Ghostbusters: 5 keys to successfully rebooting a franchise


The Ghostbusters Abby (Melissa McCarthy), Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), Erin (Kristen Wiig) and Patty (Leslie Jones). Photo courtesy: Columbia Pictures

The Ghostbusters Abby (Melissa McCarthy), Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), Erin (Kristen Wiig) and Patty (Leslie Jones). Photo courtesy: Columbia Pictures

Ghostbusters is back and not without controversy. Internet trolls raged over the all-female cast and feared the film would fall into mediocrity. I saw the original film as a teenager and loved it, causing me to also fall into a protective stance. I still remember the moment when the Stay Puft marshmallow man first appeared on the screen. It was pure cinematic joy. So silly, yet so terrifying. The idea that this giant marshmallow man could threaten New York City tickled me pink. If someone’s going to mess with Ghostbusters, they’d better bring their A game, right?

The good news is that writer/director Paul Feig (Spy, The Heat, Bridesmaids) and writer Katie Dippold (The Heat), managed to reanimate the humor, ghostly spectacle and entertainment value worthy of the franchise’s history. Here are the five rules they followed to satisfy a tough but loyal audience.

Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson in Ghostbusters (1984). Photo courtesy: Sony Pictures Entertainment

Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson in Ghostbusters (1984). Photo courtesy: Sony Pictures Entertainment

No. 1 — Pay homage to the original

For the filmmakers to satisfy an audience who’s loved Ghostbusters for over three decades, they had to absolutely love the franchise, too. I would go so far as to say that the film’s biggest fans expect the writers to kiss the dirty Manhattan streets the originals walked on. Only with equal amounts of respect and humility could the new filmmakers succeed.

The spirit of the original was honored by framing the story around four misfit characters who have a passion for the paranormal, need for justice and a love of New York City. Including the original songs, like Ray Parker Jr.’s version of “Ghostbusters” not a Sia cover, was really key to giving the remake authenticity. The song is the film’s DNA. In fact, Feig told CinemaBlend, “You’re definitely going to hear the Ghostbusters song, because you can’t do Ghostbusters without that song.”

He's our new favorite "himbo" Chris Hemsworth. Photo courtesy: Columbia Pictures

He’s our new favorite “himbo” Chris Hemsworth. Photo courtesy: Columbia Pictures

No. 2 — Giving the story a twist

American culture is different now than it was in 1984. In 2016, there’s no Cold War and technology rules our lives. Even though many of us carry the memory of the first Ghostbusters in our hearts, movie-goers are much more savvy as an audience and expect more.

Trying to find four male replacements for the ghost-hunting exterminators so indelibly played by Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson would have been a fool’s errand. Even if there are (and I’m sure there are), four young actors as talented and funny as the original stars, there’s no way our loving memory of them would let a new quartet of men equal or surpass their performances.

To avoid the self-defeating comparisons, the only viable answer was to make this an all-female acting quad. Not such a strange idea really, since both Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy have proven their box office success. It’s different enough to feel fresh for 2016, but similar enough to keep us grounded within the Ghostbusters universe.

Also, putting a twist on the sexy secretary character, played by Annie Potts in 1984, was simply genius. Chris Hemsworth takes on the role of Kevin, the “Himbo” receptionist, dumb as he is delicious, adds just the right amount of satire to an outdated, sexist trope while giving a fun wink to the audience.

Photo courtesy: Columbia Pictures

Photo courtesy: Columbia Pictures

No. 3 — Invent new (yet familiar) stuff

Starting out at the 19th-century haunted museum, giving its history, including the “anti-Irish security fence,” was a true delight. Visually, it took us straight into a haunted world that felt both fun and just a tad scary, setting the tone for the rest of the film.

Instead of the Ghostbusters working out of an old firehouse because rents in New York City are outrageous in 2016, they make their office above a Chinese restaurant. While a firehouse is traditionally a male-dominated world, a Chinese restaurant with its classic Asian architecture and sense of mystery works perfectly for the lady Ghostbusters.

While the original Ghostbusters created their own gadgets to seek and destroy phantoms by repurposing and combining familiar objects, the new Ghostbusters use cutting-edge technology. In a world of self-driving cars and Pokemon Go, there really was no other choice but to make their equipment supremely techie and geeked-out as devised by the genius yet socially awkward mind of Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon).

Director/writer Paul Feig poses with screenwriter Katie Dippold in front of the iconic fire station 8 on the set. Photo courtesy: Columbia Pictures

Director/writer Paul Feig poses with screenwriter Katie Dippold in front of the iconic fire station 8 on the set. Photo courtesy: Columbia Pictures

No. 4 — Have the old stars return as cameos

Audiences love flashbacks — those little nods that say, “Hey, we know you love the original and we’re going to reward you for it.” The fact that Bill Murray, Aykroyd, Potts, Hudson and Sigourney Weaver all returned says a lot about the staying power of the franchise and what it did for those celebrated actors’ careers.

We were also moved that the film was dedicated to actor/writer Harold Ramis, sadly now a member of the spirit world himself.

No. 5 — Include an unknown, breakout star

Any franchise reboot needs to put faith into a new actor to make the cinematic world of the past relatable to a new generation. Just like Zachary Quinto as Spock in the new Star Trek franchise or Daisy Ridley as Rey in the Star Wars: The Force AwakensKate McKinnon as Holtzmann and Leslie Jones as Patty are emerging actors for a new generation of Ghostbusters fans.

Of course, many people know their work from SNL, but this is a break out role for both. McKinnon breaths new life into the old franchise and gives its upcoming sequels (if there are any – we’ll know after checking the box office returns on Monday) hope and room to grow. Jones serves as comic relief and delivers some of the best one-liners in the film. “Get out of my friend, ghost…! The power of Patty compels you!”

Ghostbusters opens Friday, July 15.


21 Replies to "Ghostbusters: 5 keys to successfully rebooting a franchise"

  • comment-avatar
    Nan July 14, 2016 (10:27 pm)

    I have lost all respect for you. This is the dumbest thing I have read yet. To newbie-writers out there: Do not follow this woman’s advice. This reboot is a complete disaster!

  • comment-avatar
    John July 14, 2016 (10:54 pm)

    Sorry Shanee, I don’t agree with you at all. Some iconic movies are better left to history, like Ghostbusters. The real question is why make a sequel and why change it up with women? What’s the purpose of that? If the first one was a bomb, I could see changing up the script and making an attempt to do something different and funny because the first guys blew it. But that is not the case here and the original was done very well and it was extremely successful.

    Aren’t there enough talented people in Hollywood to come up with a new movie theme concept instead of “conning” the audience by saying “it’s the same, yet different”. (classic scriptwriting jargon) Why are there those, in Hollywood, who feel the need to re-hash successful movies in their own selective ideology?

    No, this was a conscious and purposeful effort as if “we made it with boys, now let’s make it with girls”. The classic “even steven” equality maker that brings down Hollywood and talent over and over again.

    I could be wrong, but I don’t see this remake being successful. Of course the women will flock to see it, which is what they do when a movie optimizes female quantity. Unfortunately, given it’s copycat nature, that doesn’t make it a worthwhile watch!

  • comment-avatar
    william sowles July 14, 2016 (11:32 pm)

    Most of the ‘tween audience now weren’t born when the original was made.

  • comment-avatar
    Delaina July 14, 2016 (11:36 pm)

    This is the worst movie to go by when talking about rebooting a franchise smh. It looks terrible and I’ve already spoken to people who have seen it and they say it’s boring and predictable ugh what a waste of a movie

  • comment-avatar
    Denis F. Oliver July 14, 2016 (11:40 pm)

    If I want to watch a Ghostbusters film, I’ll watch the original, not this bomb.

  • comment-avatar
    Red July 15, 2016 (12:06 am)

    Screenwriting U, congratulations, you now without a doubt have proven that you are complete clueless hacks!

  • comment-avatar
    SadGhostbuster July 15, 2016 (12:18 am)

    A more accurate article would be titled: “The New Ghostbusters: How NOT to reboot a franchise.” I might put in a few points on that in another post. For now, I question how this current article can claim that the new Ghostbusters shows how to make a successful reboot when it hasn’t even opened yet to test its success or lack thereof.

    A definite thumbs down to this article for its lack of candor and balance. Far more than just “internet trolls” bash it and not just for its all female cast. Indeed, many women and progressively minded men who urged fans to keep an open mind were profoundly disappointed by a lacking trailer devoid of any laughter, fun, or originality. It just doesn’t look good at all.

    To the articles five points:

    1. Pay homage to the original: by completely rebooting it and saying the original never happened when there was no reason to do so? What I have heard so far is that the actor’s cameos will not be as the original characters which would support that originals never happened. It seems rather disrespectful and removes the possibility of a torch passing that would give this new team legitimacy.

    2. Give the story a twist: by excluding half of the population? Umm… ok? The author fails to prove in any way that an all-male cast would be poorly received compared to the originals or that somehow making the team all female would alleviate that concern. Is the author saying that because they are women, the audience will have lesser expectations. Umm… sexism? Also, why go from one extreme to another? Why not a more mixed team with the lead male and lead female contesting for leadership as the sexual tension flies? Already sounding much better than the upcoming movie.

    2a. side note on the “himbo” character. Maybe Hemsworth’s character will have more depth in the movie but comparing him to Annie’s Pott’s character is silly. Pott’s character was intelligent, world-weary, and let you know where she stood. She was not the brainless sexpot secretary that Hemsworth’s character appears to be (we are told) mocking.

    3. Invent new(yet familiar stuff): nothing really to comment actually.

    4. Have the old stars return as cameos: only if it works to serve the story. Again, a passing of the torch type scene. Otherwise it’s jarring (wait, is that Dana? What happened to her kid? Wow I’m thinking of the old movie which was SOOO much better than this… oh she’s gone and what are we up to now in the story?). It will also get old fast after the third or fourth cameo that gets shoe-horned in.

    5. Include a new, unknown, breakout star: no one is going to see that movie because of the two actresses mentioned. Putting in a talent on the verge of a breakout can work by putting that talent to good use but Leslie Jone’s Patty so far is coming across as an angry racial sterotype and Kate McKinnon’s Leslie is just weird without any sort of charm (licking her guns is unappealing).

    So, not a particularly good, accurate, nor balanced article. I expect much better from Screenwriting magazine.

  • comment-avatar
    Dan July 15, 2016 (1:29 am)

    Except it was a bad, over-long SNL sketch. The writing killed it (in a bad way).

  • comment-avatar
    TK Blackburn July 15, 2016 (4:06 am)

    I’m just curious how the person before commented at 12:08 am 7/15/16 when I’m on the East Coast & it’s 12:06 am 7/15/16!

    Anyhow, I’m confused why this advice is being given…to anyone. Franchises are owned by conglomerates & can only be rebooted by them – & they have writers on the clock.

    What is the point of this article?

  • comment-avatar
    Clyde McDade July 15, 2016 (5:00 am)

    I appreciate all of the passionate and loyal replies. Do remember one thing. In the end the audience casts the final vote… the BOX OFFICE.

  • comment-avatar
    Amy July 15, 2016 (5:12 am)

    Whoa – the GHOSTBUSTERS backlash continues in the comments section at Screenwriting U Magazine! I’m psyched to see the film and the article is a fun examination of how a writer might approach re-imagining a comedy classic. We live in a world of sequels and re-boots, a trend that GHOSTBUSTERS certainly didn’t start, so I’m not sure why this particular article/film is getting so much hate. Oh, wait…

    To quote my girl Manohla Dargis, “Girls Rule. Women Are Funny. Get Over It.”

  • comment-avatar
    Truth July 15, 2016 (7:14 am)

    “The fact that Bill Murray, Aykroyd, Potts, Hudson and Sigourney Weaver all returned says a lot about the staying power of the franchise and what it did for those celebrated actors’ careers.”

    Or about how much they are being paid for so little work.

  • comment-avatar
    adibese July 15, 2016 (10:36 am)

    Oh yes, the only people who thought it looked terrible were gross misogynist internet trolls. The slimer and his wife scene will live on as one of the greatest scenes in history. Blasting the Marshmallow man’s crotch was h.i.l.a.r.i.o.u.s. We could all learn from this MASTERPIECE of cinema.

  • comment-avatar
    Steve Jaffe July 15, 2016 (2:49 pm)

    I saw the trailer and think this is more of an example of how to milk a franchise rather than reboot one. There were several storylines of 1 and 2 that could have been continued to make a sequel. GB3 is just a combination of pandering to an audience using just the shell of a good film and deal making with talent. Is this one of those times when Hollywood has a lull in creativity?

  • comment-avatar
    Erin July 15, 2016 (6:49 pm)

    So many trolls on here. WTF? Why are men so intimidated by a female reboot of this franchise. This is a great article and the film kicks ass.

  • comment-avatar
    F July 15, 2016 (8:00 pm)

    Cannot wait for “Trollbusters”…
    i thought the article was very fine and will certainly go enjoy the movie this WE.

  • comment-avatar
    Bruce Myers July 16, 2016 (3:27 pm)

    Another great article from Shanee! I saw GB last night – lots of great laughs and scary moments. I suggest all the trolls here go see it – not only will you have a good time, but you might actually meet a real-live woman you can have an real-live conversation with face-to-face.

    • comment-avatar
      Volleygirl July 16, 2016 (3:32 pm)

      Saw it today and it was really fun. I told my mother about all the mean spirited comments coming mostly from men and her response was, “Didn’t all these guys see the original when they were kids? I remember seeing the original in the theater with you kids and thinking, well, this is pretty awful but the kids seem to love it.” Thought she had a good point. Even though the reboot might not be a masterpiece, it’s still a fun ride with actual female comedy/action heros our daughters and sons can look up to and admire. Haters be damned!

  • comment-avatar
    Carrie July 17, 2016 (11:53 am)

    LOVED THIS MOVIE! Along with 15 girlfriends I went with. The entire audience was roaring with laughter. I will see it again and again.

  • comment-avatar
    Alex Macias July 18, 2016 (4:55 pm)

    Well, I have mixed feelings about this article….

    I think the 5 points in bold font seems right, they make sense, and I have watched those in other reboots that I liked. For example Star Trek by JJ Abrahams. On the other hand, I feel this Ghostbuster reboot was so bad and poorly executed…

    Maybe, the points in the article are valid but this movie wasn’t a good example. I think the disaster in this case came from the plot, pace and execution. And jokes that didn’t work. Also, note that I don’t dislike the movie because of the genre switch. Actually, I thought it would be funny to see it from the girl’s point of view. Like I said, I found the issues from this movie in other places.

    I understand to use a movie that is currently in theaters for this article, but maybe you guys at ScreewritingU should have used a different one. Considering most of us here are aspiring screenwriters (and some professionals already) we could have another article like this but using a title successful in terms of both box office and reviews.

    And don’t worry too much, it’s just a movie 🙂

  • comment-avatar
    Carolyn Reese July 19, 2016 (1:48 am)

    I know I have written two scripts that could be reboots for John Carpenter’s Escape franchise but everyone told me to not waste my time.

    They were based on more modern day political themes like the divisiveness of our country and the political-scape of it with a little eco-madness that has taken hold especially in the center of the country in one.

    Dolphins that can communicate with the dead and tornadoes teamed with earthquakes are features of my scripts. Wish I could reboot ESCAPE FROM…

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