EXCLUSIVE: Sony Pictures is eyeing an early 2015 production start in New York on its next installment of Ghostbusters. There is a major change, though. In the wake of the death of his close friend and original Ghostbuster Harold Ramis, Ivan Reitman has decided he won’t direct the film, after all. Instead, Reitman will help Amy Pascal find a new director to take over what everyone hopes will reboot what the studio considers to be one of its most important franchises.
In all the years Sony has tried to get this film up and running, Reitman has been the most stable part of the equation, long locked to direct his third installment. This included the long campaign to get Bill Murray to reprise his signature role, when it became impossible to even get him to read a script that Sony, Reitman and their other architect Dan Aykroyd were happy with. It has been clear for a while that Murray wasn’t going to be part of this, and momentum has been building. Then Ramis, a catalyst for some of the biggest film comedies of the 1970s and ’80s, passed away. That has changed everything.
Reitman spoke exclusively with Deadline on his decision, and I’m going to give him ample room to explain why he changed his mind after so many years of being the primary person pushing this forward.
“There has been all kinds of stuff, unofficially written about Ghostbusters,” Reitman told me. “I’ve been reading things online for about four years, speculation on who’s writing, what they’re writing, who’s in it, who we will use, and who’s directing. We’d decided not to comment up till now, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, and it was never clear what Bill was going to do. A lot of things happened in the last few months, the most significant of which was the passing of Harold, who was a very good friend who was extraordinarily influential in my career. We did five movies together including both Ghostbusters.”
Reitman confirmed the Murray chase, one that encompassed not one but two scripts.
“The first was done by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, and me, Harold and Dan helped them on it,” Reitman said. “It was a really good script, but then it became clear that Bill really didn’t want to do another Ghostbusters and that it was literally impossible to find him to speak to for the year or two we tried to get it going. When Bill finally…well, he never actually said no, but he never said yes, so there was no way to make that film. We decided to start over again, and I started working with Etan Cohen, with Dan lending a helping hand. Harold got sick about three years ago, and we kept hoping he would get better. I kept pushing forward on the Etan Cohen and we now have a draft that is very good, that the studio is very excited about.
“It’s a version of Ghostbusters that has the originals in a very minor role,” he said. “When I came back from Harold’s funeral, it was really moving and it made me think about a lot of things. I’d just finished directing Draft Day, which I’m really happy with and proud of. Working on a film that is smaller and more dramatic was so much fun and satisfying. I just finally met with Amy and Doug Belgrad when I got back. I said I’d been thinking about it for weeks, that I’d rather just produce this Ghostbusters. I told them I thought I could help but let’s find a really good director and make it with him. So that’s what we’ve agreed will happen. I didn’t want all kinds of speculation about what happened with me, that is the real story.”
Sony’s Pascal confirmed this. “We totally understood,” she told me. “He was thinking he might feel that way when Harold died, and then came back to us and confirmed it, that while he was excited to return and make the movie as producer, but did not feel he wanted to direct the movie. We are delighted to work with Ivan on this movie in that capacity. We love him, and he’s going to continue to play an important role. We’re very anxious to get the movie started.”
The movie should give Sony a fresh start franchise and building those is a Sony priority, from stalwart James Bond to expanding the Spider-Man universe to rebooting Men In Black, and already commissioning Richard Wenk to write a sequel of the fall release The Equalizer, with Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua game to reprise a movie whose test scores have the studio bullish.
The death of a close friend and collaborator like Ramis can only make one question a lot of things, and Reitman was left feeling that retracing his steps without Ramis being there just didn’t feel right.
“It was such an amazing time in my life 30 years ago, and I felt that way on the second film,” he said. “With Harold no longer with us I couldn’t see it.” Reitman said he’s proud of the way that the film has remained vibrant, even with all the fits and starts and obstacles for production. “It really seems to have resonated, and I think a lot of adults who saw it when they were younger have shown it to their kids and they seem to respond much the same way. Sony sees this as a huge worldwide opportunity, and it is eager to make the film.
Reitman said they are already working on a short list of directors they’ll go out to, and then it will be time to find the new cast. “I’m not going to say how many Ghostbusters there will be in the new cast, but we are determined to retain the spirit of the original film, and I am pleased that all of this seems to have happened organically,” he said. “I’m hoping we can get started by the fall, set in New York, but given the logistics and the stuff that happens, the beginning of 2015 seems more likely.”
I tell Reitman I was around New York during that first movie, when traffic had to be re-rerouted each day near Central Park because of the mayhem created by the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and the other slimy ghouls that haunted that film.
“I am proud to have a long history of closing big boulevards in New York,” said Reitman. Now he’ll just do it as producer. He’s repped by CAA.