Who are you going to call? Yup that is right, we have on the show today to co-writer of the new installment in the Ghostbusters universe, Gil Kenan.
Gil co-wrote Ghostbusters: Afterlife with his friend writer/director Jason Reitman. Check out the trailer below.
From director Jason Reitman and producer Ivan Reitman, comes the next chapter in the original Ghostbusters universe. In Ghostbusters: Afterlife, when a single mom and her two kids arrive in a small town, they begin to discover their connection to the original ghostbusters and the secret legacy their grandfather left behind. The film is written by Jason Reitman & Gil Kenan.
Now Gil isn't just an accomplished writer but also an Oscar nominated filmmaker (Best Animated Film) for the animation classic Monster House (2006). He also wrote and directed, Poltergeist (2015) and City of Ember (2008) and the new Netflix film A Boy Called Christmas.
In ordinary young boy called Nikolas sets out on an extraordinary adventure into the snowy north in search of his father who is on a quest to discover the fabled village of the elves, Elfhelm. Taking with him a headstrong reindeer called Blitzen and a loyal pet mouse, Nikolas soon meets his destiny in this magical, comic and endearing story that proves nothing is impossible. A BOY CALLED CHRISTMAS, on Netflix Nov. 24 in select territories.
Gil and I had a great conversation about working with Jason and his dad Ivan Reitman on bring Ghostbusters back to life, the pressure of playing in the Ghostbuster universe and lessons learned from his journey in Hollywood.
BTW, I had the pleasure of watching Ghostbusters: Afterlife and all I can say is if you like the originals you're going to love it. Enjoy my conversation with Gil Kenan.
Alex Ferrari 0:00
I like to welcome the show, Gil Kenan. How're you doing Gil?
Gil Kenan 0:14
Great. How are you?
Alex Ferrari 0:15
I'm doing great, man. Thank you so much for being on the show. Man. I I am I'm a fan of your work. I've from Monster House to city of Amber. And your latest collaboration with Mr. Reitman. Both Mr. Reitmans Ghostbusters afterlife, which we will definitely be getting into later in the conversation. But first, how did you get started in the business?
Gil Kenan 0:39
Well, I had one of those experiences that you you think about sometimes when you're going to film school as a sort of scenario that might happen but that you accept at some point during school isn't going to happen to you, which is that I made a short film that was screened at the DGA. And out of that screening, I got representation, and that the representation ended up being pretty serious. So I got signed to ca while I was sort of graduating from UCLA Film School. And the weird thing is that I had made a short film this short called the lark, that, by any measure should not have had a commercial break through potential. It's a weird 10 minute black and white, live action animation hybrid about an abusive relationship with a with a bird.
Alex Ferrari 1:44
So money, just money, just you could smell the money, you could smell it.
Gil Kenan 1:49
Nothing says box office like a play animated, tiny bird that that comes to life and murders and abusive husband. It just says give this kid a shot. And so to that film, screened at the DGA as part of the UCLA spotlight awards, and there was an assistant on the desk of a film lead agent at CAA who was there covering the event. He came afterwards and gave me his card. And he then took a DVD, he might have gone with a hybrid strategy of DVD and VHS because this was the the final phase of VHS, short distribution. And he brought it into the agency and made a bunch of copies was very interested with it, sent it to everyone. And by the following Wednesday, I was represented by some pretty serious people. And so so that's kind of how I got my start as a film director because they ended up sending the film around to a bunch of people. And one of those people was Robert Zemeckis, who was beginning to think about producing monster house. And then he and I had a series of meetings that led to me being brought on to make that film. But I will say that, before any of that, I I grew up in the valley in the in in receita, you know, outside of the center of filmmaking, which is sort of Burbank and Hollywood, but still sort of tangentially connected to it. And I ended up getting through a summer internship program called inner city filmmakers, a series of internships from the time that I was 17, just right after I graduated high school, in various various departments on film, mostly editorial. And so my very first paying job where I had to actually report to work was as a editorial intern on the Tony Scott film Crimson Tide and and so that was a pretty crazy initiation to the world of film filmmaking and then ended up working on films throughout my university and in film school.
Alex Ferrari 4:25
I got that you What is it like watching Tony Scott work? Did you get to see him like a director or being on set a little bit
Gil Kenan 4:30
So that was actually a pretty weird experience because it was a very caustic environment, the editing room, it was actually pretty harsh. Yeah, I ended up being basically a human mural carrying prints from the Disney lab to the Culver studios where the temporary editing rooms were set up. But I I remember feeling good The seriousness of it that everyone was like taking the task of telling the story extremely seriously. Like there was a lot of sort of octane and machismo in the air.
Alex Ferrari 5:12
No, I can't I don't understand why I have no understanding why.
Gil Kenan 5:17
It was like cigar literal cigar boxing going on. There may have been some cowboy hats. It was a hardcore environment. But it was it definitely felt like a threshold. Anyway, I got hooked from that moment on to the allure of storytelling on a grand scale, you know, a couple 100 friends coming together to tell a story. And haven't it sort of never, never waned?
Alex Ferrari 5:47
Yeah, it's, it's, it's what I like to call the sweet disease. Once you get bit by the drug, by the by the bug, you can't kick it, it's, you're done. You're done. It's it's for life. You can't get rid of it. As much as you might want to sometimes, and your journeys, you're unfortunately stuck with it. Now, I also got to ask you, you know, because not many of us are going to have the opportunity of having a meeting, especially that first meeting with Robert Zemeckis out of out of college. Dude, what is that, like walking into that room? And just sitting down? You're like, Hey, Bob.
Gil Kenan 6:22
It's, it's pretty intense. I mean, so it's, there's two ways to answer it. The the, the film fan in me is freaking out, obviously. Right? Because filmmakers, film directors, to people like us who grow up eating, drinking sleeping film. It's, it's the storyteller. That is the real star of every film, you know, the actors are cool. But the people who are making the film are the ones that I actually had, you know, if I could have had trading cards, it would have been Robert Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg. Yeah, so. So that part of me is freaking out and doing backflips and like, terrified and shaking. But it's, it's sort of offset by another part of me that I discovered actually, in that meeting, or in the hours leading up to that meeting, which is the part of me that had a story to tell, and became so passionate about making sure that I was the person who told that story, that somehow I am able to suppress the terror of eating Assad. And actually, look, look him in the eye and say, I know how this story should be told, or I have some ideas for this story. And, and being taken seriously. Maybe not totally seriously in the first meeting, but progressively with more with more seriousness, and, and I actually kind of found that out about myself at that point. And I am fed that experience a few times since where I'm like, I should be objectively, like, freaking out and I should be vomiting in a trash can in the hallway right now. Right? I, but I feel a responsibility to the story, that I don't want to let the story down. And I feel like I have if I if I'm not the voice for this story right now. I don't know who else is gonna do it. And they might not care as much as I do. So anyway, it's a little earnest, but it's, it's the damn truth.
Alex Ferrari 8:28
Yeah, and it's also just like, Yeah, cuz I imagine you still have to act as a professional because you want to get the job. But at the same time, the the, you know, the 10 year old inside you like, Oh, my God, Back to the Future. Oh, my God. Oh, my God, Roger Rabbit, oh, my god, like, you're just freaking out. So I can only imagine that there's that.
Gil Kenan 8:45
I may have mentioned in one of those first meetings, that I did create a linear, graphed out version of the, of the space time continuum, across the three Back to the Future films, of course, to find the try to find holes in the narrative structure as a kid. And
Alex Ferrari 9:11
What did he say? What did he say? What did you say to that?
Gil Kenan 9:14
I think he's probably heard every version of that he changed my life. Because for so many of us, it was a gateway moment where Sure, so many, so many engines were firing in unison at the same time with those films, that it just felt like we were, we're the back of a future generation.
Alex Ferrari 9:35
Yeah, exactly. there and it's, it's, I should back to the future to my wife a few years ago, and she just, I hadn't seen in forever, and I was just sitting there smiling the entire time. And she's like, You really liked these movies? Oh, yeah, I do. These are amazing. It's probably one of the best trilogies of all time, like it is. It's perfection. And God and God help anybody who wants to remake it. I'm just throwing that out there into the universe. God help anyone who tries to remake? Because you can't?
Gil Kenan 10:02
I don't I mean, the weird thing is like, what would it be? It would take place in, in the 90s. At this point
Alex Ferrari 10:09
It just like you, you, it's kind of like the remake of Point Break really? Like you can't capture that magic again.
Gil Kenan 10:18
No more, more more power to him. Let's see. Let's see what they do. But yeah, I don't I don't I don't need to see that maybe I've got a perfect. There's a perfect place on my mantel for the films that that Bob made.
Alex Ferrari 10:31
Yes, absolutely no question. Oh, casual. Bob. Hey, Bob. So So you worked with Bobby also worked with Steven Spielberg on Monster House? What was the biggest lesson you took away from working with those two legends?
Gil Kenan 10:46
Well, I, it's hard to even figure out how to approach the subject of that, because there were a few things. One, I was immediately struck by my tremendous luck at being a person was able to be in that environment, because nothing in my life up until that point, suggested that that was possible. So luck definitely had something to do with it. I had an extraordinary experience on Monster House where the very first time that I met Steven, it was with Bob. And we were showing the work that I had been doing for a couple of months to start to create the look and sort of design of the film that I would be making our hopes to be making. And then we went into the next room, which was the Amblin screening room, and projected the animatic that I had put together with a very crack small team of artists. And sitting down was probably one of the scariest moments of my life, like as the lights dimmed, and the animatics. I was like, Okay, I guess I'm putting this out there in front of these two literal gods of storytelling. But when the lights came up, a conversation started within a few sentences, I realized that we weren't talking anymore about whether or not I would I would be making the film, we were starting to talk about the the content of it, like the the pacing and tone, and a couple of specific plot points. And 45 minutes passed. And it was just the three of us having this conversation. I remember just thinking in the back of my head, like I'm trying to stay cool, engaged. But I'm also thinking holy shit like this is actually happening. I'm having a story conversation with these two wizards, film. And, and I so I learned an incredible amount of stuff. I mean, one of the things that I that I've taken from that very first conversation was because we were talking about structure and pacing. And specifically first act, and there's always a tendency first acts are really easy to write. And then you get to go put a film together, and you start to pull away because you're like, Okay, you want the audience to be able to get into the into into the real nuts and bolts of the story. And I remember coming out of that conversation, both of them impressed on me that that tendency, that instinct to cut into the first act is one that you have to suppress as a director, that you should actually fight to keep those moments that feel like they are too long feel like they they don't have any place and in a film, because if an audience ends up loving your film at the end, it's because of the investment that they put into character in the first act. And so that felt like, okay, that's an actual lesson. You know, I took it, and I never, I never like, oh,
Alex Ferrari 13:58
Wow, man. That's that's actually a really great piece of advice. That's a really great advice.
Gil Kenan 14:02
I'm happy to happy to pay forward.
Alex Ferrari 14:06
Now, another film you did, which I was a big fan of when it came out when I watch the city of ember. Oh, you're the fan. I'm the one. I'm the one. I was a pleasure. No, I actually I actually really enjoyed it when it came out. And I saw it and I was like, this is really ingenious and so funny. You're the dude. But how I knew I had me to vote it. Okay. But I'll Joking aside. How did you come up with how did you come up with the concept of it and go down that road? And how did you get that made? That's another question.
Gil Kenan 14:43
Yeah, it. It definitely was a moment in time. I mean, I started developing city of ember, actually, at the same time that I was beginning to have my meetings on Monster House. So city of ember was adapted on, on a novel a series of novels by Jean Dupree, who. And those books were sent to me by play town, Tom Hanks, his production company, again, as part of that initial round of short game, why not? very casual moments in my life totally
Alex Ferrari 15:20
Normal, normal, completely normal.
Gil Kenan 15:24
But, so I ended up developing that and was lucky enough to bring on a screenwriter who I really loved Caroline Thompson, who had written Edward Scissorhands and countless other incredible screenplays. And she and I began a collaboration that was going on throughout posts on Monster House. So I was lucky enough to have a script that I could say, This is what I want to make next, before Monster House was even out. And I think that the answer to the question of like how it got made, was probably the sort of the excitement that was starting to happen around the release of Monster House. And then what sealed the deal was when monster house got nominated for an Oscar, right, basically, city of ember got greenlit, it was a weird moment, though, because it was like being made by a sort of experimental Studio is a partnership between Fox and Walden, that actually didn't arrive the release in the film. So they were they went out of business or broke apart as a studio before we came out. And that wasn't great for the film, or for me, it was a bit of a nightmare, because I ended up not dealing with executives. By the end, I was dealing with lawyers who were
Alex Ferrari 16:47
That's always fun.
Gil Kenan 16:48
It's great. It's why you go into the business, you know, you want to,
Alex Ferrari 16:52
And you want to talk to lawyers about assets. Yeah.
Gil Kenan 16:56
It just felt like your creativity. But so that was like, it was an incredible experience. I had the best cast, I met Toby Jones. So I continue to work with Bill Murray, who obviously I've now been lucky enough to have worked with in some capacity twice. Sushil Ronan Tim Robbins, Robin. Yeah. It really an incredible group of actors and artists. So it was a wonderful experience that was tinged with a lot of complexity. And what came out I'm proud of, but could have been so much more. And so it's, it was a big lesson. And for those of you who are listening, who are thinking, screw this guy and his easy path to get a good directing career from film school, this is the moment in the conversation where you sit back and smile. And shoden Freud that I had, I had a really hard time on the on the second time.
Alex Ferrari 17:56
Well, there's there's that and that's the thing that Look, man, I've talked to hundreds, if not 1000s of filmmakers now over the course of what I do, and, and I've heard every story. And there's never one that's the same. Like, oh, I just happen to run into Spielberg at a coffee shop and he greenlit my movie. Like you hear the weirdest stories. And I've heard the easy ones. I've heard the hard ones. I've heard the ones that are completely lucky. I've heard the ones I've taken 20 years. It's all relative, but I don't care who you are. You always have there's always those pits in thought, you know, the valleys? Yeah, there's always that there's always that. So regardless of how you get in, man he got for me, it's like, more power to you, man. If you got in that's just hopefully that gives us a chance somebody else's chance at one point or another to get that opportunity. But it was timing though. And that's the thing. I always tell people because they always a lot of people look back to the 90s especially during the Sundance independent phase with Robert and, and Rick Linkletter and burns and Smith and all these kind of guys. And they're like, I'm gonna do what they did, like you can't like that's, that was a moment in time. That was very specific. So you happen to get monsters monster, which is against all odds, monster house off, then it happened to get nominated. And you also had to do Amber's waiting in the wings. So you didn't like start it after you got nominated. So it all the timing was perfect. And of course, the way Hollywood works is like, Oh, you just got what do you want to do next? And that's your that's your goal. And that's your willy wonka ticket. And then exactly,
Gil Kenan 19:27
So so. So it's sort of was a, it was a really good set of timings and circumstances. And it was a crazy experience. You know, I'd gone from making an animated film to now having an entire city built in Northern Ireland and Belfast.
Alex Ferrari 19:46
Well, you have to ask because I mean, I remember the sets were stunning. And it wasn't. It wasn't I mean, it was 2007 2008. Yeah. Yeah, it was a relief. Yeah. When we felt so you film the 2007. So yeah, there's visual effects. And yeah, there's still you know, but it's not where we are now as far as like world building like a lot of their stuff. If you would reshoot that movie today would probably be done digitally.
Gil Kenan 20:10
Yeah, maybe wait till you see a boy called Christmas. I can't. Actually, we,
Alex Ferrari 20:16
You believe that we thought bill
Gil Kenan 20:18
I built so much of that city. So I had an incredible production designer Gary Williams and on a boy called Christmas and I learned a lesson on city of ember that when you can swing it, building world makes an incredible difference both for the audience, but more importantly, for the actors and the cameras when you're shooting, because you just have that sense of place that's very difficult to fake when everything was green screened, and correct, Dan, and I still fight for as much build as possible. I, for me, that's a priority in filmmaking. So I put real emphasis emphasis on in the budgeting phase, towards getting as much tangibly built
Alex Ferrari 21:03
Practical stuff. And then so when you walked on the city of ember, like as a filmmaker, man, what is that like playing in such a beautiful pig playground? I mean, you've got Bill Murray, you've got Tim Robbins, you got this insanity of a set? What is that? Like? You know, how did you feel being on set like day one involves and again, this is not an animated movie anymore. Now you're on a live action. Yeah, playing with with serious hitters serious, serious monsters.
Gil Kenan 21:31
There was a lot of stress about getting what I needed on on camera and that film, because the, the amount of visual material was so overwhelming, and I had to stay very disciplined about what I was shooting so that I could make sure that I was emphasizing performance, and storytelling, and not getting lost in this sort of beauty of the environment. Because I was my eyes were bugging out every direction I look, because it was so cool. And I think that a part of me clicks into place, which is like, focused on character focus on the story. That's what ultimately is going to communicate to an audience. But it was so fun to shoot in. For imagine it was designed to be filmed. So you know, we were just able to move the camera through it in such a in such a cool dynamic way. And I love moving the camera. And it was like a real joy to be able to have all those practical lights creating material for the eye. And we shot on film, too, which is another thing that I really fought for on that one. It was like one of the last 35 millimeter films before the full conversion to digital, obviously now there are films that fight for shooting on film again, but it really was one of the one of the last in that series of the pure 35 millimeter from the ground up show.
Alex Ferrari 23:02
Yeah, yeah, no question in 2007. And red had just basically come out and it wasn't you weren't it wasn't there just yet digital. I mean, there was so lateral collateral. Yeah,
Gil Kenan 23:14
She'd been out and we sort of knew what were the Viper. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 23:19
But it was still like you had to work with that giant monster of a frickin rig. And it was just like, it was a it was like shooting on on Attack of the Clones or something like that. It's like it's the beginning of it's like the olden days of 35. You saw those giant blimps that they used to work on. It's it's equivalent is x, same thing. Now, as film directors, we all we always have a day on set, where we feel that the entire world is gonna come crashing around us. Everything is is going wrong. Bad performance actors not working. We're losing the sunlight. The first ad is killing you because you're not making your day. Something happens in that moment. And that day, what was that day for you on city of Ember and how did you overcome it?
Gil Kenan 23:59
Oh, my God, this is so long ago.
Alex Ferrari 24:02
Or or any movie, by the way? Any movie? On poltergeists on anything?
Gil Kenan 24:07
It's a it's a it's a it's a really good question. I mean, there was there was one injury that really frightened me on on city of ember, but it wasn't, you know, it didn't end up being something that was catastrophic. But the Steadicam operator had a slip during a very complex tracking shot. And that was a really difficult moment as a director sure, because I felt so responsible you know, I had designed a complicated shot you know, the look required a spray down a hose down of the streets, of course in treacherous conditions. So that was really difficult. One thing on ember that I remember that was just like a reality of filming in Northern Ireland, and I just didn't know how to expect it. We only have one day scheduled of exterior shooting, which those of you have seen that film can under Stand. Why, but the entirety of the film was in a soundstage, in this city city set, which ended up being Game of Thrones. By the way, this whole the, I think the the entirety of Game of Thrones, all the interiors were all shot in the footprint of the city of ember set. Which is, which is always funny for me to think about is like, I know, I know just how cold that tree was on that day. But it ended up raining every single day that we shot on city of ember, there was not one day without rain, it was like, just a crazy summer with no break in, in weather. And then we kept trying to get this one day of the exterior and having to having to miss it. It's not that dramatic or interesting, except for the fact that there was just one shot at it. And to do, we have to take the entire crew including serratia. And Harry Treadaway, up to a mountain to film and we finally got the one break and just squeaked it out because we were supposed to wrap and and finish the shooting. In a pinch, that's the closest I can remember to like a real a real practical challenge. The harder ones were all what came later on, you know, like the the studio and getting and that's a much more complex, nuanced conversation. But, you know, I guess suffice it to say, I'm proud of the finished film. And yeah, especially because of the performances of it. And and searches second performance, and she's already a superstar in it. And yeah, so I'm psyched that you're a fan.
Alex Ferrari 26:49
I am I am I am definitely a fan of him. And I'm glad it I'm just glad movies like that. Because Can you imagine trying to get that thing to me today? Like it'd be unless it's a Netflix film? Yeah, I mean, it streamers would do it.
Gil Kenan 27:02
See when you know, when you see a boy called Christmas, you'll see that somehow, I've been able to squeak out another film that sort of goes against the grain, it has yet more original elements to it. It's not based on another film IP, not that based on IP. And it allowed me to build out a full world, that that's the kind of stuff that's really, as you say, super hard to do nowadays. So I'm extraordinarily proud of the world building and that came in a boy called Christmas.
Alex Ferrari 27:41
Now, you also tackled another film called Poltergeist, which how in God's green earth do you approach a classic? Like remaking remaking a classic and then that in you know, Steven, so Steven was obviously heavily involved with the making of poltergeists. It was still you know, Toby Harper directed it. But Steven was there as well, you know, you see him all you see the behind the scenes of him, like, you know, pointing and nobody will ever know what actually happened. The scenes of like, what happened there? But regardless, the movie is a classic. How, how do you as a filmmaker go, Alright, I think I can bring this to the new generation and how do you how do you approach that? I'm fasting?
Gil Kenan 28:19
Well, there's, there's a, there's a few things first of all, you know, it's it's definitely about as difficult of a, an attempt to make as you can do, because the chances of connecting with an audience when you're entering hallowed ground like that are pretty slim. On on. There's a few ways that that process started, they gave me a sense that I should try this. One was that I got a call from Sam Raimi.
Alex Ferrari 28:50
And that's always that's always a good, that's always a good sign.
Gil Kenan 28:53
I basically should just stop there, because done done, Sam Raimi calls you done. So that was like, sort of the beginning and the end of it for me. But also after that, I went out and found Toby Hooper. And I went up to him and introduced myself and said that I'm thinking about going into this world of film that he created. And, and if he had any advice, and, and he was so gracious, and he was just like, you know, it's it's just the story, like, and
Alex Ferrari 29:38
It's just a movie, man. It's all good. Yeah.
Gil Kenan 29:40
I've sort of gotten that kind of feeling from folks who have made things that are so meaningful to me as a especially as a young person, where you talk to them and they're like, oh, yeah, that was a movie. You know, you just use a gig identity.
Alex Ferrari 29:54
It was a gig. I did. ,
Gil Kenan 29:56
Yeah way too much. Way too much. Generally a slight chill out. And so it was a there was a sort of combination of those moments and that, you know, I remember talking to to Zemeckis about it and him saying just how loose the process was when, when poltergeists was being made that you know, they were him and pop Gail were in the next room working on the draft that they were trying to get back the future greenlit while Stephen was in pre production on D and in production on folder, guys. And then it was just like a it was a perfect vehicle for cool gags. Like they all approached it like, oh, try this, you know, have the head melt offer.
Alex Ferrari 30:49
Have the towns have the time with the arms?
Gil Kenan 30:50
Yeah, exactly. And, and so obviously incredible artistry very, very difficult to enter into that world and connect to people who, to whom that film was so important. But I had a great time making it so proud of my cast. Cast. Yeah. And, and yeah, and I'll and as I began, I got a call from Sam Ray.
Alex Ferrari 31:21
And look, I mean, if Sam Raimi called him like, Hey, man, can you redo Evil Dead for me? I'd be like, I don't. I mean, you're asking me so I guess I guess yes. If that's ever you say whatever you like. Now, did you pull any nuggets of wisdom from Sam working with him on that?
Gil Kenan 31:41
Oh, yeah, he's so cool. First of all, there's no better audience in the world than than Sam Raimi. He watches every single screening of every film, whether he worked on it or not, as if it was a matinee in a movie theater, it, you know, it when he's 10 years old, he sits, he sits front front and center with a huge grin on his face, soaking up the story. And I got mostly from him, the notion that you can work in this career in this industry for as long as he has, with as much success as he has, and still find absolute joy in, in film viewing as much as film making. And so that would just like put so much wind in my sails to it's inspiring when you're working with collaborators, who are just so passionate about about the craft of storytelling
Alex Ferrari 32:39
It you know, I've had the pleasure of meeting some of these these folks as well. And it's they're just like on a whole nother level. Like their the way that they approach the craft is is just at a completely different depth. Then then the The civilians are normal, or yeah, it's just it's just remarkable to see them approach story and I love that they You said to like, yeah, it was a story. Yeah, it was a little gig. Yeah, we were just trying some gags that there see what would work. Because that's what we do when you're starting out. Like that's exactly what we do with our friends. It just so happens that they're friends who happen to be like, you know, John Melius and Brian De Palma and George Lucas.
Gil Kenan 33:20
So they just they just happen to be hanging out with a with a high wattage crowd.
Alex Ferrari 33:26
That's great. Great term. Great there. Love that, sir. Oh, yeah, it's it's, it's pretty awesome now. So your latest project you worked on? Was your second to latest project have two projects are coming out pretty close together. But we're here to talk about Ghostbusters. And oh my god, I saw it last night. It is there's no spoilers here so you can continue to listen to everybody. There is no spoilers I won't spoil anything. All I gotta say is, it is the sequel that Ghostbusters deserved. In my in my humble opinion.
Gil Kenan 34:00
That's very kind of you to say I'm so proud of it.
Alex Ferrari 34:03
And I am and for people for people listening. Ghostbusters for me was one of those films I literally saw probably I'm not an exaggeration you pray 35 times in the theater like it was it was a goal of mine to keep going back every weekend and anytime I got rereleased because it was rereleases back then I wore out the cassette tape.
Gil Kenan 34:23
You know what's crazy is God Mackey to see how long that film played in cinemas or theaters theaters. It came out in June of 84 and was still in movie theaters all the way through like fall. I think by by November, it was starting to leave movie theaters. But it's just an incredible concept when you think about it. And I think it's I think it's stayed number one in forever.
Alex Ferrari 34:49
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. It was a phenomenon and I was living in New York. And my Ghostbusters stories is this. My dad My stepfather was a taxicab driver. So wait, so we're driving around Manhattan and I was with him in the front seat. And all of a sudden I drive by the Ghostbusters set when nobody was there. It was just blocked off. And it was like, it was after the after Gozer did all the thing and the The ambulance is inside and there's snow because I didn't know it was marshmallow snow everywhere. And then six months later, I go to theater. I'm like, oh my god, I was on the set of Ghostbusters. It was my first so cool. It was my first true experience of, of being even close to to Hollywood being close to a real movie was the first time I ever even understood what a movie set was. Because for kids listening today, there was no information in the 80s about filmmaking. None. None.
Gil Kenan 35:41
No, I learned I learned most of what I know about moviemaking from the Universal Studios tour. When Yes, when we went to tourists, like I think that that's where I learned about the ideas behind what went into making something. But so. So it's so cool that you got to experience that said probably the morning after they filmed it. Yeah. And I don't know if you've heard Jason talk about this, but Jason Reitman, my, my collaborator, co writer and the director of Ghostbusters afterlife was on set that day at that, you know, on the west side of Central Park, yes on the road opened up. And he was actually filmed with his mom. And I think his sister as part of the background of the watching. He goes by she's doing her thing and was cut out of the film. Oh, but but he remembered it's one of his first memories as a as a kid was watching them pouring that marshmallow fluff out of buckets on risers and feeling like alright, this is moviemaking. This is what I want to do. I want to do this what I want to do, yeah, so you guys happen to be in the same place in the same moment in time, which is really cool.
Alex Ferrari 37:11
That's actually really it's that's funny as hell man. And so Ghostbusters has a very special place in my heart for both Ghostbusters one and Ghostbusters two. I just, and I was in New York when that hit. So you could only imagine it was it was a phenomenon around the world. But being in New York as a kid when Ghostbusters it just it just is everything. It was like there was nothing like I don't know what the Indiana Jones had just come out maybe like there wasn't it still wasn't as much stuff as there is today. There's 1000 a million things to watch. It was like Ghostbusters was it man and music that song? Jesus Christ
Gil Kenan 37:49
Good. So it was a pretty crazy summer because I think Goonies came out. Yeah, right. Sorry. Gremlins later I've been gremlins. Yeah. About the other. The other the other G titled when found Gremlins came out that same summer. And so obviously, that was like a life changing summer for those of us who were lucky to go to that time. And for me, it was a pretty crazy experience with it. Because we moved to America when I was seven in July, almost August of 1984. And Ghostbusters was the first film that I saw in a movie theater when we moved to America. And obviously I'd seen films before that but i i So associated with with this country that I was now living in with what a Hollywood movie was and could be and just like you it totally became culture. It became more than a film. Oh yeah, it was something it was something that I we grew up with.
Alex Ferrari 38:49
I actually called the 555 number trying to get to the Ghostbusters I did it just was it just busy. No it's just it's it's a 555 number so nothing happened I think was busier to like that but I actually like watched it a commercial one by I'm like I wrote down the number real quick. I'm like, Okay, I'm gonna call Ghostbusters.
Gil Kenan 39:09
Sweet and you know, by the way, we all stuff that instinct that's why there are moments in this film right so when again you saw last night that are about satisfying the gods perience that we had as young people watching Ghostbusters because that is sort of that was that was our mandate was like how to capture the the awe and the joy and weirdness and magic of seeing Ghostbusters in 1984. In you know, in today's world,
Alex Ferrari 39:42
it is it is the Ghostbusters universe is something that I feel that needs to be respected. And you guys definitely did it in a way that the Star Wars universe or the Star Trek universe or any other sci fi universe because it has its own world Nik in that world can be built out beautifully. And I think you guys, I think, got the thing I loved about the film and it's, uh, you guys got the tone. So perfectly done because you can tell that you were definitely nodding to to the fanboys in the room, you know, and then you were also helping the kids of the fanboys in the room, as well. So how did you as writers balance nostalgia with bringing this concept into the new generation?
Gil Kenan 40:29
Well, I think that one of the ways we did it was by being aware of what our own expectations were for a new Ghostbusters film, right van. I mean, right, obviously look like Jason, I come at this from similar but extraordinarily different places, I grew up with a love and a passion and respect for Ghostbusters. But I was a kid watching it in a movie theater in the valley, his dad was the son of a director on the side of the camera. And he went on the press tour with AI then when the film was being released, and so for, for for, for him, it was an incredibly intimate relationship. And for me, it was just like a fanboy one right. But both of us, both of us approached the idea of telling another Ghostbusters story with incredible respect for the the films of the 1980s. And we had a sense as fans of what we would want to see. But we also knew that if we just made this a sort of museum tour of the past, it would end up feeling like a pretty stiff and lifeless spectacle. And it happened that through the work of building the characters Phoebe and her family are brother Trevor mom, Callie are friends, podcast and lucky that we got to a place where realized that actually just as important as our own satisfaction of seeing things that we would want to see in a Ghostbusters film, we have the opportunity to have pure discovery in this film, because we have characters who have no fucking clue what a Ghostbuster was. And they've grown up in a world where just like, a lot of events from the 80s history. Yeah, this is stuff that that doesn't really register in the lives of many people. And so, and there's a specific reason for why this particular family, Phoebe's family, has kept sort of blinders to the events of those years. Much more, you know, much more sort of emotional and, and baggage related. Shit now, but but the point is that through the character of Phoebe through her eyes, were able to discover Ghostbusters, for the first time all over again, if you know what I mean. No, yeah, yeah. And that became that became that became our compass that was our way through.
Alex Ferrari 43:09
It's so funny, because my daughter's, they say, old timey. When it comes to anything that was pre when they were born, to like, So when was that? Like, like the 80s? Sometimes they'll bust out like the 30s. I'm like, How old do you think I am? Like, like, you know, when Titanic came? Like, were you around when Titanic sank? I'm like, No, I'm not around with what?
Gil Kenan 43:29
How have you been freaked out when that train came at you in the movie?
Alex Ferrari 43:34
I was. I jumped right, I jumped right on my horse and buggy and I just bolted out of that theater.
But it was it's, it's fascinating because I love the way that you bring back the 80s In a way, it will bring back those events in a way that this generation understands, you know, the way they view things and things like that. So it was just, it was just it was it was masterfully done. And I applaud both you and Jason to do it when I heard about it. I was like okay, if there's anybody that can do this as Jason as a director, it was just it I just felt it was like okay, cuz I respect him as a filmmaker tremendously and that he's tackling this thing is remarkable now well,
Gil Kenan 44:21
it I mean, did to that point, I mean, one of the things that made this whole thing meaningful and and actually gave it as sort of shape is that as much as this is a film about characters discovering their legacy as Ghostbusters. It's it's also a film about a director who is tackling his legacy as a filmmaker. And that that because that works on multiple levels. It felt like there was always a way in like we always understood that this was a film that had had something to say it was about the weight of familial responsibility, and what whether you choose to turn around and face it, or try to chart your own path or, you know, run away from it. And so we sort of knew that
Alex Ferrari 45:18
that was in the background. And I heard Jason came up right prior to the screening on a little pre pre recorded video and he's like, this is the most personal film I've ever made. And I understand why because you write the characters are mirrors, like the director in the in the in the characters in the movie? are mirrors, they're both struck, they're both dealing with legacy. And, and approaching it and should you do it? And I have to imagine you, you and Jason must have had conversations is like, should I go down this road? Because I mean, you know, the amount of I mean, look, fans are fans and haterade haterade. And that, you know, all that's gonna come out but at a certain point he's like, I mean, do I want to I want to step foot in this hollow like, this is hollow for me talk about hollow ground. Ghostbusters. Yeah,
Gil Kenan 46:03
YYeah, it's, it's so loaded. But also, I think that we approached it without an expectation that this was something that had to get made. We started talking about it as friends and collaborators. And Jason had had these couple of images that had sort of been haunting him, right, a girl discovering a proton pack, a teenager finds what was the Ecto one, but now sort of Arrested overheat. And, and all of that was kind of swirling in his head while he was thinking about the loss of Harold Ramis. And oh, really, you really can't. You can't have a Ghostbusters story, or at least continue the story of the original Ghostbusters, without Harold Ramis. And of course, there was this. So so. So there was just this idea that that started to come together about a way to thread that concept with the images that I was just explaining. And when Jason and I started talking about it, we never said, let's let's make sure this happens. Because we've got to make the Ghostbusters film or because Jason has the direct one. It was like there is actual genuine enthusiasm because we started to feel like a, an honest, a true way to make a sequel to Ghostbusters was beginning to form in our, in our eyes. And that we we started to work this out without a studio without any interference, just the makers as friends. And then we realized that it just kept coming together. And before we knew it, we had a story. And we brought that story to Ivan and pitched it to him. And that that was obviously a really important moment in the life of this film. And then we brought it some of the other Ghostbusters, and we brought it to Sony, and they were just so supportive. And so understanding of what this could be. And it really felt like okay, this has a chance to be a true continuum. It's not something that was handed to us as an assignment, like find a way to make a new Ghostbusters film, it was done in about as pure of a way as, as could could be imagined.
Alex Ferrari 48:27
I mean, you were basically writing it as almost like fan art. Like,
Gil Kenan 48:31
I mean, we we really, really were I mean, the only complication is that, you know, Jason was had a front row seat to the entire building of the, of the empire, right. But it really was done with absolute sort of removed from the expectations of the of the business or the fans. It was done as two lovers of Ghostbusters, who were seeing if we could build a story that would live up to to this world.
Alex Ferrari 49:05
And from what I understand from Jason's video intro to the screening, Papa Reitman, Mr. Ivan Reitman was on set every day with his director's chair right next to Jason. So what was it like, you know, having that presence over over you this and it's like, it's having Toby Hooper, on the set of poltergeist everyday sitting next to you.
Gil Kenan 49:29
I didn't, you know, the way Jason describes is like, Could you imagine if your dad was sitting next to you at work every day,
Alex Ferrari 49:36
And questioning everything you do?
Gil Kenan 49:38
Are you gonna you're gonna push that button? Okay. I mean, that's fine.
Alex Ferrari 49:41
I wouldn't. I wouldn't I wouldn't do it that way. Yeah.
Gil Kenan 49:46
There's lots of ways to do it. You know. And so you, you just have to put yourself in the position of Jason to have made a film that works as well as it does. That's amazing, but the truth is, and I've seen this Now countless times on this process that Ivan is extraordinarily proud of his son and has so much so much love, both for his son as a as a human, but also for insight as a filmmaker as a storyteller, and just had, like an incredible respect, they have a lot of mutual respect those two, and being close to them over these years, has just given me a lot of appreciation for the relationship that they have.
Alex Ferrari 50:34
Now, let's talk a little bit real quickly about a boy called Christmas. How did you come up with that idea? How the hell did you get it made it with a with a budget in today's insane world.
Gil Kenan 50:48
So I can't wait for you to see it. It's a it'll be out in the states on Netflix the day before Thanksgiving. So really soon, like next next Wednesday. It's based on a novel by Matt Hague, who this year I think is the number one selling author in the world for his novel midnight library, which is been changing lives all over the world. And he wrote this book with a really simple question. His son asked him one night before Christmas, what was Santa Claus, like when he was my age? And that question, just kicked off a bedtime story that very quickly became a novel and, and the book is so full of life. It feels it felt to me when I read it. Like this was the obvious next step in the storytelling mode of Roald Dahl. You know, like this is the way to approach a young characters adventure where you're not holding back from all the horrible things that kids have to go through Scott monsters, it's got real magic. It's got incredible scope because I went to Lapland to start filming this film. So I went up to the Arctic Circle. Then we went up
Alex Ferrari 52:10
to you filmed up at the Arctic Circle.
Gil Kenan 52:13
Yeah, we filmed in the Arctic Circle. It was the coldest man, I've never been so cold in my life. I got off the plane and I felt my breath freezing in my mouth. It was the craziest feeling. And I survived barely by having Bluetooth controlled electric socks that I was able to like Bluetooth. That's amazing. Yeah, I probably shouldn't be saying that even out loud because I realized it's embarrassing.
Alex Ferrari 52:36
No, no, listen, when I've been called I understand what that means. Whatever it takes to stay warm. I don't care if it's Bluetooth. I don't care if it's a fire log in your socks. Whatever, man.
Gil Kenan 52:46
You do it the gear. Yeah, but we we had a scene one of the first scenes of drama in this film. We had taken all the camera equipment up to a frozen lake at the top of the High Tatras mountains in Slovakia, using snowmobiles. It was the only way we can get the equipment up there. And then filmed on a frozen lake using a mobile camera rig but the grips invented for this film because we shot 70 millimeter and they hammer rig using basically a series of metal poles with a gyro controlled head slung from them, just so that we can have really smooth, precise camera moving camera work on a frozen lake in the mountains while a snowstorm was coming down. And that was the first proper scene that we shot with all the actors. It was an incredible adventure. I'm very proud of the film it film. Like all over Europe, we ended up filming in London and the Czech Republic and Prague where a lot of the sets were built in Slovakia and in Finland, as I mentioned. And it was a labor of love. Like it's that adventure cast. The cast is insane. Maggie Smith, Toby Jones, Sally Hawkins, Kristen Kristen Wiig, Stephen Merchant. Yeah, I'm just like for you to see it. I
Alex Ferrari 54:09
can't wait to see it.
Gil Kenan 54:10
Hopefully as a as somebody who Doug city of ember I think, I think this one's gonna be right up your alley.
Alex Ferrari 54:16
Yeah, it's it's it's remarkable that you were able to get this made man and it's just having the mill and just like that's your unicorn essentially with film like this. I mean, I mean, seriously, like, you know how it works in the business man that they don't they don't make movies like this, let alone 70 mil, let alone wanna fly. Like that's a James Bond movie. Like that's, that's it? Like, you know, and I know you didn't have James Bond money.
Gil Kenan 54:39
You know, now that it's all it's all on the screen, then some I mean, basically, you know, you'll, you'll, you'll, you'll see that we really got we got a lot of story up there and can't wait. It's cool. Yeah, man. I'm excited for you to see it.
Alex Ferrari 54:55
Now. I'm gonna ask you three questions asked all of my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?
Gil Kenan 55:01
To tell stories in whatever way you can, and that doesn't always mean film or a script, it can be a tiny picture book, it can be a Christmas card, it can be a craftily worded letter. But I think that actually storytelling is the exercise that makes you a filmmaker, not directing or camera work or the technical aspects to the job. But the pure act of of storytelling. So I would just say, nothing can stop you keep telling stories?
Alex Ferrari 55:37
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life
Gil Kenan 55:42
saying no, is it is a really powerful? Yeah, somebody grew up like me, you know, in a, in a, in a part of the city, with no real access or opportunity. The idea that at some point, you need to be able to say no to things because you have only so many films or so many stories, there's so many years or days in your life that you get to do. And it's not a natural one, but I think it's an important one. Because if you say no to something, then what it immediately asks or suggests to you is that you have to have the thing that you say yes to. And I've found now in my recent experience, that when you say no, somehow a light shines on the thing that you should be doing the same time. And so that's, that's something I've learned.
Alex Ferrari 56:39
Great, great piece of advice, three of your favorite films of all time.
Gil Kenan 56:44
So Clockwork Orange, because I remember the and it's not because of all
Alex Ferrari 56:47
the Kubrick memorabilia.
Gil Kenan 56:51
It's because it was a moment of pure pure cinema for me. I remember. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 56:58
How in the God's green earth did he get that made? In the 70s? That movie couldn't get made today? The first 20 minutes just the first 20 minutes of that film. How could that even get made? It's it's so masterwork, it's a miracle.
Gil Kenan 57:14
Alright, I'm gonna get pretentious with the next one. But but it because it says I mean it because it was a movie that actually changed my life. When I was young. I my dad took me to see this film when I was way too young. It was it was the 10 drum. I don't know if you've seen a German film. It's incredible. And so messed up, but totally changed my life. Okay, there you go. And another film that I'm going to bring up because it changed my life because I remember that when it ended. I thought to myself, somebody made that film. This is this there's a there's a person, there's a madman behind this story. And I want to be that person one day. And that film was time. Yes. Yeah. And, and when it when it ended, I just remember feeling like a rush that this was a story that that that was made by people and, and how lucky they were and I would do anything in my powers to to get to be in that chair one day.
Alex Ferrari 58:15
Terry Gilliam, I mean, one of the most under I feel, I think one of the most underappreciated filmmakers of his generation. It's just he's so So I remember seeing time bandits in the theater. And when I was a kid, and it just blew, it blew my head wide open. I was like, How is this even I spent even then I still didn't believe I didn't even think it was like, being a filmmaker was not even a conception in in the mid 80s. Really? It just really was so it just it was it was so another world
Gil Kenan 58:44
It was close. Yeah, it was a closed. It was a closed world. I mean, it wasn't something again, I every time I step on a set, I still get that rush. They're like that. I can't believe I'm doing this again. Yeah, they're letting me do this. But yeah, totally agree. I got to meet Terry Gilliam right before, right before I film, city of ember, we we had dinner together. Oh my god. So cool. He was amazing. He weirdly, you know, grew up in receita. Just like me, so we had a lot of we had a lot of stuff to talk about. But It's cool.
Alex Ferrari 59:17
And last question three screenplays that you think every screenwriter should read?
Gil Kenan 59:22
Well, I recently read the so it's so obvious, but I recently read the screenplay to Chinatown. And I thought I would just be reading it for a couple of pages because I had found it somewhere and I started reading and that was like, holy shit. This is so good. And I just could not getting it. Three screenplays. If you haven't read a Sorkin screenplay on the page, I really recommend it because the way that the words form and like you know the The Social Network screenplay is so so good. So so on the page and and I guess in a in a slightly different way I feel like reading a Diablo Cody script is like a total bit of joy for the brain like I've I've had the good fortune of reading a couple of her screenplays on paper and she just has such an amazing way with words in character. And obviously my my friend Jason Reitman's been lucky enough to bring a few of them to life on the screen. Those are the ones that sort of come to mind right off the bat. I'm sure I'll think of 20 more.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:49
Right. But go man, thank you so much for coming on the show, bro. It has been an absolute honor and pleasure talking to a fellow film geek about geeking out about Ghostbusters and all the other stuff that we discussed. Thank you again for it. And again thank you for Intel Jason, thank you for making Ghostbusters afterlife because it is I can now I can sleep at night now. Because it was it was rough for me since 89. I just just like when is this going to happen? I can sleep now. So thank you my friend.
Gil Kenan 1:01:19
Hearing that you can sleep means that I can finally sleep and I'll call Jason. I appreciate it too. Thank you. And it's been a real blast. Thank you for taking the time to really talk through the the films that that I've been lucky enough to be a part of
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Where Hollywood Comes to Talk
Oscar® Winning Writer/Director
(Platoon, Wall Street, JFK)
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Oscar® Nominated Writer/Director
(Boyhood, School of Rock)
Emmy® Winning Writer/Director/Actor
(City Slickers, Analyze This)
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