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Ghostbusters 2016 Movie Production Notes

 By Paul Rudoff on Jul. 5, 2016 at 11:30 PM , Categories: 2016 Parody Remake

Part of the charm of the original Ghostbusters film is the mix of low-tech and high-tech - cutting-edge technology that seems as if it had been kludged together in someone's shed.

So, in approaching the look of the gadgets, weapons, vehicles and props, production designer Jefferson Sage worked with Paul Feig to bring a similar aesthetic: while the looks have definitely been updated, the props retain the homemade feel - as if Holtzmann really were assembling them on her own. "We wanted to build in as much extra technology that was different from the original film as we could, and bring it into the modern day, but keep the garage-band spirit of it - it all looks like it was made of parts that were fished out of dumpsters behind electronics stores and colleges," Feig says. "We wanted people watching to think, 'If I was smart enough, I could build that stuff.'"

"The conceit is that these weapons are made in their own shop," says Sage. "Holtzmann is a brilliant engineer, but she's not a designer. She figures out how to make the weapon work, and then wraps it in some kind of casing - it's just a way to hold the technology, rather than something carefully designed. That was out starting point - we had to dig into Holtzmann's mind. We had to think like she would think."

As they dove deep into Holtzmann's wild brain, the designers began to focus on found objects and other materials that could be adapted to Holtzmann's purposes. "She's the type who'll find old pipes on the street and see a gun barrel," Sage continues. "You look at the weapons, and you think 'Well, that looks like a tin can, but they've done something to it.' The goal was to wed the familiar with the new purpose that Holtzmann would have concocted for the thing."

Another way the homemade quality came across in the new film is by showing an evolution and improvement in the creations, as McKinnon relates. "The evolution of the proton pack is a subplot in itself," says the actress. "In the beginning, there's a prototype that eventually evolves into a world-class proton machine. You can really see the changes that the technology goes through as a result of Holtzmann's efforts and brilliance. Initially, when they go to the subway to find their ghost, Holtzmann's pushing a huge cart, and she has to attach a horrific electric dog collar to Erin so that she can shoot it - that's really the first proton pack. And then, over time, Holtzmann figures out how to contain everything and make it more compact, so that they can wear it on their backs. The proton packs are still not tiny. They are not light. They are not convenient. But they are portable."

"Paul was very interested in how we portrayed the technology," Sage continues. "It's obviously fictitious, but Paul wanted it to feel real, like it could actually happen. We were able to reach out to a couple of physicists at MIT who were able to talk us through the real science that might be behind the fictitious devices - that was great, and they had a ball. They gave us a lot of real-life ideas that gave us an underpinning of the real world to everything the Ghostbusters use."

He's not kidding - real-life particle physicist James Maxwell, a postdoc at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, put aside the larger questions about the formation of the universe, becoming the film's technical consultant to help give the movie props a bit of real-world verisimilitude.

It wouldn't be a Ghostbusters movie without the Ecto-1, so naturally, the Ghostbusters' ride is in the film. But, just as the original film's weapons were updated, so too was the car. The original 1984 film used a retrofitted 1959 Cadillac ambulance, and for the new film, the filmmakers chose a similarly dated car. "We found a 1981-83 Cadillac hearse," says Feig. "We wanted to keep the fun of the original Ecto-1, but make it our own. I just loved the look of it - the sleek lines, but also that it's such a big boat. Also, a hearse felt appropriate for working with the undead. Once we had the car, Jefferson Sage and his team made this car really cool - I liked the idea of having a red roof on the Ecto-1. The story is that the car comes from Patty's uncle, so we decided he wanted people to go out of this life in style and that's why it has a red roof. I love the way it looks."

"Our idea was that the Ecto-1 is Holtzmann's mobile lab," says Sage. "A design illustrator went through multiple drafts of the car and what it might look like - from the way out there (outfitted with a satellite dish, etc.) to the more restrained. Ultimately, we decided that they wanted it to look not too sophisticated, again, to give the impression that Holtzmann could have built it herself."

But Sage didn't stop at the exterior. "We also designed the inside of the Ecto with pieces and parts and hanging gear," Sage continues. "We included places to hang weaponry, and the proton packs slide in and out of a sliding rack." That's a nod to the original film, in which the proton packs slide in and out of the ambulance's gurney.

Again, James Maxwell lent his expertise, weighing in on some of the real-world science that Holtzmann would need to know as she chooses the technology she'd bring into the field to do battle with the paranormal.

One assistant art director was assigned to the car exclusively for weeks, outfitting the roof with a series of machine-looking devices, harnesses, tubes, tanks, a siren, a loudspeaker, antenna, batteries, and more, to transform it into the Ecto-1.

This Ghostbusters film also introduces a new vehicle - Kevin's motorcycle, the Ecto-2. And if Holtzmann's designs have a homemade feel, they're homemade by a trained engineer who holds a Ph.D. On the other hand, Kevin's homemade bike shows his unique mind at work. (And because Kevin wouldn't have had the science training or expertise that Holtzmann has, the filmmakers chose not to have the real-life physicist Maxwell weigh in on the motorcycle.)


Production Designer Jefferson Sage was responsible for the overall look of the film, including the sets and locations.

For the Ghostbusters headquarters, the filmmakers were determined to make a nod to the original film while also making their own mark. The Ghostbusters explore a firehouse, which is deemed too expensive, before they set up shop in Chinatown, above a restaurant.

"When the Ghostbusters are short on money, they rent the upstairs space of a falling-down Chinese restaurant," says Sage. "We found an interesting standalone building that gave us a nice sense of isolation - which reinforced the idea that our Ghostbusters are outsiders," says Sage. "We transformed the building - gave it a full paint job and built on an additional garage that would house the Ecto-1. The interior was filmed on a stage - and the architecture of the stage set was matched carefully with the real-world location, so it would always feel like you're inside the actual building. The façade was an exact match - so we could put the camera outside the set, shooting through the window."

The interior set was inspired by the Chinese restaurant location. "It features the typical look of a Chinese restaurant. It allowed us to use a lot of color and interesting décor - Chinese figures, roofs, and dragons," says Sage. "We designed a big moon door, with a distinctive Chinese look - but of course, it's supposed to have been abandoned, so it's not in very good shape. You can see the restaurant's kitchen and bathrooms."

Sage explains that the whimsical location added a layer of comedy to the film. "We found some beautiful research of an abandoned Chinese restaurant and it gave us ideas for what the basic features would be. That gave us the idea to create a buffet area with a decorative roof element, which becomes Holtzmann's primary lab. It allowed us to marry her technology and science with the somewhat frivolous restaurant architecture that came with the place."

Indeed, the space evolves as Holtzmann makes it into her lab. "When they first move in, they're still adapting the space to their purposes," Sage explains, "but over the course of the story, more equipment appears. For example, they develop a station in one closet where the proton packs can be hung on the wall and plugged into the power sources and the nitrogen sources that would reenergize the packs."

Another key location in the film is Aldridge Mansion, the supposedly (and, it turns out, actually) haunted mansion. With the exterior filmed at the Boston University Castle, a prominent house near the campus, and the interior shot at the Ames Mansion, an estate now owned and run by the State of Massachusetts as a park, Sage says the location formed a fun backdrop for the Ghostbusters to make their first encounter with the beyond. "The BU Castle a Tudor revival mansion built around 1915, and the Ames Mansion was built in the 1920s. They gave us a great sense of the ghost story that would kick the movie into high gear. We were able to push this design into the familiar world of a Gothic ghost story," he says.

In particular, the interior of the mansion's library was a terrific space for the Ghostbusters to explore. "The Ames Mansion's library is a beautiful, two-story personal library," says Sage. "There's an upper gallery that goes around the room, and the family's old books are stored there. But there's also an odd collection of different periods - furnishings, chairs, sofas, a beautiful map table, all slightly mismatched in a way that we really loved. The library is full of personal art paintings by Mrs. Ames, paintings of their friends who were prominent artists in the area at the time. It felt very personal - less like a museum about a specific period, and more a museum about a family."

For the sequences set in the subway, where Patty makes her first spectral encounter, Sage says designing the set was a great opportunity for a designer to geek out on research. "Subways are layered, in a way - there are elements from the 1920s, from the 40s, and from the renovation that happened in the 90s," says the designer. "We layered all of that in there, to give a realistic sense of the tunnel - I think if the tunnel feels more real, the ghost that appears in the tunnel will feel more real." The art department built a 125-foot set, with a platform and bit of tunnel, using digital set extension techniques to expand it.

One of Boston's more prominent landmarks, the Wang Theatre, becomes the space for a rock concert where the Ghostbusters face their first real battle with a being from another world. "This is a key scene, because the Ghostbusters finally have a call to capture a ghost. So the goal was to combine an action sequence around a comic sequence," says Sage. Heavy metal became the perfect venue. "The ghost has gotten loose in the theater, and by accident, it jumps into the auditorium where the concert is happening. The Ghostbusters are forced to jump on stage to fight," Sage explains.

And not only did the theater itself provide a haunted and evocative location - so, too, did its basement. "The Ghostbusters have to go into the bowels of the theater to try to find the ghosts. The Wang Theatre has long, narrow, scary hallways that we cluttered and dressed. We turned off the lights so that when the Ghostbusters were down there, it seemed like they were in an odd, crypt-like space. It really became part of what made the Wang Theatre into a perfect location for that part of the film."

The film's epic battle takes place in Times Square, and to film it, the filmmakers found the perfect location... in South Weymouth, Massachusetts. To create the set, the filmmakers would need a large area, and found it in an abandoned Naval Air Station. First established as a regular Navy blimp base in World War II, the location was an operational US Navy airfield from 1942 until 1997.

To create the effect, the filmmakers built a large set with a building exterior and other outdoor elements, wrapped in green screen, for the VFX team to fill in later... and, as it turns out, to fill it in twice. "Part of the big effect during the final confrontation with the bad guy and all the ghosts is that he does a wipe of Times Square and it's suddenly transformed back to the 1970s," describes Sage. "It becomes a great visual statement about his power, taking Times Square back to the mean old 1970s. We in the art department designed the look of the 1970s buildings and the contemporary buildings, and the digital guys put it all together."

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