Interview: Co-Writer Katie Dippold Discusses Rebooting 'Ghostbusters'

Paul Feig and Katie Dippold first met around seven years ago. Dippold was writing for Parks and Recreation at the time when Feig directed "Pawnee Zoo," the episode in which Leslie Knope arranges a wedding between two male penguins. Years later, when Dippold was hoping Feig would direct a spec script she wrote, titled The Heat, the two met for lunch. That meeting helped lead them to where they are today.

Feig and Dippold have made their biggest film yet with Ghostbusters. The reboot stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones as the team that'll have to save New York City from the paranormal. At the press day, Dippold was kind enough to discuss with us how she and Feig put this new team together, the film's cameos, working with Ivan Reitman and Dan Aykroyd, and more.

Below, read our Katie Dippold interview.

How did you end up with this group of characters? 

It's all like a domino effect because it started with thinking: So, what's different about now versus then? I thought how scientists don't really believe in the paranormal anymore. There's not really parapsychology departments in colleges, so what does that mean? What would that be like to be a scientist who believes in ghosts? Would you be ridiculed?

And so, then I thought, "OK. What if there is a scientist [Erin Gilbert] who did once believe in the paranormal, but tries to hide it because they are trying to prove themselves at a prestigious college?" And then I thought, "OK. So what would that mean if she wrote this book with a friend and that friend..." It's like a divide, like friendship stories and splintering off. And that person [Abby Yates] has been pursuing it this whole time. They have been just diehard, just weirdo, just disheveled and doesn't care what people say, like working in a shitty basement in a college.

And then, from there, it's like, "OK. So she's probably working with someone. What kind of person is she working with?" We thought someone even weirder than her [Jillian Holtzmann], so someone just kind of outside the box, doesn't care at all that they are in this basement, thinks it's delightful, and is kind of the opposite of Erin, where this person is trying to do the straight and narrow, and this person just delights in the weird and would see someone like Kristen's character and kind of poke her, just like do things.

Paul Feig's Ghostbusters: Answer The Call

What elements from the original Ghostbusters influenced you the most? 

First and foremost, just to try to capture the spirit of it, just that tone. I think, like, four grounded, real characters who happen to be funny dealing with insane situations that are both scary and just ridiculous. And there's something just so fun and joyous about that experience.

And so, wanting to have a new story, new characters, but kinda keep that same vibe. I talk about this a lot, but I also think a big part of why the movie is so fun is because I think, you know, Dan Aykroyd's family was super into the paranormal. They wrote books on it. You could just feel his enthusiasm and his excitement. It's a very positive experience.

And, in terms of the details, we just debated what other things to bring back or not. I can see an argument for people seeing it and being like there's too many [references], maybe too many that it takes people out of it. And I would totally get that. But, at the same time, just as fans, we just really wanted to see those things again on the big screen. It was just exciting to us.

I don't know. I'm kinda glad we leaned towards being the fans we are versus just trying so hard to make it something different. Because at the end of the day, it's all because we love the original.

[Spoiler Warning]

I'm curious about the nod to Harold Ramis. How much did you and Paul discuss how to properly pay tribute to him? 

I knew we were going to try to figure out something. I didn't know what. I remember we were looking around Columbia, just seeing all the different busts and statues. First, we did location scouting in New York before we realized we were going to shoot in Boston. And then just seeing all the busts and statues everywhere, it was like, "Oh..." Like, it just kinda clicked. That was always really rewarding to everyone. And his family came to set a couple of times, and they were so lovely and just really supportive. He has this amazing really kind, lovely family, so that was really nice.

Not knowing whether he's going to be interested or even appear on the set, how did you write a cameo for Bill Murray?

We just wrote the scene, and just thought it could be a fun scene, even if maybe he didn't show up. But we were always hoping he would do it and just didn't know until like the day before whether or not he was going to do it. It's like the mythology [about Bill Murray] that's been created. We sent him the script and then just waited for such a long time.

And so, to the point that I felt like I couldn't even fully enjoy the day he got there, because I was so afraid something was going to happen that would stop it, like whether he'd get called for an emergency or the film was going to melt. We're not even filming on that kind of film anymore, but still, I kept thinking, "What about the film?" I was just gripping my chair, just sweating. Then he was lovely and the crew was so excited. It was a really cool day.

[Spoilers Over]

Do you miss any scenes or jokes that got cut? 

There was so much stuff cut. Even the first cut is four and a half hours long, and that's with the streamlined script. We tried so many different versions and set pieces and different scenes. I've never written so much original stuff for an idea that already existed.

Are there any particular Holtzmann jokes we didn't see in the film that you recall? 

There are lots of stuff in early drafts that just got cut for time, like bits where they'd be running after ghosts and Holtzmann would be like, "Get down, get down!" And then she gets down and Holtzmann would just keep running, just like to find ways to fuck with her. There wasn't a ton of time to do stuff like that, but to me, it was like someone who enjoys being outside the box, doesn't get affected in the same ways as other people, and also just screw people, pretty much.

Which scene took the most revising?

The set pieces a lot, because I feel like one of the two things that were changed the most was the rock show set piece. I feel like there were many different versions of that because we weren't sure exactly what we wanted to do. And also, the whole bad guy plot has gone through many different versions.

ghostbusters city

How involved was Ivan Reitman during the writing process?

Ivan produced it, so he would weigh in throughout the process. He would read the drafts and give notes. But he also gave Paul space to direct his own movie. You want a director that wants to direct their own movie.

It was always great to get his feedback, because he just knows it. He did it. He's the director of the original Ghostbusters. And then Dan Aykroyd would also read drafts and give notes and feedback and pitch things, like pitch equipment stuff and how to make things sound more Ghostbusters-y, which was like a ridiculous email to get. Like, "This is what Dan Aykroyd has to say."

I have to ask, how did Andy Garcia's line about being compared to the mayor from Jaws come about?

There was actually an alt writer...No, no, no. We have trusted friends that will pitch on alt jokes and stuff like that. And that came from a writer, Owen, who pitched that joke for that. It was so fun. There are so many takes of Andy Garcia doing that. He doesn't even laugh. He just immediately starts screaming. It's so funny.

How much research did you do? Even with the physicist's dialogue, did you and Paul Feig try to make it as accurate as possible? 

We did so much research. One of my favorite times in this...I always like the very beginning of a project where we're just daydreaming; it's just fun. So I asked to go to New York because I wanted to go do some writing at Columbia and stuff. And then while I was there, I asked if they could set me up to meet with a couple physicists to just kinda get the basics of what we're talking about, because it's been a long time since I've been at school and I barely paid attention then.

So I met with two physicists, both named Bart. So we'll call them The Barts. I kind of talked to them about basic stuff. We were talking about, "Is there a way to make this make sense?" And they would be like, "Well, no, because that's not real." I actually still have my list of questions that I brought for them. I should actually pull that out at some point because there were some that were pretty ridiculous.

I also remember they were really funny. I remember I was trying to make one thing work, like one idea we had work scientifically, just make it sound real. I remember somehow the conversation transitioned to them explaining to me the term MacGuffin and them telling me about writing. I was like, "Well, this is taking a turn!"

[Laughs.] They scientifically broke down what a MacGuffin is.

[Laughs.] Yeah! They were really nice and it was a really fun day. And after that, we had this great props team. And it was really important to Paul to make it all real. Everything is pretty legit science, or maybe not. [Laughs.] In my mind it is. I have no idea. We'll see.

And then we also had this guy, James, from MIT, who anytime we wrote anything we'd send it to him, and he would help us prove it or help with the language to make it more legit. He was awesome. He was a real lifesaver. I have no idea what it sounded like to him reading what we sent him, like if it all sounded like complete nonsense. I actually have no idea.

It was also really hard, too, because you also still want it to sound fun. With the original, first and foremost, it was all made up, but it was all just really charming. So struggling to learn all these things, but then also still like, "Well, wait. It's got to be charming!" That was a very difficult thing.

Would you and Paul Feig often write together or over email?

We email a lot. We both are very similar in that we like talking and brainstorming and then going off on our own and thinking and then writing by ourselves, and then sending stuff back and forth. In the beginning, it was such a crazy time because it was right after the Sony hack happened. At the same time, we were getting hit with stuff on Twitter. And so, we were so afraid of stuff getting leaked that he would write something and save it on a flash drive and his assistant would drive it to my house. And I would take it and download it on my computer. And we'd go back and forth that way. And there were all these different rules, like not being on Wi-Fi at a public place. We were so afraid.

And then, at some point, we just got real relaxed. Like, at one point Paul was like, "Ah, fuck it. I'll just email you the script."

Ghostbusters TV Spots

You mentioned your experience on Twitter. Are you able to let some of the crazier responses to the movie roll off your shoulder? 

I knew that this was going to be very hard. I knew that I was probably setting myself up for a very painful period when the movie came out. I think the original is just so special and I think so many things came together to make this very special thing. But I just couldn't say no. I didn't think that people would be so angry so early.

But I totally get a lot of people just wanted a sequel. I totally get that because as a fan I would love a sequel. But I don't know...I guess, on the other hand, I don't know how many people I would trust to tell me what happened to those characters. It feels more respectful to leave those characters alone. I don't want some new writer telling me what happened to Venkman. It's too important to me. And I feel like everyone has their own ideas in their head what they are doing now. I don't want someone to explain to me what happened to Egon.

So, I don't know. I truly thought that this would be a little bit easier. But I get the disappointment about it not being a sequel. It's still kinda hard because it's a really special movie and I get it. I think that's been really hard to make that happen for a lot of reasons.

And then there are lots of people that just hate women. [Laughs.] I think it's a smaller group, because I don't think the two should be lumped together at all. But then there is that group. I bring this up a lot, so I'm sorry if I sound like a broken record, but my favorite was a guy who was sincerely worried for us. He tweeted something that was like, "Listen. I'm not sexist. I'm telling you I'm just worried. I don't think women can do that kind of comedy or action." I was like, "Oh, thank you for your concern!" [Laughs.] I thought that was really funny.

It was a bummer. At the end of the day, the whole goal was a fun movie with nods to the original. If you like Ghostbusters, you might enjoy seeing these nods to the original and seeing this new story. If you like people busting ghosts...

But the crazier the tweet now just kind of makes me chuckle when someone is super angry.

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Ghostbusters is now in theaters.