Released on June 8, 1984, Ghostbusters starred Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis as a trio of parapsychologists who develop a way to actually capture ghosts. With the addition of Ernie Hudson’s character Winston Zeddemore, the four heroes fight ghosts in New York City and get caught up with Murray’s character’s girlfriend (played by Sigourney Weaver) who is possessed by a demon that is aiding the invasion of a demon called Gozer, who famously attacks New York City as a giant version of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. The movie was a smash hit, becoming the second-highest grossing film of the year behind Beverly Hills Cop.
Just like Beverly Hills Cop, though, Ghostbusters was a dramatically different film as originally written (check out this old Movie Legend about how Beverly Hills Cop was a vehicle for Slyvester Stallone). Read on to see how Dan Aykroyd originally envisioned the “Ghost Smashers!”
Aykroyd’s originally saw Ghost Smashers as a vehicle for himself and his friend, John Belushi. Belushi would play Peter Venkman. Aykroyd worked on the script for the film on and off throughout the early 1980s when he wasn’t busy with other projects. Aykroyd was actually specifically working on a line of dialogue for Belushi’s character in March of 1982 when he learned that Belushi had passed away. A few months after Belushi’s passing, Aykroyd showed the script to Bill Murray, who was a cast member on Saturday Night Live along with Aykroyd and Belushi. Murray liked the idea and he eventually led to the film getting made. The major hurdle, though, was Aykroyd’s rather epic vision for the film.
In the script, the Ghost Smashers work for an interdimensional being known as Shandor. The basic driving force of the film’s plot is that a being known as Zuul is accidentally trapped in this time and dimension by Shandor. Zuul’s owner, Gozer, wants his pet back so he travels to our dimension to retrieve Zuul and lay waste to those who would try to stop him. To get a sense of the scope of the original film, the famous Stay Puft Marshmallow Man scene was in Aykroyd’s original script, but it took place at the midpoint of the film and it was just one of a variety of manifestations of Gozer and not, like the final film, the ONLY manifestation of Gozer.
Bill Murray’s interest in the script inspired Aykroyd to pitch the film to Ivan Reitman. Reitman had just directed Murray and Harold Ramis in the hit 1981 film, Stripes (which followed his previous hit Murray film, 1979’s Meatballs), so Aykroyd naturally felt that he would be a good fit for this project. Reitman, though, initially didn’t see a whole lot in the film. He recalled Aykroyd’s original pitch (which, at the time, was not yet a full script):
[I]t was all action. There was very little character work in it. The Ghostbusters were catching ghosts on the very first page — and doing it on every single page after that, without respite — just one sort of supernatural phenomenon after another. By the tenth page, I was exhausted. By the fortieth or fiftieth page — however many there were — I was counting the budget in hundreds of millions of dollars. And there really weren’t very many laughs. Although I could detect a comic attitude, the whole thing was written rather seriously. In the end I just kind of set it aside and forgot about it.
Aykroyd was undeterred, and he worked out a final screenplay, including storyboards of the Ghostbusters in actions. Drawn by Thom Enriquez, the Ghostbusters originally used two Nutrona Wands to catch ghosts instead of the eventual particle thrower design (storyboards courtesy of Spook Central).
The storyboards also reflected Aykroyd’s original intention to have John Candy play the role of Louis Tully.
Reitman liked Aykroyd’s new version of the script enough that he decided to take the project on. Reitman got a green light from Columbia Pictures in May 1983 along with a budget of $30 million (Reitman had to guess at the budget – he figured that three times the budget of Stripes would work, so that’s what he asked for). Reitman had Aykroyd re-write the script in the summer of 1983 with Harold Ramis. In addition, Reitman worked with visual effects designer Richard Edlund to take out anything in the script that they didn’t think that they could afford. Edlund later recalled, “We basically cut it down to the shots that were necessary to tell the story and get the laughs.” Around this time they got the rights to the name Ghostbusters.
So by this time, the inter-dimensional stuff was all gone and the plot was made a lot more down to Earth (this went to the group’s Ectomobile, as well, which originally had powers of its own). Even then, the end of the film still involved another manifestation of Gozer after the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man but that was eventually cut, as well.
Obviously, you can’t argue with the final results, as the film remains a success more than thirty years later!
The legend is…
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