Ghostbusters: Afterlife director Jason Reitman started with a fuzzy vision: “I saw a girl in my head. She’s 12 years old and picking up a proton pack in the middle of a field. I didn’t know who she was. I saw this teenage guy in Ecto 1 and drifting through wheat fields. I didn’t know who he was.” And then, “When Harold Ramis passed away, I knew who they were: They were the Spenglers.”
The idea of another sequel to the 1984 Ghostbusters classic directed by Jason’s father, Ivan Reitman, has long wandered in purgatory. When original cast member Ramis passed away in 2014, it appeared to shut out the possibility. But the younger Reitman and co-writer Gil Kenan rooted the legacy of Ramis’s character Egon Spengler into the plot and his descendants in Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
Father and son Reitmans, alongside writer Kenan and actors Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Logan Kim, and Celeste O’Connor gathered at 2021 New York Comic Con on Friday to talk about the upcoming movie. The original Ghostbusters, starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, the late Ramis, and Ernie Hudson, spawned a popular franchise that included a less well-received 1989 Ghostbusters 2 sequel, cartoons, comic, and a 2016 reboot starring Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy, and Leslie Jones.
A sequel to the first Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2, Afterlife has presented itself as a serious, more Spielbergian take compared to its comedic predecessors. It stars Coon as a single mother and Wolfhard and Grace as her two kids moving to a dilapidated farmhouse in Summerville, Oklahoma. The movie is scheduled to be released in November.
The younger Reitman’s directorial work include indies Juno and Tully. He divulged, with humor, about the anxiety of having his father, the original classic’s director, on set. “Our director’s chairs are closer than they are right there [at Comic Con]. They were literally touching. That’s wonderful. For most of the time.” He laughed and shared, “Imagine for a second that your parents came to work on all the decisions you made and weigh in on the decisions you made. And if you disagree, you’re going to get into an argument. You cannot say on set, dad.”
His father expanded, “Jason had to be a captain of this large enterprise and find this fresh way to do this story. We tried not to fight but we fought a little bit. But we were passionate and we just tried to find a way to control the passion.”
The Spengler grandkids have a legacy to carry. Playing the elder Spengler grandkid Trevor, Wolfhard describes his character as “want[ing] to be part of a community and be accepted. He finds that through moving to a new town and piecing together his family life and his old roots.”
Wolfhard is no stranger to the Ghostbuster jumpsuit. “I wonder why [the project around the audition] seemed so secretive,” he said. When he found out it was Ghostbusters, he was in disbelief that he got it. “I was in Stranger Things. I had worn the [Ghostbuster] costume in an episode [of Stranger Things] and I thought it may rub Jason the wrong way.”
Mckenna Grace, portraying the younger Spengler granddaughter, described her character Phoebe as “this weird awkward girl. She goes to this farmhouse and finds out who their family was and [is] connecting to the grandfather she never knew.” Since the film had been delayed persistently by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, seeing her younger and smaller self was surreal for Mckenna: “I look completely different [during filming]. My grandma watched the trailer and she called my mom to say, I don’t see Mckenna in it.”
Jason Reitman also teased the audience that the panel would show an exclusive clip. But he didn’t show a clip — he screened the entire film, much to the whooping of the room. Before the screening, he wrapped up the panel by saying, “I love streaming and it’s helped me get through the pandemic. But I love movies. We wanted a movie to be enjoyed with popcorn, a screen, and sound.”
Ghostbusters: Afterlife will be released Nov. 19.