Ghostbusters director: “Women on screen became a drag"
The online hate crews came out in force over the resurrection of the Ghostbusters franchise with female leads. Director Paul Feig says it’s time to take back the internet
At the time of going to press, Ghostbusters is playing in a multiplex near you and, despite some expectations to the contrary, the streets have not descended into anarchy. The feature-length version of what YouTube has called “The Most Hated Trailer of All Time” has now inspired many of “The Most Hated Reviews of All Time”, as well-disposed critics – the majority (75 per cent) of reviews are positive according to Rotten Tomatoes – receive unpleasant correspondences from the depths of the internet.
What is going on here? Hollywood has been remaking and recycling films since its inception: The Squaw Man was remade twice before Cecil B DeMIlle had a go in 1931. The Wizard of Oz was a remake, as was Ben Hur.
“When I hear ‘They’re remaking Ghostbusters: it’s just a cash-grab!’, it does make me smile a bit,” says Ghostbusters director Paul Feig. “Every movie that Hollywood ever made is a cash-grab. Show business is a business.”
That said, Feig, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Parks and Recreation scribe Katie Dippold, understands why some fans might feel protective toward the 1984 original.
“Some of them are people who are tired of remakes and recycled movies. They’re fed up with the cynicism. And those people I understand completely. I get it. If I wasn’t doing the movie, if it was somebody else, and I heard they were remaking Ghostbusters, I’d think: ‘Come on! Why you doing that?’
“But I know what my intentions are. I know I’m motivated by a love of the original. I was a huge fan. I was there opening night. I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever seen. I wanted to reach out to people who felt the same way and say: ‘Just trust me. This doesn’t have to be preserved in amber. Let me do my thing.’ ”
Feig’s “thing” has significantly changed the movieverse for female comic actors. In 2011, the director scored a box-office sensation with Bridesmaids, starring Kristen Wiig, Rose Byrne and Melissa McCarthy. That film went on to gross $288,383,523 globally and Feig has subsequently repeated the trick with the $229,930,771-grossing female-buddy comedy The Heat, starring Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock, and the $235,666,219 Spy, an espionage spoof, starring Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne and Allison Janney: Jason Statham gamely provided the goofier comic relief.
“I knew all these funny women, but in the 1990s comedy got so male dominated, they stopped getting the breaks,” recalls Feig. (He met his wife of 22 years on the stand-up circuit.) “Guys started projecting the worst version of what they think women are: ‘they’re mom they make my dinner and clean my room and my wife is the person who stops me from going off carousing with my buddies’.
“Women on screen became a drag. Women would go see these movies. They didn’t have a good time watching them. But there were no other options. So that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Hollywood started writing women this way and then decided that this was what women wanted to see.”
An entire gender
It transpires that you can only gaslight an entire gender for so long. In 2012, the best performing romantic comedy at the US box office was This Means War, which made just $54 million from its American theatrical run. It’s budget was $65 million. The genre had to go, says Feig.
“This morality crept into it, created by the people who were writing these things or developing these things. Suddenly every film was about finding a man. You can’t equate your job with happiness, ladies. Hollywood began telling professional women that they weren’t happy. They couldn’t just love their jobs. They must want a family. They must want a husband. It was horrifying.”
Bridesmaids would prove a turning point, not just for Hollywood, which currently has gender-swapped roles in the Road House remake (Ronda Rousey for Patrick Swayze) and Marvel’s Doctor Strange (in which Tilda Swinton will play the traditionally male Ancient One), but also for Feig. Pre-Bridesmaids, the 53-year-old had made a splash with the cult TV show Freaks and Geeks, the vessel that launched the careers of Seth Rogen and James Franco. But his early forays into filmmaking – I Am David (2003) and Unaccompanied Minors (2006) – did not fare so well.
“I was in movie jail,” he says. “It was only because Judd Apatow gave me a shot to do my thing. And I thank the powers that be every day. Not just for me. But also because it showed Hollywood that they weren’t right about how women wanted to see themselves. Bridesmaids made money. And if you want anything to change in Hollywood, you need to make money.”
It was Ivan Reitman, the original Ghostbusters director, who first approached Feig with a view to resurrecting the franchise. Amy Pascale, the executive who became perhaps better known than she might have liked following the Sony leak, followed up.
“She explained that this was a great franchise and I was thinking about it and suddenly, I’m out on my morning walk, and it hits me. Who are the funniest people I know?”
Who was he gonna call? Why Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, of course. And then the internet exploded. And now it has re-exploded over notices, such as the one in the New York Times, which appeared under the no-nonsense headline: “Women are funny. Get over it.”
“There has been an organised, misogynistic campaign,” says Feig. “I’m a Twitter user and some of the tweets were just horrendous. The comments sections in some places – like Ain’t It Cool news – have been a horror show from day one. Some of the most venomous feedback I’ve ever seen. I did strike out occasionally, and I know you shouldn’t respond, but I got so tired of this small minority of bullies controlling the conversation.
“When you look at the amount of people making all the noise, they amount to nothing. It empowers them that they’re so widely reported on. It’s a very unhealthy situation. It’s the same with the Gamergate victims – and nobody had it worse than they did – people genuinely suggested that they shouldn’t go online. But that’s like getting chased out of your own neighbourhood.
“The internet is an amazing place. Let’s take it back or at least marginalise those voices.”