewolf in London and Cabin in the Woods. But I think for me the thing that works is when the characters are all real people, really grounded people, who happen to be funny in dealing with really intense, scary situations. And that’s something I loved about the original. Those are four completely real people. So that was another thing that we thought about a lot.
Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, and Leslie Jones in ‘Ghostbusters’ (Sony)
Why did you guys decide to create a new universe for these Ghostbusters, instead of, say, having them inherit the business from Venkman and crew?
That was all [Paul], that’s how it was first presented to me. I think for him, he loves an origin story. He didn’t want it to feel like these people were getting passed the equipment… And also doing a movie where this city had survived two ghost attacks, I think he just felt would feel tired or something. And there’s something fun about seeing something come together.
As a fan, I, too, would have loved to see a sequel. I would go crazy to see Venkman be Venkman again… But I don’t want anyone other than the original team to touch those characters…. To me this felt like a more respectful way to do it, honestly.
Speaking of Venkman, do you have any good Bill Murray stories?
When he came on set, everyone [makes gasping noise] gasped. It was just this amazing presence coming on. And he was just lovely and delightful and joking around with the crew, and he was just really nice. I couldn’t completely enjoy it, because for the past year I had been wondering if Bill Murray would do a cameo in this movie, and I didn’t know until a couple days before, for sure, if he was going to do it.
You never know if Bill Murray is going to do anything until he shows up.
Yeah. So when he did show up, I was like, “I can’t relax until the film is brought somewhere, like a safe.” I was so scared something was going to stop this from happening. I was just kind of in frozen panic, just watching.
Did it take a lot back and forth with him to finalize his character, given how he was the most hesitant of the original cast to do another movie?
No, not really. We just sent him the script and just waited to hear. And then one day he was like, “OK, I’ll go.” So it was just waiting.
So his role never changed at all. Did any of the other cameos?
With Dan Aykroyd … we originally had a scene in the script where there was this spiritual adviser named Rick Gale that we were hoping he would do. But then we ended up cutting the scene because it was kind of slowing down the story. Paul’s thing was he didn’t want it to feel like things were jammed in there… So he tried as much as possible to put [them] in [roles] that were already in the script.
Originally in the script the taxicab won’t pick her up, but then when he drives off without her, a ghost gets in the cab and kind of attacks him. But then we realized, I don’t know that we want to see Dan Aykroyd attacked [laughs]. That seemed terrible.
Dan Aykroyd at the premiere of ‘Ghostbusters’ (Getty)
Sigourney was probably the one that was most written for someone. And that one was the hardest one to figure out… God, I pitched on so many different versions of that cameo. One I wanted to do, but it was real hit or miss, when no one was believing them, as they’re driving in the city, and then this woman walks up, Sigourney Weaver, and she’s just like, “Hey, you know what? I don’t care what anyone says, I think what you guys are doing is great, and I absolutely believe everything you’re saying.” And then they’re like, “Oh my God, thank you so much.” And there there’s a couple options. One is she just walks away and then just lays down on the ground like a crazy person. Another one was she says that same thing to someone else on the street. Because she’s just a crazy person who just says this to everyone.
The film faced a lot of backlash from angry fans. Did you have to deal with any of that personally?
Not really. In the beginning there were some tweets directed at me. I feel like for some reason I haven’t gotten a lot of it in my direction. Every now and then I’ll see something and it’s alarming. And I clutch my pearls and gasp.
I tried the best I possibly could to make the funnest movie I could, or to write the script in the funnest way I thought possible. At the end of the day there’s nothing to really argue with. People will see the movie, I really hope they like it. If they don’t, that makes me sad. And if they do, great. But it just feels pointless to argue about beforehand, you know?
Are you able to step away from it and appreciate that it’s almost become bigger than the movie itself, in terms of the cultural debate it’s helping spark about sexism and gender roles in movies?
Yeah, I appreciate it in the sense that… I appreciate the pressure that it’s added. I think people are looking at this to help push a movement, and I really hope it does. It’s nervewracking, but I wish it wasn’t even an issue.
But it did make for a couple great lines — and those got some of the biggest laughs at the screening I attended. Like Kristen Wiig’s line about “ain’t no bitch gonna be busting no ghost.”
Yeah, in the script I think the line was a little less “I hate you” but also a little less family-friendly. In the script it was, “I wanna slap them with dis d**k.” That’s what was in the script [laughs]. Then on the day, it was changed.
So that was clearly your intent, though, to respond to them?
I honestly don’t even know if we were looking to do it, but it was so in our brain, do you know what I mean? 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.
I read that you guys tweaked some of the actual Ghostbuster roles as well — like Leslie was going to be a scientist and Melissa was going to be the subway attendant?
Paul was thinking about all sorts of people and having a tough time nailing it down, so he said, “Let’s just write it and then look at the characters and the dynamics.” So we set up four distinct characters and let their dynamics play and then looked at it and cast it. So in my mind, I just kept picturing Melissa as the MTA worker, and I had no idea who else the cast would be. But one, I’m just used to writing for Melissa now, with The Heat and The Heat sequel, which isn’t happening now, but… I also just think Melissa frustrated is really funny to me, her flustered. So the idea of her going from an MTA worker to suddenly being chased by ghosts I thought would be hilarious. And also I think she’s really funny dealing with any kind of elitism at all. So in The Heat when she was up against Sandra Bullock being this pretentious FBI agent, her dealing with some smarty-pants scientists, even though they’re the underdogs, I just think she would’ve been really funny doing that. But that was not anything official.
But then I do think Paul said, “Well, but we’ve seen her play that before, like in The Heat.” And then he thought Leslie is such a powerhouse he just wanted to put her in there.
Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in ‘The Heat’ (Fox)
Why isn’t The Heat sequel happening anymore?
We can’t get Sandra Bullock to do it. She said she doesn’t want to do any more sequels. I’m still hopeful she’ll change her mind because I really, really, really think she’s great. And I really loved this sequel. In the first one it’s revealed that she put the wrong man away, the Red Falls Killer, so the sequel starts with the guy she put away coming out of jail and she’s trying to right this wrong and go after the real Red Falls Killer. So it’s them kind of in The Silence of the Lambs world. It was really fun doing that.
But it’s more of a blanket deal, Sandra Bullock just doesn’t want to do sequels at all?
I don’t even know if she’s read it. She just said pretty early on that she didn’t want to do a sequel. I actually read the headline, I remember I was like three-quarters into the script and I remember I saw on a headline on like Huffington Post or something it said, “Sandra Bullock Has No Interest in Doing a Sequel.” I was like, “Oh! Well. Hit save on this, take a break.”
Would you guys consider doing it with someone else?
I don’t know. To me it’s so about those two characters. I can’t imagine — not that I’m comparing it to Lethal Weapon — but any of my favorite buddy cop movies, the idea of one of them changing would just bum me out.
Chris Hemsworth’s Kevin character is hilarious in this movie, and I’m not just saying that as a Kevin, but I did appreciate it. Did you always intend for him to be (a) male, and (b) the hunky male?
We always thought male. At least in the script, the hunky part wasn’t super-important. And actually even Kristen having a crush on him, she just kind of improvised and started doing it. That was something that happened during production.
Kevin probably changed the most because originally his character was this apathetic [guy]… I thought about what would have to be the most frustrating thing for them to deal with in an assistant? Cause these people are trying so hard to do this thing and they’re really passionate trying to prove something. So I thought they’d have this guy who was super-apathetic… But then in hindsight, I don’t think apathy is the funnest thing to play. And also because we changed it so he’s rescued in the third act. Melissa had a point like, “We need to care about getting this person back.” So we started playing around with it and Chris started improvising a lot, and it kind of became this lovable dummy.
My favorite parts of him are when he’s just really strange and you’re like, “What is this dude’s deal?” And there was so much stuff he improvised that didn’t go in. Even in the interview scene there’s a take where they’re watching him and he’s looking at a fire capacity [sign] and it says, “24,” and he looks at it and then counts the three of them, just to make sure they’re under capacity. He’s a really great improviser.
Have you guys talked sequel yet?
I am being real careful. There are directions that I think would be really fun to go in, but I can’t even allow myself to think like that… I just can’t let myself think that far ahead. I just hope people can enjoy this. Just stop there and then see.