Welcome back to Commentary Commentary, the weekly analysis of our favorite films and what the filmmakers have to say about them. This week we’re calling someone. Not sure who. It’s almost like there should be a classic line to fit in here, but right now it’s escaping me.
In addition to being a modern classic, Ghostbusters is also arguably the best comedy of the last 30 years. Plus, it features Reginal Veljohnson and William Atherton, two co-stars of Die Hard, so that’s something to note, right? The two also co-starred in Die Hard 2. We’ll have to cover Renny Harlin’s commentary on that classic some day. While you’re holding your breath for that, though, we’re in the mood to laugh, get slimed, and laugh heartily some more. So take a ghostly gander – yeah, I said it – at what we learned from the Ghostbusters commentary right here.
Commentators: Ivan Reitman (director, producer), Harold Ramis (writer, actor), Joe Medjuck (associate producer), lots and lots of slime
- The opening couple of shots were actually shot at the New York Public Library. The crew could only film inside until 10AM for one day. All of the scenes in the backroom of the library were filmed at the Los Angeles Public Library.
- The books floating from shelf to shelf utilized the old-school method of hanging them from a wire. Harold Ramis jokes this effect cost $250,000. Likewise, to get the cards flying out of the drawers, a false wall was set up, crew members pushed the drawers out from behind, and blew through copper tubes to achieve the effect of the cards shooting out. “Lot of air blowing in this movie,” says Joe Medjuck.
- The experiment Peter Venkman is conducting with the cards and electric shock is based on a real experiment. The Milgram experiment had subjects giving other subjects electric shocks when asked to give a list of words. The experiment was really set up to test people’s willingness to give electric shocks to one another. Harold Ramis jokes this scene was a test to see how well the audience could accept a hero who gave unfair electric shocks to his test subjects. According to Reitman, Bill Murray loved this scene.
- According to Reitman, there was a lot of discussion in the writing sessions about the vibe between the three leads. Ramis was the brains of the group. Dan Aykroyd was the heart. Bill Murray was the mouth.
- The story of how Ghostbusters got made is a very fast one in terms of chronology of the production. Aykroyd wrote a 40-page treatment over a number of years. He originally wrote it for himself and John Belushi, who sadly passed away before it could get made. The original story took place years in the future and featured several groups of Ghostbusters. The Marshmallow Man appeared on page 20 and was one of several large-scale monsters. Reitman says if they had made that film as written, it would have cost about $300 million in 1984. It was Reitman’s idea to focus on one group of Ghostbusters, a group who worked out of a station like firemen. It was Reitman and Ramis’s idea to show how the Ghostbusters got started rather than starting the film after the profession had been established.
- The slime used on the drawers in the opening library scene is actually methyl silos, a Chinese food starch. Still better than Twinkie filling.
- The first test screening on Ghostbusters was only three weeks after shooting was completed. Many of the special effects weren’t complete, but the ghost in the opening scene was. Reitman remembers when the film was screened for 200 people at Columbia Studios, they screamed and laughed at the same time. Reitman knew then they had successfully achieved the tone they were going for. Also at this screening, when Dana Barrett opens her refrigerator revealing the terror dog, only a title card saying “SCENE MISSING” was shown. The audience freaked out. Reitman jokes they should have left the crappy effects shot out and kept the “SCENE MISSING” card.
- When Aykroyd first saw the pole at the fire station set, which was actually an abandoned firehouse, he said they had to use it. “It wasn’t just a moment in the movie,” says Reitman.
- The gargoyle on the side of Dana Barrett’s apartment building is an optical effect, not a real gargoyle. Also the Gothic top of the building is an optic. The design of it was inspired by a building in St. Louis that has a replica of a temple build on top.
- As part of Sigourney Weaver’s audition for her part, she got up on a couch and auditioned as a dog. Reitman knew then she had to be in the film.
- Louis Tully was originally written for John Candy. Candy was called and told he had to be in the film, as many of the friends he had made Stripes with were involved. He didn’t understand the part and thought Tully should be played with a German accent. He also believed the character should own Rottweilers. He eventually passed on the role, and Rick Moranis who was waiting on the sidelines to play the part stepped in.
- Only one car was used for the Ecto 1. Medjuck jokes that no film would ever have only one of a car this old and beaten up to shoot with. The car used for the Ecto 1 finally broke down during the filming of Ghostbusters II. Not the only thing that broke down on that film, AMIRITE?
- When Bill Murray leaps over the railing to meet Dana, he almost doesn’t make it. His feet scuffing the top of the railing can be heard. “If he wouldn’t have made it, he’d be dead,” says Ramis. “He would have taken a few people with him,” says Reitman.
- “Sigourney always thought of herself as the Margaret Dumont of this story. She thought of the other Ghostbusters as the Marx Brothers and that her job was to keep the realistic center of the film and the story.” – Ivan Reitman
- When Dana is describing Venkman back to him, in the script the line was “You’re more like a car salesman.” Weaver ad-libbed “You’re more like a game show host.”
- Generally thought of as one of the quintessential New York City movies, only three weeks were spent filming in New York.
- Ramis points out that when the film is played in pan and scan, the shots of the three of them walking always cut him out.
- Dan Aykroyd always referred to Slimer as the ghost of John Belushi. “He’s just a party guy looking to have a good time,” says Reitman.
- The dream sequence/sex scene between Ray and a ghost was originally much longer and wasn’t meant to be a dream sequence. The scene involved the Ghostbusters spending the night at an old fort.
- Medjuck remarks that Ghostbusters shows its age by the amount of people who are seen smoking. He says all that had changed by the time Ghostbusters II came out, and no one smokes in that film. “We did ecstasy,” says Ramis.
- Medjuck presumes the violinist played by Timothy Carhart who is seen walking in Lincoln Center with Dana is who she would eventually marry and father Oscar.
- Reitman recalls running into William Atherton, who plays Walter Peck, about a year after Ghostbusters came out. Instead of warmly greeting Reitman, Atherton was genuinely pissed off telling the director he couldn’t even go into a bar without people wanting to pick a fight with him. People would also scream at him in public. Likewise, Ramis recalls Atherton telling him about a time when he was walking in downtown New York and a bus of tourists yelled “dickless” at him.
- The shot of lights coming through Dana’s kitchen door was inspired by Close Encounters of the Third Kind. “If Spielberg can do those lights, I can do those lights, and we’ll do them in kind of a different way,” says Reitman. Also, Ramis says this scene when the arms come out of the chair to grab Dana is the scariest one for kids. I can tell him first-hand he’s abso-damn-lutely right. I still have nightmares, man.
- The tall woman dancing with Louis at his party was played by Jean Kasem, Casey Kasem’s wife.
- Reitman had done the musical “Merlin” on Broadway with illusionist Doug Henning. Henning included a 360 degree turn with someone in mid-air in the show, an effect Reitman carried over into Ghostbusters. The shot of Dana levitating and rotating 360 degrees was all done on set. No post-production optical effects were utilized. This scene is one of Reitman’s favorites, and the director provided the guttural voice that comes out of Dana. He also did the voice for Slimer.
- Ramis mentions the digital revolution occurred between Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II. He says Richard Edlund who did visual effects on this first movie expected the optical-to-digital switch in the industry to be a “slow dissolve.” Instead, it was a “hard cut.”
- Reitman mentions he sees the Ghostbusters as hobbyists who had to make their own equipment from items they had laying around. If you look closely during the scene where Egon is testing Louis, Louis is wearing a colander on his head with lots of wiring coming out of it.
- Harold Ramis got married after Ghostbusters II. His hair at the time was still formed like Egon’s, lifted high on his forehead. He recollects as he was walking down the aisle, Bill Murray yelled out, “Your hair is perfect.”
- The scene with the Ghostbusters in jail was filmed at an actual abandoned jail. Aykroyd, ever the supernatural nut, claimed the jail was haunted. Medjuck remembers the film getting scratched during filming, the only evidence that something was really going on.
- When filming the third act scene outside Dana’s apartment building, production halted traffic on 65th and Central Park West, major through streets and connecting streets in New York City. This resulted in traffic being backed up to Times Square and all the way to the river. At one point, the production was told they had shut down about 60% of the traffic in Manhattan. Ramis recalls taking a break with Aykroyd one day while shooting on Central Park West, and Aykroyd noticed Isaac Asimov who lived in the area at the time. Aykroyd, a fan of Asimov’s, was excited and called out to the science fiction writer. Asimov asked, “Are you the ones responsible for this?” meaning the traffic. Aykroyd said, “Yes,” and Asimov responded, “It’s disgusting.” before walking away. Also, whenever someone in the area would ask Medjuck what was going on that was stopping all the traffic, he would respond it was due to Francis Ford Coppola filming The Cotton Club.
- To film certain scenes in front of Dana’s apartment building by Central Park West, the street and first three floors of the building were recreated on a set. This allowed them to shoot the earthquake scene among others. There are certain shots where Reitman, Ramis, and Medjuck can’t tell what is actually New York City and what is the recreated set.
- Slavitza Jovan who plays Gozar was always harnessed during the climactic scenes enabling her to flip around on set at will. Also the red contact lenses caused her immense pain. She would go on to have a bit part in 1999’s House on Haunted Hill remake, so she owes a lot to this movie. Also I remember her being in Ghostbusters more than the two minutes she actually gets. The flattop must have made an impression on me.
- The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man scene is in the final film exactly as it was written in Dan Aykroyd’s original treatment. Reitman was frightened at the step audiences had to take in how believable the creature was. This was his biggest concern at that first screening at Columbia Studios. At that time, they only had one shot of the Marshmallow Man, the one between the building of the monster’s head. It was enough to make the audience go crazy with laughter.
- While filming the final scene, the ending wasn’t completely worked out. Reitman recollects the “crossing the streams” idea had come up elsewhere in the screenplay prior to this, but using that to kill the Marshmallow Man came through working out the scene on set.
- “So let’s talk about this marshmallow,” says Reitman before explaining it was actually shaving cream. Huge laundry bags full of it were dropped on the people on set. Before the big drop on William Atherton, the actor asked Reitman if it was going to hurt. Reitman simply said he didn’t know. Evidently, menthol shaving cream was used resulting in at least one case of someone having an allergic reaction to it.
- Reitman states that people had more of a problem with the limited amount of marshmallow on Bill Murray than they had with the fact that the Ghostbusters survived or the Marshmallow Man in the first place. Of course, the idea of Venkman being covered much less than the other Ghostbusters was Murray’s idea. On the opposite end, Aykroyd loved the shaving cream and kept asking for more to be applied to him.
Best in Commentary
“I knew we were a hit the second weekend of release when I was walking through Manhattan there were kiosks at every corner with guys selling illegal, black market t-shirts with sayings from the movie and the logo all over it.” – Ivan Reitman
“We take credit for turning “slime” into a verb.” – Harold Ramis
“I think one of the nicest reviews we got for this movie said the whole film was like a perfectly told joke.” – Harold Ramis
“I think Bill does really well with women,” – Ivan Reitman
A lot of the Ghostbusters commentary features Reitman, Ramis, and Medjuck simply imitating lines of dialogue from the film as they occur, and you know what, I couldn’t care less. A film this quotable has to be…well quoted, and who better than the filmmakers to do it, proving the love they had for the film and its comedy. It also doesn’t hurt that the three commentators have a lot to add regarding insight into stories from the set and how-they-did-it moments of movie magic disclosure. Much is learned from the Ghostbusters commentary, and more importantly, it’s as entertaining as the film itself. Now excuse me, I’ve got some marshmallows to roast and the image of a flattop and arms coming out of my chair to flush out of my subconscious.