Feature Article

Dan Aykroyd On Ghostbusters' Lost Origins, Writing Process, And More 35 Years Later

Who ya gonna call?

35 years have passed since Ghostbusters debuted. There's a new 4K & Blu-ray SteelBook release out, and Wizard World recently held a Ghostbusters Fan Fest right on Sony's Los Angeles lot to celebrate. A lot has happened since 1984, but original co-writer and co-star Dan Aykroyd still remembers the origins, and we got the chance to reminisce with him recently.

Credit for Ghostbusters as a whole goes to Aykroyd, who originally conceived of the franchise. Aykroyd's first take involved a universe-protecting, ghost-catching crew--a futuristic, more fantastical Men in Black (sort of), with potential stars Eddie Murphy and John Belushi (sadly, Belushi died in early 1982). The idea was handed to eventual director Ivan Reitman (hot after work on Meatballs and Stripes), who brought the story to present day New York from Aykroyd’s concept involving travel between parallel dimensions.

Aykroyd no longer knows where the initial script is. Living in Canada, Aykroyd stated he had multiple barns to sort through. There's a chance it's in there somewhere. For now, all Aykroyd has is memory. "My structure was different, definitely. Mr. Stay Puft, I think, made an earlier appearance, but my script was definitely really darker than the movie became," he said. "But, you see, it didn't have Bill Murray in it. It didn't have Ramis. It didn't have all the great input. That came afterwards.”

With the idea whittled down, Reitman and eventual co-star Harold Ramis headed to Aykroyd's property in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts to begin brainstorming. "You sit at the desk in the living room, and you're looking out at this 100-mile view of the ocean, and the mainland of Massachusetts, the Elizabeth Islands… I just knew we couldn't get any work done sitting upstairs because of the view in the place," Aykroyd said. So they chose alternate surroundings.

"We sat down in the basement for two weeks, down in a bunker, in a green bunker, with the Third Reich green walls, and sat there with mist and moisture coming through the concrete, and we wouldn't leave… I had these hospital beds, and these screens. It looked like a ward," Aykroyd recalled. "Four hours in the morning, and then a little lunch break, you'd go up and see the sunlight, like moles, then back down again, for another four hours."

Details set, the trio moved to Los Angeles to hammer out the script, which included, according to Aykroyd, intentional allusions to Reagan-era economics as the Ghostbusters' small business grapples with government intrusiveness on the part of the EPA's Walter Peck (William Atherton). In 2019, you have to wonder if Peck had a point--no one really knows what effects the Busters' ghost containment system might have, and the team freely admits to wearing unlicensed nuclear accelerators on their backs. "It's ironic, the EPA is supposed to do such good work, and they were the villains in the movie," Aykroyd mused. "Now, some people feel the EPA are absolute villains, according to some of the assessments of their performance now, but I don't know, we'll see. It will all come out in the air we breathe, and the water we drink."

Columbia Pictures needed a summer tentpole for 1984, leaving Reitman and crew less than a year to put together the finished film. That time crunch (asking a lot not only of Reitman’s team but also the just-established effects house Boss Film Studios, headed by Star Wars veteran Richard Edlund) didn't make the process easy, but Ghostbusters came from a creative spark.

Not Your Average Neighborhood Ghosts

For most people, thinking of spirits and ghosts summons to mind something more akin to the misty, floating public library ghost in Ghostbusters' first encounter. In Ghostbusters, though, it's primarily Stay-Puft, Slimer (Onionhead at the time), and terror dogs--creatures far from the traditional image of haunting spooks. "What we were trying to do was more comedy monsters," Aykroyd said. "We were trying to just lean it more towards the graphic and the comedy, but also nodding to the real thing, which is what the library ghost was."

Included on the new 35th Anniversary 4K & Blu-ray release, a number of scenes present a "what if" scenario. Some deleted items were seen previous (Aykroyd and co-star Bill Murray playing homeless men bickering about boxing), but also long-awaited scenes in Fort Detmerring (in the finished movie, montage clips borrowed snippets of this footage for Aykroyd's sensual encounter with a ghost). "A good thing could have happened to Ray Stantz there," Aykroyd explained of the scene where a beautiful female ghost hovers over a bed, followed by a shot of his belt unbuckling, cutting to Aykroyd crossing his eyes in pleasure.

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The rest plays out as Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) and Ray Stantz (Aykroyd) investigate the disturbance, prior to the above encounter. It's a clearly unfinished sequence, as is another with a possessed Rick Moranis shocking some Central Park thugs. The effects for that shock were not completed.

What else had potential? "Well, always more with Mr. Stay Puft, and always more with the building in New York. We could have always had more of that. We were working with some constraints there, in terms of the technical limitations at the time," Aykroyd recalled.

Turns out that didn't matter. In spite of competition from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (which released two weeks prior) and Gremlins (which released the same day), Ghostbusters ran the charts seven straight weeks, with a haul of $225 million in 1984 dollars. Theatrical re-releases further ballooned that tally. And the film's legacy is undeniable.

1980s pop culture was already on fire by the time of Ghostbusters. Imagine coming so soon after The Blues Brothers, two Star Wars sequels, Rambo: First Blood, and the advent of Indiana Jones. "I think that, at that time, we were all in our, either late 20s, or our early 30s," said Aykroyd. "Everybody was firing on all 16 cylinders. You had Eddie [Murphy], you had [John] Landis, you had myself, you had the writers, you had the studio behind us. It was a great fit of gung-ho time for movie-making... There wasn't a process of going through hundreds of rewrites, and hundreds of executive committees. Decisions got made fast, and great pictures got made."

Ghostbusters' 35th anniversary 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray SteelBook edition, which includes both original films and never-before-seen bonus footage, is out now.

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Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued and written about video games/movies for 20 years across outlets like Gamespot, Playboy, Rolling Stone, Variety, Polygon, PC Gamer, and others. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Matt_Paprocki

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