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Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire Director Breaks Down Phoebe's Ghost Crush

The idea of a Ghostbuster connecting deeply with a ghost "felt too juicy not to explore," director Gil Kenan said.


Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is a busy movie. It's got the new group of Ghostbusters, the old group of Ghostbusters, a guy who's the heir to an entirely separate Ghostbusting tradition, and tons of accompanying new lore about that and the terrifying new spirit threat. It's a lot of stuff to balance, but new director Gil Kenan has some experience with that--he co-wrote Ghostbusters: Afterlife with that film's director, Jason Reitman, and Afterlife was a similarly full flick.

Reitman, whose father Ivan directed the original two Ghostbusters movies, stuck around to help Kenan write Frozen Empire--Kenan described the younger Reitman to me as "my writing partner, and creative collaborator and best friend for a long time"--and the task of both balancing so many disparate elements and even unifying them required all their effort.

"It sort of happens in a couple of ways. One is, we're fans, right? Even though for Jason, this is deeply personal, and was his family business growing up. I saw the first movie with my dad in a movie theater when I was seven," Kenan told me. "I'd never met any single person in my life until I was like 16, or 17, who had ever worked on a movie. For me, it was purely from the outside looking in. But that doesn't mean that my relationship to these characters was any different than for Jason, even though he knew the actors playing them. He, just like me, has a deep love for these characters. And that love comes from us wanting the best for them as fans.

"So we always knew that we could lean on those instincts to ask those questions about what would a true Ghostbusters fan want in another adventure in this saga. At the same time, Afterlife was a story that was pinned on a family. And that was a kind of new invention in the world of ghost busting. Because before it was a disparate group of outsiders who came together with a sort of shared vision of starting this business of supernatural extermination and just happened to stumble into the near-end of the world."

Mckenna Grace as Phoebe Spengler in Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Mckenna Grace as Phoebe Spengler in Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures

But the franchise is much more defined now, especially with Afterlife delving into a new generation with Phoebe and her family. Things were set in motion that had to be followed up on.

"With Afterlife, with the story rooting in the Spengler saga, and specifically in Phoebe Spengler, [it] meant that there was now a new dramatic throughline. And we knew that if we followed Phoebe's development as a character and her relationship with her family, it would lead us in the direction that the story would want to go into," Kenan said, before noting that they also wanted to increase the scale of the story this time out.

"The other element that really pushed the boundaries of where this story was going to go was we knew early on that we wanted to up the stakes in this story, that because we had worked out the Gozer problem in the fields of Summerville, Oklahoma, we had room now to create a new movie villain, a new a new threat for our heroes. And that created a sort of expanded set of story requirements and tools, and it started to kind of stretch us in that direction."

The story of Frozen Empire ends up hinging on Phoebe in a few ways--the most memorable being her burgeoning crush on a teen ghost named Melody, who accidentally burned her own house down, killing herself and her entire family. Phoebe's always had a hard time dealing with her fellow living folks, but there's something about Melody that just clicks with Phoebe. We've got more about Melody and Phoebe's relationship in our spoiler discussion of the film here.

That situation is one of the best parts of Frozen Empire, and Kenan said the idea was just too perfect to not include.

"Phoebe, if you actually track her arc through the first story, she is a brilliant and special young person who has a sensitivity to the other side that she revealed in the first film in her relationship with her grandfather," Kenan told me, referring to the fact that Phoebe's grandfather was Egon Spengler from the original movies.

"That sensitivity was a thread that we were looking to develop in this next story, regardless, because it's suggested that Phoebe, through her own passion for ghostbusting also has this counterbalance, which is the ability to actually relate and empathize with the supernatural in a way that maybe makes her extraordinary and uniquely positioned to have a more fully dimensional relationship with a spirit. So that was really the beginning of it. And then it was just like, dramatically, so compelling to think that a Ghostbuster could find the one person in the biggest city in America, who could actually sort of relate to them and see them, and they could feel like there was a sort of shared language between the two of them. And the sort of tragic irony that that one other person just happened to be a ghost. That felt too juicy not to explore."

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is in theaters now.

Phil Owen on Google+

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