Picking up the continuity from the first two Ghostbusters films, Ghostbusters: Afterlife serves as a tale about multiple generations, both onscreen and off. In the film, Callie (Carrie Coon) and her kids Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) move to Summerville, Oklahoma after Callie’s father — none other than Egon Spengler — passes away and leaves her his farm. The kids are completely unaware of their grandfather’s ghostbusting history, but soon learn quite a bit as they discover equipment and information her left behind, as discover that, yes, there’s something strange in the neighborhood.
Behind the scenes, Afterlife comes from Jason Reitman, who co-wrote the film with Gil Kenan, with Reitman directing. Jason’s father, Ivan Reitman, co-wrote and directed the first two Ghostbusters films in 1984 and 1989, meaning there is some multi-generational ghostbusting going on for the Reitmans as much as there is for the Spenglers.
Reitman, Kenan, Coon, Wolfhard, and co-stars Celeste O’Connor and Logan Kim (who play Summerville locals Lucky and the self-nicknamed Podcast, respectively) discussed bringing Afterlife to life, continuing the Ghostbusters story, the film’s Amblin inspirations and more…
DREAMING OF PROTON PACKS
On top of it being a beloved, hit film, Jason Reitman of course grew up with the original as a huge part of his life thanks to his father. Regarding his inspiration for Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Reitman recalled, “One day there was this image of a girl in a wheat field with a Proton Pack and I just couldn’t get that thought out of my head. And then I saw this teenage boy who finds Ecto-1 in a barn.” Kenan, a longtime friend of Reitman’s, recalled Reitman describing those images to him, and how “it sort of connected the dots, that they were related to Egon Spengler.” For Reitman, “It became a story I just needed to tell.”
One very big difference between Afterlife and the original Ghostbusters is the setting, with the tiny, rustic town of Summerville serving as a distinct flip on the New York City locations of the 1984 film and its sequel. Regarding that change, Reitman laughed, “I wish I could point to something more than instinct. I loved the idea of finding all this old Ghostbusters equipment in a barn and in a farmhouse setting. The theme of the movie was reaching into the depths of our nostalgia and finding this stuff and bringing it back to life, so it always kind of made sense to me.”
Gil Kenan said the new location excited him and also felt necessary if they were going to bring Ghostbusters back, explaining, “It felt like we were going to really get boxed in if every single Ghostbusters film was saying that this movie exists because of its relationship between one city and and the people who are tasked with catching is ghosts. And what we were excited about was that actually, what makes a Ghostbuster is not the city that he or she lives in, but it’s their relationship to science; their sort of scrappiness, their individualism, their creative brilliance. What actually excited me about Ghostbusters, when I saw it as a little kid, was that these were outsiders who were basically ostracized by their peers and the authority figures in their life. And that, together, they found a kinship and a community – and were really fun to hang out with! They just happen to be good at their job, which was catching ghosts, with equipment that they devised. And so that is the DNA, if I had to pin it, for ghostbusting and so it felt like we could carry over the sort of essential spark, then really, we should be able to open up the conversation about where and how a Ghostbusters film can play out.”
MEET THE SPENGLERS
At the core of the film is Egon’s family, with the story’s protagonist ultimately being Phoebe, who very much takes after her grandfather both in scientific aptitude and social awkwardness, in a an excellent, star-making role for Mckenna Grace (Annabelle Comes Home, The Handmaid’s Tale).
Said Kenan, “McKenna is an exceptional performer. She just brought so much to the character. The great pride and joy that both Jason and I have leaving theaters after a screening of this film is that usually the first thing that audiences say about what excited or moved them about the film was Phoebe. That’s an incredible testament to Mckenna’s performance, Jason’s direction, and I guess a validation of the investment that we put in her character carrying the story.”
Though Grace wasn’t the only young member of the cast to already be a Ghostbusters fan, she might have been the biggest fan of the bunch. Said Reitman, “McKenna is such a talent and she loves Ghostbusters. I mean, she was wearing [Ghostbusters-type] flight suits when she was an infant! There’s all these amazing photos of her as a kid wearing flight suits. The first time she put on the Proton Pack, she just started crying. I mean, this is a girl who was born to wear a Proton Pack.”
Phoebe never met Egon, but for Callie, thoughts of her late father evoke nothing but bitterness as the movie begins. Carrie Coon noted she purposely didn’t try to evoke Ramis too much in her own performance, “Because Callie is so different from Egon and because they didn’t have much of a relationship. But those [traits] are embodied in Phoebe.”
For Coon, “What I loved about the script that Jason wrote is that that dynamic is so specific that Callie clearly understands her son and really is mystified by her daughter. And I think that can be true. It just felt really real. And I think that was the power of the original film, too – the actual circumstances and the stakes are very grounded in reality, not the supernatural, and that’s what makes the film so effective. And I think Jason and Gil just did a beautiful job making those relationships very specific on the page.”
Coon shares much of her screentime with Paul Rudd as Gary Grooberson, Phoebe’s teacher, who begins a potential romance with Callie. Said Coon, of working with Rudd, “He’s great. He comes from that Apatow-style world where he’s doing a lot of that improvisation and he’s been doing it a long time, so it’s really comfortable for him. Obviously, I do a lot of drama and I’m not necessarily the first person who comes to mind when you think of comedy. So to have somebody who is so confident in that world leading the charge, it made it a lot easier for me to jump in. He’s very generous. He’s very warm. He’s very funny. He’s all the things you think Paul Rudd is. So I’m here to tell you in the whole world, that he’s exactly what you think! And it was delightful.”
Regarding working with both Coon and Rudd, Finn Wolfhard said, “Carrie is so incredibly wise and such an amazing actor and just watching and learning from her the whole time was amazing. And just having she’s just the best person to have a conversation with. I love her. And, Paul, I mean, Paul is an absolute genius comedically as well as acting. I’m a giant Paul Rudd fan and I probably annoyed the crap out of him with all the Wet Hot American Summer questions, but he really stuck it out. I totally value the time with him.”
A TALE OF TWO TONES
Ghostbusters starred a group of comedic actors who all had broken out around the same time and had a specific vibe they brought with them that informed the tone of the film. When it came to Afterlife, the cast felt they weren’t being asked to replicate that tone with their performances but find their own groove with the material.
Coon appreciated that Reitman has so much experience in independent films and, with Afterlife, had made what she felt was “a studio tentpole movie, a franchise movie, but it feels like a family drama. And again, I think the stakes feel very realistic. I think that helps people relate to something that is ostensibly of supernatural quality. I didn’t need to ask any questions about the tone because the the writing was really clear.”
Logan Kim said it was made clear to the cast that Reitman “Wanted us to be just new characters because you can’t replace Bill Murray, you can’t replace Dan Aykroyd.” For Podcast — something of a legend in his own mind — Kim explained, “Jason wanted me to be outgoing and expressive but he also wanted me to show his vulnerability and curiosity. He let me take the reins and do the rest for myself. And he did that for all of us. He gave us a lot of freedom to do that. He wanted this to feel like a nostalgic experience while still being new. He would implement little Easter eggs but he wanted us to be our own characters.”
Ivan Reitman produced Ghostbusters: Afterlife and was a frequent presence on set and Celeste O’Connor said finding this meeting point between old and new naturally “came from the collaboration between Ivan and Jason, which was really cool to watch and to be a part of. Jason brought a lot of his visual style from his indie films and I think there are some really beautiful shots in there and and he brought his kind of tone, especially in relation tohe the core family, but then the humor I think is what feels really reminiscent of the original movies. It’s totally the father/son dynamic duo that made that happen.”
Wolfhard said he felt the younger Reitman, “Wanted to stay true to the original in his way but for the actors to kind of be in their own world, in their own movie. Because my character and Mckenna’s character, we don’t know the Ghostbusters. They have their own life and their own world. I felt a little bit of pressure at the beginning and he said to us, ‘Listen, I want you guys to have the most fun on any movie on this. I want you guys to be having the best experience of all time. Don’t think about any of the other movies and just focus on making this really fun and to be with each other, and really cherish this time. Because, I promise you, it’ll be really special. And that, I think, made us calm down a little more. And we just made our own thing.”
GEARING UP MAKES ME FEEL GOOD
At a certain point, the kids do indeed put on Ghostbusters uniforms, which Kim described as “Such a big honor because I seen those [movies] for my whole life and the fact that I am a Ghostbuster now, that that’s just a monumental experience for me, and there’s probably not going to be one like it again.”
One big scene in the film finds Phoebe trying out a proton pack for the first time, with Podcast beside her. And while the blasts for the Particle Thrower would be added later, Kim noted that on set, “They played the sounds and they played the lights and everything, just so we could have an idea of what’s going on here. And that actually was my first day of filming, so I had butterflies in my stomach and I was really nervous but I had a lot of fun out there in that field . It was really cool.”
Coon in the meantime admitted she had some Ghostbusters uniform envy. Asked if she’d would like to gear up herself, should there be a sequel, she replied, “Are you kidding me? Of course! What actor or actress doesn’t want to jump into the stunts and play with the boys? I don’t want to be just a just a run of the mill movie Mom. I want to get dirty!”
Celeste O’Connor described putting on a Ghostbusters uniform as “Totally surreal. It was an incredible experience. And I kind of felt the weight of that legacy and history and what it means to so many people. And it just felt really good to be able to be a part of that as a young person and a young woman of color as well. I honestly still can’t really believe it, but I saw the movie, so there is evidence that it actually happened!”
Amusingly, this is not Wolfhard’s first time in a Ghostbusters uniform, thanks to Stranger Things 2’s Halloween costumes. Afterlife’s release was delayed over a year thanks to the pandemic and looking back, Wolfhard said, “Because we shot it two years ago, it feels like a dream or something. You watch the movie and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I did that! It was the biggest honor I’ve ever had, to do something like that on screen.”
As the kids begin trying out the Ghostbusters equipment, we are introduced to new elements that were not seen in the first two films, but we can assume were upgraded by the Ghostbusters later. Explained Reitman, “From the Polaroid that comes out of the goggles to the gunner seat [on Ecto-1] to the ghost trap on wheels, we wanted to see the evolution of ghostbusting.” Reitman added it was important it still visually fit in with the original films and “Look like these scientists could actually build the stuff with their bare hands with found objects from the hardware store, but take it to the next level. Take ghostbusting to 70 miles an hour.”
THOSE AMBLIN VIBES
As much as Ghostbusters: Afterlife is, of course, inspired by Ghostbusters, there is also a very notable feel to it that evokes films Steven Spielberg either directed or produced, as part of his Amblin production company, as we watch these down to earth kids go on an incredible adventure.
Said Coon, “That’s one of the things I love about the film is that it feels like a film you would have gone to see in the theaters in the 80s. It feels very Amblin, very Spielbergian. It’s very much a Jason Reitman film but it has that great feeling… I don’t know how else to describe it except old school and it reminds me of my childhood.”
As Reitman explained, “It comes from my childhood and Gil Kevin’s childhood. Growing up on these Amblin films, our way of experiencing life was through filmmakers, like my father, Spielberg, Zemeckis… Watching these movies like E.T. and Gremlins and Goonies and Back to the Future, it was experiencing life like that. And so it’s not a shock that when we went to make a movie ourselves about nostalgia and about being young and about looking into the past and finding out who you are, that it would start to echo those films.”
Though many modern kids have seen Ghostbusters thanks to their parents, yet plenty have not, and Reitman stressed, “This is a movie made for whether you’ve seen Ghostbusters 100 times or if this is the first Ghostbusters movie you ever see. Either way, this is a movie for you. We wanted to make a Ghostbusters movie for everybody.”
It’s no secret that original Ghostbusters cast members Bill Murray (“Peter Venkman”), Dan Aykroyd (“Ray Stantz”), Ernie Hudson (“Winston Zeddemore”), Annie Potts (“Janine Melnitz”), and Sigourney Weaver (“Dana Barrett ”) appear in Afterlife in some capacity, but Kenan said there too they intended for it to work for all audience members, explaining, “it wasn’t like a mechanical process of figuring out ‘Let’s do the percentage of screen time before we allow another legacy character.’ They were decisions that were shaped purely through the writing and knowing that the Spengler family had a certain journey to go on and that at times that journey would bring them to intersect with characters who may have figured in Egon’s life. Those were the drivers that kind of shaped that path.”
Ghostbusters: Afterlife certainly ends in a way that leaves the door open for more, though Reitman doesn’t necessarily see himself as the one to do it. Said the filmmaker, “Really, we wanted to set the table for future Ghostbusters films. We wanted to see Ghostbusters films from all of our favorite filmmakers. Every culture has their own ghost stories and I’d love to see all of them on the big screen. I’d love to see that Ghostbusters logo on them.”
Ghostbusters: Afterlife opens November 18.