Girl Talk is a weekly look at women in film — past, present and future.
By now we all know there is a faction who views the all-female “Ghostbusters” reboot as nothing less than an amoral horror, the Grand Guignol for the 21st century.
What you may not know is that screenwriter Kate Dippold, who wrote the script with Paul Feig, might have been one of those True Believers if she wasn’t the one writing it.
“Some of the people that are not into it, I totally can see what they’re thinking,” Dippold said. “I know what they have in their minds, and I know I would have the same problem. I don’t know how to shake it from them, other than just forcing them to go see it. I’ll buy their tickets! Just go see it.”
For Dippold and Feig, the best way to honor the source material, keep fans happy and carve out a fresh path seemed simple: You make a new story, you create new characters.
“The first thing we talked about was – for Paul, it was really important for him – that it was a new story and new characters. From the very beginning, we just started talking about the new characters and what they would be like,” Dippold explained. “There’s never going to be another [Peter] Venkman. All those characters, they can’t be touched, so we didn’t even want to go near there.”
What Dippold did want was tell people about Erin, Abby, Holtzman, and Patty, a brand new class of Ghostbusters – who, yes, happen to all be women – who could fit inside the wacky world of the first franchise without remaking it or sequelizing it. And she wanted it to be original.
“It’s crazy, I feel like me and Paul have never written so much original material for an idea,” she laughed. “When people say, ‘Write something original!’ I promise you more time has been spent than you realize.”
Building out that world required going back to the basics.
“The first thing was, ‘What would it be like today being a scientist who believes in ghosts?’ So then that made me think, ‘What if there was this woman who worked at a prestigious university who was very well-regarded, and she was trying to prove herself at this elitist school. But she had once believed in the paranormal. And maybe she had a book she was trying to hide from her past,'” Dippold explained.
Everything flowed from there. “And then that led to, ‘What if she wrote that book with someone?’ An old friend! Then that led to, ‘What would that person be like?’ That person’s the opposite – whereas this one is going to stuffy dinners and just not being her true self, this other person has really been her true self, for good and bad,” she continued.
After they had uptight professor Erin (Kristen Wiig) and her wacky childhood pal Abby (Melissa McCarthy) locked in, the rest of the team similarly unfolded.
For Holtzman, Abby’s wild and wise new partner, Feig and Dippold spun off of Abby’s own oddness. “Saturday Night Live” breakout Kate McKinnon snagged the part and has already been hailed as the standout of the cast.
“What’s the kind of person that would be working with this weirdo? Obviously someone way weirder,” Dippold said. “So we started talking about a character who was just really outside the box, who could not care less about social norms, who’d like to do the opposite just for her own amusement. Someone who, when shit hits the fan, she would just find that charming.”
For Patty, the final member of the team, Dippold and Feig wanted to nod to the original while also finding something – and someone – fresh.
“We talked about someone being an MTA worker, because it feels like iconic New York. Someone who sits in their booth alone, lonely, doesn’t have a lot of interaction, reads a lot of nonfiction, is really intelligent about New York City and the history of it,” Dippold explained. “We wanted the everyman. I always loved in the original, having the fourth show up and seeing that team form. That’s the character I relate to the most.”
Dippold originally envisioned McCarthy in the role, but Feig was hung up on “SNL” star Leslie Jones, who he believed would bring a unique energy to the team dynamic, just as it was starting to crystalize.
“There were two things we really wanted to hit. One is being true to yourself, finding your passion, and going for it and not caring at all what other people think. Stop looking for that outside validation,” she said. “I know that’s an important message for me. If I put something on Twitter, I’m still looking to see what people are saying about it. And it does nothing.”
Armed with that spirit, Dippold built out a second element. For her, the film isn’t about busting ghosts; it’s about “finding a close group of weird friends and doing what you’re passionate about. The message for me was four weirdos finding friendship, finding family, which is something I’d like for myself.”
That’s not to say that the final film is all sunshine and rayguns. “Ghostbusters” does include some sharp jabs at its detractors, delivered – appropriately enough – by mocking rude YouTube commenters, who are unimpressed by the team’s videos of their paranormal work.
“We started getting the flack before we’d even started writing. We always had a scene of them putting up videos, looking for that validation and not getting it. What those comments were specifically, we played around with,” Dippold said.
The scripted version was changed during filming, and results in one of the funniest bits in the film.
“Originally in the script, Abby goes, ‘Look at this! Look at this comment here!’ And then Eric says, ‘I want to slap dem with dis dick?’ And Abby is like, ‘No, no, not that.’ They went with another line that was a little more pointed, for fun. The new line wasn’t my line, but I really liked it a lot,” Dippold laughed.
Dippold isn’t interested in reading reviews, especially after her experience with the Feig-directed “The Heat,” her 2013 action comedy that also centered on some badass women kicking butt.
“After ‘The Heat,’ I read all the reviews, and some of them were so painful that I’m trying not to do it this time. I’m incredibly hard on myself. I always know the things I wish were different or I wish I could change. I never read a negative review that, even if I agree with it, I didn’t already know myself,” she said. “I’m still always learning. I’m always looking at how to get better, but usually reading something with that tone really isn’t the best way to learn.”
What Dippold is most concerned about is if the film’s audience will check out the final product. Despite an end tag that hints directly at a readymade sequel, Dippold is hesitant to announce her intention to write another movie, as she much as she’d like to.
“I would love to go in that direction. Of course, we’re all just sitting and waiting and biting our nails and hoping that everyone goes to see this movie, before we get too far ahead of ourselves,” she said.
She’ll even buy your ticket.
“Ghostbusters” opens in theaters on Friday, July 15.