“Ghostbusters” has been something of a lost opportunity that screenwriter Max Landis (“Chronicle,” “American Ultra,” “Victor Frankenstein“) has openly talked about for a while now. Back in 2014, he shared details of his ultimately unmade pitch for a new “Ghostbusters” movie, which starts in the 1920s with Ivo Shandor (the character was briefly mentioned in the original “Ghostbusters,” but was the main baddie in “Ghostbusters: The Video Game“), before jumping to the present day. You can read the full pitch right here, but here’s an excerpt of the opening:
We start in the 1920s, where we witness cult leader Ivo Shandor proclaim the prophecy of the two comings of Gozer, one a failure, and the second thirty years later, to destroy the world. One of his followers speaks out, and is killed for his insubordination…becoming the spirit who is eventually known to us as Slimer.
Slam to 2016.
Ghostbusters was a national franchise, privately owned and government subsidized. But the lack of extradimensional invaders meant that there was ultimately a very limited amount of ghosts to bust, and the very optimistic national expansion slowly depleted the Buster’s funds (“Did the Atlanta chapter really need a helicopter?”). The Ghostbusters remain iconic, but despite the merchandise, cartoon show, etc, the company itself is bankrupt, on the verge of collapse.
Only two houses remain open; there hasn’t been a legitimate call in more than ten years. The original Busters are for the most part long gone; Venkman took the money and disappeared into seclusion, Winston Zeddemore quit the busters in 1991 and has since become a Richard Branson style billionaire, and Egon Spengler accidentally ascended to a higher plane of existence, leaving only the increasingly delusional Ray Stantz, who has run the company into the ground.
The New York Team is now comprised of Ted Becker, an earnest sweetheart living a dream born as he watched the Busters defeat Gozer as a little boy in 1985, Veronica Spengler, Egon’s Very Egon-Like daughter who feels in turns respectful and resentful of the hole left in her world, Brian Quaid, a fast talking breezily confident self-proclaimed psychic with a chip on his shoulder, and Irwin Oberstein, a gearhead MIT kick-out metalhead who sees the Ghostbusters as the ultimate way to explore his punk rock ideas about quantum physics.
So, as you can see, Landis’ take featured new characters, a connection to the original property, but definitely spinning into its own world and story. It’s certainly different than Paul Feig‘s approach, and as you might guess, Landis wasn’t all that thrilled with the new “Ghostbusters,” but mostly because he found it simply wasn’t all that exciting, and he doesn’t understand the showers of praise or vitriolic hatred the film has received. He doesn’t think there’s enough substance there to warrant that kind of reaction. Here’s what Landis said on Twitter (collected by Slashfilm):
3rd act gets really horribly dumb. Racist stereotype character is as advertised. Very funny parts. 5/10 The only really horribly cringey stuff in Ghostbusters has to do with there being like zero internal consistency with how the ghosts works. That and the stereotype of a “BIG SASSY YELLING BLACK WOMAN” which is like…Literally as advertised, the whole character. Really weird. They say they have to catch the ghosts. Then they kill the ghosts with energy bullets and by stabbing them with knives. Not kidding. Kate McKinnon is awesome. So yeah. They made a new Ghostbusters and it is pretty bland and kind of funny and parts of it don’t make sense and some of it’s racist. Part of me wanted it to be bad because reboot/gimmick/shallow, part of me wanted it to be great to piss off misogynists, I got neither. I’ve talked to people who HATED Ghostbusters 2016 and people who loved it. After seeing it, I’m amazed they had any kind of strong response.
So, you might be asking yourself, why doesn’t Landis just go and make his own supernatural comedy, then? Well, the thing is, he was once ever so briefly attached to write the new “Ghostbusters” movie, but lost the job. Why? Again, Landis has hit Twitter to explain at length how it all went down:
So about 2 years ago in a general at Sony I mentioned that I had wished I could work on the new Ghostbusters, but knew they had a script. I was surprised at the positive reaction to my idea during the meeting, and was asked to come back in with a fuller version of my pitch. As I understand it, they actually had 2 scripts, by 2 different teams, that had been through multiple drafts, and were now in competition. I didn’t really understand how that worked, but there was apparently enough contention about the two scripts that both were being thrown out.
I was very fired up; I would be pitching to one of my favorite execs, and got more and more confident in my idea as I fleshed it out. I wanted to create a Ghostbusters someone like Brad Bird could direct; a big, funny, exciting summer action movie that could make you cry. I went in VERY excited, pitched my heart out. After the meeting, we got the call. They loved it. All I had to do was meet with Reitman.
I couldn’t fucking believe it. I was writing the next Ghostbusters.
Because I’m a doofus, I began doing what I always do when I’m writing a big property; I dropped hints on twitter, pictures… GHOSTBUSTERS. I was writing FUCKING GHOSTBUSTERS. I couldn’t believe it. I knew it would be hard; assignments always are, but still- WOW.
But then the meeting with Reitman kept getting postponed. I was confused. One week. Two. Three. My agents told me not to panic.
I got a nice, sort of sad email from the exec I’d pitched to: Not this time.
What happened?, I asked.
Paul had swooped in very passionately with a long letter about what he wanted to do with the property, and my version was summarily out. This happens all the time in the industry; I don’t feel mad at Paul in any way shape or form, but man, what a fucking bummer to lose it. I slummed around for a week just bummed out of my mind; I couldn’t believe how close I had felt to such a huge property. It felt like Power Rangers all over again; I get a dream job, write my heart out, am summarily replaced for reasons not having to do with me. Which is a huge part of the arbitrary nature of the business; I’m not whining, and it won’t change, but it kind of sucks every time.
Then again, I reasoned, I was lucky to be in the position at all. But my experience with Power Rangers, Frankenstein, Chronicle 2 and then Ghostbusters had changed my outlook. I wanted out. In a lot of ways, Ghostbusters was kind of the final straw that led to Deeper and Bright. I didn’t want to feel that way again.
My Ghostbusters was not a sequel to Ghostbusters 2, but more as a sequel to the property itself; think ALIENS to ALIEN, T2 to Terminator. A sequel to the movie in all of our heads; “GHOSTBUSTERS!” A big fun character comedy with great action, crazy ghosts and a big heart.
Funnily enough, it also featured a handsome man possessed by a ghost, and was lead by a dorky female Ghostbuster. I posted this a while ago, but I’m very proud of it; it’s an artifact from my career that I think is worth sharing again. At the time, I wrote “I never pitched this.” That wasn’t true. I didn’t want to imply I was fucked (I wasn’t) or that I was bitter (I’m not). The new “Ghostbusters” will stand or fall on its own merits.
We’ll never actually know if Landis’ “Ghostbusters” movie is the “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” of the franchise, but I get what he’s saying. And while this is some pretty interesting inside baseball, I’m maybe more curious to know about those other two scripts that Sony dropped, and how they tackled reviving the franchise. But Landis is correct — at the end of the day, and controversies aside, Paul Feig‘s “Ghostbusters” will live or die all on its own.
“Ghostbusters” opens on Friday.