Tag Archive | Harold Ramis

The Struggle Part One: Time Is But A Window (Excerpt From The Cancelled Ghostbusters Book)

UPDATE (9/24/19): This book is no longer cancelled. In February of 2019, Lyons Press contracted me to fill a tome about the long, storied history of the Ghostbusters films. All of ’em — the old ones, the new ones, the ones they never even made. It’ll probably be out in 2021.

I’ve always considered myself a pretty serious student of this franchise and eight months in I can’t believe how much I’m learning. There’s still a year of research and writing to be done but I think the end result will really be something special. My fingers are crossed y’all will agree.

Below is a sliver from A Convenient Parallel Dimension, the Ghostbusters history book I’d been working on for the past few years, a book Taylor Trade wanted to publish until we discovered an official GB history book is coming from Sony this Fall. The portion here discusses one of the more interesting stretches in franchise history: the path between the first film and the 1989 sequel. Keep in mind this is a draft reflecting ongoing research. Tributaries would have been richer had this project survived. In any event, you should get an idea how the book would have read, and perhaps you will learn a thing or two. Enjoy, fellow ghost heads.

Hollywood has never been widely acclaimed for integrity or restraint. This is particularly true of 1980s Hollywood, where the prestige pictures of the ’70s faded away in favor of broad blockbusters and endless sequels. The bottom line ruled and studios squeezed as much as they could out of already proven formulas. Rocky Balboa was spread across three sequels; John Rambo, two (wherein Rambo was transformed from tortured everyman into bare-chested cartoon killing machine). There were eight Friday The 13ths, five Nightmare on Elm Streets. Three Cannonball Runs, three Back to the Futures, three Supermans. Caddyshack II, The Jerk Too, Arthur 2: On The Rocks.

And yet we almost exited the 1980s with just one Ghostbusters, despite the original film’s mammoth success. This is mainly because the one person in Hollywood violently opposed to the sequel-ization and blockbustering of movies was, ironically, also the single figure who could start or stop a Ghostbusters II. And stop it he did for as long as he could.

David Puttnam was a London native who abandoned the world of advertising for a career in film production, beginning with work on mid-’70s entries such as That’ll Be The Day, Lisztomania, and Alan Parker’s infamous 1976 kiddie gangster flick Bugsy Malone (starring sixteen year old Scott Baio in the title role). Through his own Enigma Productions, Puttnam managed to produce a series of acclaimed movies including Cannes favorite The Duellists, 1981’s multiple Academy Award winning Chariots of Fire, and landmark Cambodian drama The Killing Fields. It was this track record, plus Puttnam’s general rap about making “inspirational, unforgettable films” which helped to “raise the spirit of the whole world,” that impressed David Goizueta, CEO of Coca-Cola, the company that bought Columbia Pictures in 1982.

Things had been rocky for Columbia during the tenure of CEO Frank Price, who was installed in 1978. Hits like Tootsie, Kramer vs. Kramer, Gandhi, and Ghostbusters (which Price greenlit before his exit) were offset by numerous duds and disappointments. Neighbors, the final collaboration between John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, was a strange mess that went nowhere at the box office. It was the same story with Seems Like Old Times, a Chevy Chase heist comedy that at least managed to strike a chord with film critics. Worst of all was 1941, an outlandish war spoof directed by Steven Spielberg and co-producted with Universal Pictures; to this day, 1941 is remembered as the aggressively unfunny smudge that signaled the abrupt end of Spielberg’s untouchable streak.

Frank Price’s replacement Guy McElwaine fared no better. In fact, he may have done worse: though McElwaine did get the Karate Kid franchise off the ground he also sunk fortunes into several projects that quickly came to define cinematic disaster: Richard Pryor’s masturbatory Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling, the Warren Beatty / Dustin Hoffman desert spectacle Ishtar, and soft core adventure flop Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Desperate for balance, David Goizueta gave David Puttnam a three year term as Columbia’s CEO in 1986 with a parachute of $3 million.

Unfortunately, Puttnam was not interested in balance. While Goizueta had been enraptured by the Briton’s talk of enriching, uplifting film product he’d apparently fallen deaf to Puttnam’s frothing hatred of socially irresponsible and ethic-lacking “big budget hokum,” something Puttnam would put a complete stop to at Columbia if he could.
Since plans for the first Karate Kid sequel had been finalized six hours before his installment, Puttnam (right) couldn’t cancel it—but he did fire everyone who put the deal together. Puttnam was disgusted that Columbia subdivision Tri-Star produced the second Rambo and made no effort to bite his tongue on the matter. As for Ghostbusters, the studio’s most beloved film, to David Puttnam it was just more disgustingly expensive tripe, worse so because of the presence of Bill Murray, whom Puttnam didn’t like for a perceived lack of altruism.

“[Bill Murray] is an actor who makes millions off his movies, but gives nothing back to his art,” Puttnam announced during a British Press luncheon in 1986, following fawning comments about Robert Redford’s charitable actions. “[Bill Murray is] a taker.”

Word got back to Murray, who was incensed and vowed not to make Ghostbusters II so long as Puttnam reigned at Columbia. This wouldn’t be a problem as Puttnam was only interested in a sequel to the studio’s biggest hit if it could be made cheaper than the original and with all new talent (thereby avoiding a project the CEO felt would exemplify “packaging”—loading a movie with writers and actors all from the same talent agency).

Of course, the vague irony is Bill Murray wasn’t exactly gung ho about a Ghostbusters sequel either. Murray enjoyed playing Peter Venkman in the first film but hadn’t been convinced to sign on until Columbia promised to bankroll one of his dream projects: a remake of 1946 World War I drama The Razor’s Edge. Directed by period specialist John Byrum, The Razor’s Edge filmed in Europe just prior to Murray’s participation in Ghostbusters and was the first project of his to be released in the wake of Venkman-mania.

Unfortunately, the world was not ready for any kind of “serious” Bill Murray. Critics savaged Razor’s Edge for offering too nonchalant a hero in a film that moved with all the gusto of a snail. Audiences stayed away and the movie only made half of its budget back. Whatever pain Murray suffered from this failure was probably compounded by Ghostbusters’ monolithic success. There was no question Bill Murray was beloved—so long as he was being “funny.” Wrestling with complicated emotions, the actor retreated to France for several years, returning to the States to pick up his career for 1988’s Christmas Carol update Scrooged.

It was on the set of Scrooged that Dan Aykroyd called Bill Murray for a meeting to “clear the air” about Ghostbusters II. David Puttnam had been ousted from Columbia in December of 1987; his replacement Dawn Steel made one of her first orders of business figuring out what it would take to bring the boys in grey back together. Now it fell squarely on Akyroyd, Murray, co-star / writer Harold Ramis, and director Ivan Reitman to get the ball rolling. Upon receiving his old friend’s call, Murray allegedly sighed into the phone and replied, “Well, fuck it. I’m here now anyway.”

Preliminary research suggested any kind of Ghostbusters follow-up would make over $280 million in the United States alone. Alas, it was where that money would end up going that caused initial friction. Aykroyd and Ramis were apparently still upset over the large back end deals super-agent Mike Ovitz swung for Murray and Reitman on the first film; as co-founders they wanted their fair share of profits. Murray thought he deserved even more money for a sequel. Reitman also wanted a raise plus a revised contract that would shield the production from outside forces (read: Columbia executives). These were the core issues the quartet discussed and negotiated for nearly a year. Rumor has it a Santa Barbara hotel conference room served as a seven hour battleground for the aggrieved parties at one point as they worked through their disagreements.
Eventually it was all sorted, though there are conflicting reports as to how the film’s gross profit points were split. Some claim Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis, and Reitman each nabbed 15% of Ghostbusters II profits. Others suggest only Murray, Reitman, and returning female lead Sigourney Weaver broke double digits (at any rate, Reitman got his new contract). The franchise’s other male talents, Ernie Hudson and Rick Moranis, had to settle for the usual upfront salaries (albeit increased since 1984). This was fine with Hudson, as his true interest lay in having a larger role in the sequel. Moranis actually needed less screen time because he had already committed so much of 1988 to making Honey, I Shrunk The Kids and Parenthood.

The cast of Ghostbusters II appears on “Oprah,” 1989. L-R: Annie Potts, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson.

Supposedly, Dan Aykroyd had a story for Ghostbusters II by the Spring of 1985, which was either set many years after the first film (wherein we see the Ghostbusters running a very successful and highly technical operation from atop a Trumpian high rise) or immediately after the events of the first movie. The initial plot is said to have involved the kidnapping of Weaver’s Dana Barrett by evil fairies who hold her captive in ancient Scotland. By the time everything was ready to go in 1988, the Ghostbusters II script had mutated into the Ghostbusters versus commanding 16th Century spirit warlord Vigo the Carpathian, risen anew from neon pink slime that proves some kind of conduit for negative human emotion.

Originally Vigo was to possess Aykroyd’s character Ray Stanz for large swaths of the film, sabotaging the inner workings of the Ghostbusters and unleashing a new hell upon New York City. Absent Stanz and unable to come up with any other worthy replacement, the paranormal exterminators are forced to train their wimpy accountant / lawyer Louis Tulley (Moranis) to be the new fifth Ghostbuster. A subplot would find Peter Venkman once again grappling romantically with Dana—only this time, he’d have to contend with Dana’s ex husband, a dark and mysterious European named Janosz.

Ivan Reitman wasn’t fond of the script, calling it too “heady and dark.” The director didn’t think the Ghostbusters should be fractured by a possession and also felt there was too much action. Columbia head Dawn Steel, on the other hand, thought there should be more action. Additionally, to make up for Moranis’s absence, Steel suggested the Janosz character be rewritten as some other form of comic relief. Reitman relented on both points, though eventually Reitman got his way on the possession—that element was whittled down to a very brief scene in the end of the movie.

Ghostbusters II began filming on November 28, 1988. The material struck the cast as humorous and in the vein of the first film, but there was little doubt regarding the fact they were creating a mere product, something expected of them for the sake of money. As Harold Ramis told Rolling Stone the following June while promoting the movie, “Some comedies satisfy the requirements of art and some are gratuitous pandering. We’re somewhere in between.”

This go-through-the-motions, what-the-hell-let’s-get-paid attitude is part of what doomed Ghostbusters II to be frozen in a sad mediocrity. The other part was the creators’ strange belief they were somehow in direct competition with a much-ballyhooed six foot bat scheduled to appear on movie screens across the globe in the Summer of 1989.

Unsolicited Free Floating Vapors On Feigbusters (GhostFeigers?)

The original Ghostbusters crew had 25 years to make a third movie. For whatever reason, it didn’t happen (and now it can’t happen because Harold Ramis is dead). It’s actually a little weird Sony didn’t force this beloved (and enormously profitable) property into someone else’s hands sooner. I know Murray, Ramis et al had something of a tontine when it came to the rights, but everyone has a price. Chinese Democracy came out before Ghostbusters 3. Do you really believe Axl Rose is more reasonable than Bill Murray?

Still, fans are apoplectic over the announced reboot, as if Paul Feig will simultaneously be erasing the first two movies from history. It’s difficult to comprehend some of the ire. Complaints have already surfaced from die-hards who are upset they’ll now have to share convention space with people cosplaying as Feig’s Ghostbusters; the new technology, you see, will clash with their expertly recreated 1984 proton packs. Guess these costumers never stopped to consider how much some of us detest seeing guys with goatees and backwards Yankee hats parading around as “Ray Stantz.”

I love Ghostbusters so much I’m currently working on a book about its entire history, but I have no problem admitting that up to this point the series has been a rigid boy’s club where female characters aren’t given much to do (even Gozer only takes the form of a woman for about one minute). Paul Feig’s decision to “star hilarious women” in the reboot is refreshing and fun and much needed, and fans who are disagreeing need to cop to their own throbbing sexism. Female-based entertainment is not “a gimmick.” The fictional activity of ghostbusting is not “too rigorous” for women.

Key point: ghostbusting is fucking imaginary. Gender bias in real life is bad enough. Extending it to the land of make believe, that’s insane. “You can pretend to be anything, except this one thing that makes me uncomfortable for some dumb reason, because I’m threatened by change even in a fake world where marshmallow creatures go on rampages.”

I think it’s also worth noting that Katie Dippold, the scribe for Feigbusters, works on “Parks & Rec,” a show I’d consider female-centric but one that also boasts some of the funniest, most fleshed-out, and just plain interesting male characters available. The door swings both ways.

Admittedly, this reboot could crash and burn. Previous experience doesn’t mean jack. Dan Aykroyd has to wake up every day knowing he made Doctor Detroit. Yet, even if Feigbusters turns out to be the new Heaven’s Gate (are my references dusty enough for you?), who cares? It’s just one movie. It’s not meant to replace anything. If it’s really atrocious we can just pretend it never happened, like Rocky V or the Halloween with Paul Rudd or Rob Zombie’s Halloweens or the Dumb & Dumber prequel or Ace Ventura Jr.

My only real investment: I hope they make the Ectomobile cool. I don’t have any suggestions because I’m not really a car person…just make it cool. You know, like stylish but also kinda nerdy. Like the original.

In Praise Of Harold Ramis

Egon Spengler has always been my favorite Ghostbuster because Harold Ramis molded him into a person who could be both intensely smart and deftly funny. It’s clear the other guys die like carp on a dock if Egon isn’t there to do all the math and glue everything together. And yet Egon is no soulless drone; mostly through body language he exhibits many of the endearing ticks we associate with the other allegedly more humorous Ghostbusters.

Egon’s sarcastic: see the way he pokes that guest while investigating the hotel haunting. He’s slick: see the way he signals Venkman like a baseball coach when the Ghostbusters are discussing ghostbusting fees with the hotel staff. Egon’s also dopey: that look he gives in the second movie after he starts his proton pack in the court room, like yeah, y’all didn’t think so, but I’m a bad motherfucker…I vote that the best part of Ghostbusters II. Egon could have turned out another super nerd stereotype but Ramis bucked that, giving him these great little personality flourishes.

After falling in love with Harold’s portrayal of Egon I was flabbergasted to discover how much other great stuff he had his name on. Animal House, Vacation, “SCTV,” Groundhog Day, Stripes…god, he reigns supreme in Stripes. Again, the body language. I think about that scene where he meets Judge Reinhold’s character. The grin, the head bob…it’s like he’s trying to be “the cool guy” who’s on the younger guy’s level, but he’s also mocking him and/or that entire concept. Later, when John Candy gives that speech in the barracks, and they keep cutting to Harold’s sarcastic reactions, how can you not lose your shit?

Offscreen, Harold was apparently a friendly, happy guy who was eager to talk to fans and just enjoy his life. That’s evident when you Google Image Search HR and see that he’s got what appears to be a completely genuine smile in nearly every candid or non-promotional shot. He radiated warmth and good vibes, which is something this world could always use in extra supply.

I’m pretty trampled by Harold’s death. He left us with plenty to chew on, though, and because of that he’ll never really die.

Nice working with you, Dr. Spengler. See you on the other side.

Bizarre Soft Drinks I Have Recently Encountered: 1980s Blockbuster Edition

WHAT IT IS: Ghostbusters: The Energy Drink, a carbonated tribute to the greatest horror comedy of my childhood (sorry, Gremlins).

WHERE IT WAS DISCOVERED: Amongst my birthday gifts.

WHO MAKES IT: Boston America Corp, who brag on their website about offering “the world’s most creative impulse items.” Hey, I’m not arguing.

HOW IT TASTES: The contents of the “Slimed!” can proved Rockstar-ish, which is probably what Slimer would taste like if you could lick him. From what I can gather via Google it’s the same exact liquid in each can, but if I’m wrong may Walter Peck come down from bureaucrat heaven and smack me silly.

DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS: Officially licensed Ghostbusters imagery. This ain’t no “Ghostflippers” nonsense!

NOTES: The can lists a fax number. That seems superfluous. I’m not sure what I’d want from a Ghostbusters-themed energy drink (maybe a Stay Puft marshmallow flavor?) but this stuff gets the job done. It’s tart enough, no wretched aftertaste, and it reminds me of Harold Ramis. Win/win.

Need This Pic On A T-Shirt

No idea from whence this image originates. I am obviously obsessed with it, though. Wouldn’t it be weird if Rihanna started banging Harold Ramis? Not even dating him—if it was just a sex thing, and they made no bones about it. Always half-naked in the tabloids, roaming nude beaches together, acting lasciviously on hotel balconies, etc. Man, if you think Chris Brown is nuts now…

“According to testimony, Brown finally decided he had to kill Ramis after Rihanna Instagrammed her latest tattoo—a rendering of new beau Harold in his iconic Ghostbusters jumpsuit, inked on her inner left thigh.”

“Pundits are unsure how the trial will affect box office returns for Stripes 2: Buggin’ Out In Barbados, which opens this weekend in select cities.”

We’re All Gonna Get Laid: A Look Back At Caddyshack Three Decades Later

Thirty years ago this weekend, a movie came along that slammed a collection of words together no one in the world previously thought to connect: raunchy golf comedy. The movie in question? Harold Ramis’s Caddyshack, a ramshackle production that defied the odds to become a cult classic amongst even the most casual fans of sports and Chevy Chase. Quite an accomplishment when you consider just how much of the film is taken up by the presence of an animatronic gopher who dances suggestively to the music of Kenny Loggins.

Caddyshack taught us much about the party habits of tunnel-burrowing rodents, but it taught us so much more about love. Namely, you can fool around with whomever you want if you work at a golf course (even yourself, so long as you’re strategically positioned behind a flower bed), but you’d better promise to do the right thing if you end up getting a girl from Ireland pregnant. Also, you can be a prematurely balding jackass in polyester pants who constantly spouts word salad and still end up with a woman as lithe as Cindy Morgan even if she continues to seriously question your sanity as her clothes are hitting the floor.

Ah, Cindy Morgan. The first heavenly Hollywood body I was ever left alone with, content to rewind, pause, stare at, and “contemplate” her beauty as much as my sweaty little twelve year old heart desired. This was the earliest of many adolescent nights circa 1991 wherein my parents left me, their only child, at home with a handful of rented properties from Movies Ahoy! while they enjoyed an evening on the town. Ever the cad (read: pervert), I dutifully scanned the TV Guide movie listings before being shuttled to the video store so I could try to pick out features with maximum boob potential.

“What ho?” I said to myself as I came across the blurb for Caddyshack. “This motion picture appears to have female nudity, adult themes, and Bill Murray! Surely this will be a victorious selection. Sorry, Dragnet.”

Indeed, Caddyshack was a victorious selection, fulfilling TV Guide’s promises in spades. Naturally, what I most remember from that first viewing is the rush of excitement brought on from seeing Miss Morgan drape her taught, naked, and sun-kissed torso all over Mark Hamill stand-in Michael O’Keefe midway through the movie. I didn’t realize it at the time, but part of the attraction lay in the confidence and boldness with which Morgan played her stupidly named character Lacey Underall. She knew what she wanted, she knew how to get it, and she wouldn’t even let a commanding presence like Ted Knight control her.

Defying Ted Knight? There’s nothing sexier. Ted Knight’s been dead for over a decade, and I’m still afraid I might run into him on the street some time, where he’ll growl at me and start cursing about Kevin McCarthy. He certainly thunders up a storm in this film, albeit to no real results. You know you’re watching fiction when motherfuckers fail to respect the proclamations of the man born Tadeus Wladyslaw Konopka (that’s right; the Poles can officially claim the star of “Too Close For Comfort”).

But I digress. The only time Lacey Underall seems vulnerable or ill at ease in Caddyshack is when she’s alone with Chevy Chase’s idiot golf savant character Ty Webb. He jokes about hunting dolphin with a bow and arrow and later accuses her uncle of molesting collies. Lacey is obviously troubled by this behavior, but she still goes to bed with Chevy’s toothy golf stud. This is a great example of the old adage: a beautiful woman will always sleep with a nonsense-spewing athlete before she sleeps with a white kid with an afro named Danny.

Another memorable aspect of Caddyshack is, of course, the legendary Rodney Dangerfield, who, as the crass Al Czervik, burns all who dare cross his path. In the middle of his career-defining performance, Rod busted through one of Hollywood’s last barriers to deliver mainstream cinema’s first and only Amelia Earhart blowjob joke. Amelia Earhart blowjob jokes were pretty common up to that point in other venues, such as bowling alleys and Pizza Hut bathrooms, but in the medium of film? That was dangerous territory. Clearly, it did not take, as evidenced by the lack of aviator fellatio jokes in even the most overcharged of Tarantino productions.

Conversely, there was nary a nob-bobbin’ joke in the recent biopic Amelia, although I suppose it was implied Gore Vidal’s dad was getting his royal penis cleaned nightly by flight’s most famous female. That sure burned up Richard Gere’s character.

Again I digress. A handful of raunchy golf comedies have been made in the years since Caddyshack, but no one knows how they measure up as no one has bothered to watch any of them (including Caddyshack II). The educated guess is that Caddyshack stands head and shoulders above all else in its field, especially in terms of what it taught us about Cindy Morgan’s body and casual sex amongst upwardly mobile roustabouts in Davie, Florida.

The real-life sexcapades of Tiger Woods came close to trumping Caddyshack in the realm of testosterone-soaked golf clubbing; alas, none of those women Tiger canoodled with had an ounce of Lacey Underall’s intoxicating swagger, and coverage of the story sorely lacked a mush-mouthed Bill Murray muttering falsities about the Dalai Lama.

At least there were no gyrating gopher puppets in Tiger’s carnival of whore fucking.

Pretty Much Everywhere, There’s Gonna Be Ghosts

Geek biscuits flipped this past weekend after MTV posted a chat with Harold Ramis that broached the subject of Ghostbusters 3 (which Egon is currently writing the first draft of with two guys from “The Office”). Harold sez GB3 will indeed revolve around the oft-considered plot point of the old Busters showing the ropes to a new generation of hot young Busters. Can’t wait to see Ernie Hudson wielding that nutrana wand one more time.

Fanboys are continuing to freak over this news, clogging up message boards and comment areas with their commands regarding who the new Busters should be. “No Seth Rogan or Ben Stiller!” they shout through congealed mustard stains on their lips. “Sarah Silverman as the sexy recruit Venkman tries to boink!” they salivate as their tiny boners gently rub against the same pair of Jamz they were wearing when they saw House Party 2 back during the first Bush Administration. “Janine DP scene with Aykroyd and Jude Law!” they whine through clenched teeth as beavers forcefully gnaw at their privates.

Look, I understand. I love Ghostbusters, and they gotta pick the right people here so as not to fuck the shit up royally (like when they replaced Corey Feldman with Adam Carl in Ninja Turtles II—that was bullshit!). I’m only gonna make one suggestion casting-wise, and then I’m gonna STFU. Makers of Ghostbusters 3: What Giant Thing Will We Make Walk This Time?, please consider the following five words when casting for the rookie group of g-busters: Arthur the Haitian Weather Man.

They could raise the price of movies to $35 a ticket, and I’d still pay to see ninety minutes of that guy trying out proton packs, laughing at Bill Murray, and reacting to ghosts. Harold Ramis, you have the power. Make it so.

In Arthur’s absence, I will accept this master of entertainment:

Who ya gonna call? Those muscles!