Ivan Reitman and the birth of the Ghostbusters phenomenon

Ivan Reitman had helmed some successful movies in his career, but Ghostbusters would be his biggest triumph when it hit movie screens in 1984.

Canadian director's 1984 blockbuster hit created franchise that has been revived again and again

Visiting the set of Ghostbusters

40 years ago
Duration 1:08
The Journal visits the set of Ghostbusters and talks to director Ivan Reitman about his career.

Ivan Reitman had already seen a lot of success before Ghostbusters hit theatres back in 1984.

He had produced Animal House and directed the Bill Murray comedies Meatballs and Stripes — each of which had been produced on the cheap, but paid back their producers many times over.

It was the $30-million, special effects-laden Ghostbusters, however, which Reitman directed himself, that became a mega-pop culture phenomenon following its release in the summer of 1984.

The movie would spawn two separate cartoon shows, a merchandise empire, a movie sequel with the original cast, as well as an eventual film reboot with an all-female cast

Actors Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Sigourney Weaver are seen on the set of the Ivan Reitman-directed Ghostbusters. (Doug Pizac/Associated Press)

A fourth film, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, is slated for release in July 2020, with Jason Reitman sitting in the director's chair instead of his father.

For a report that aired in January of 1984, CBC's The Journal visited the elder Reitman on the set of the original Ghostbusters film and talked to him about his work as a filmmaker — much of which had not been warmly received by critics, despite its popularity with audiences.

'I can make any movie I want'

Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd spoke with CBC's The Journal about Ivan Reitman's directing style. (The Journal/CBC Archives)

At that point in his career, though, Reitman told The Journal he was focused on one thing — making a movie he could stand behind.

"I know I can make any movie I want any time. That's all I know and that's all I really care about," said Reitman.

"It's not getting the film made — that's the easy part. It's making a good movie."

As The Journal noted in its report, Reitman had a habit of putting comic actors at the centre of his films, as was the case in Ghostbusters.

Two stars of that movie — Canadian Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray — told The Journal that Reitman was willing to let his actors improvise, gathering many takes as he sought to capture the best possible material.

"He loves the writing to keep going and going ... until you have that nugget that finally is the take," said Aykroyd, who co-wrote the Ghostbusters script with Harold Ramis, another star of the movie.

A focus on the audience

How Ivan Reitman finishes his pictures

40 years ago
Duration 1:20
The Journal examines how Ivan Reitman tweaks his movies before they make it to theaters.

From what The Journal reported, Reitman had a well-developed approach to putting together the final version of his films that audiences would see in theatres — and it involved focus groups.

"He analyzes the quality and box-office potential of his films by screening them for audiences," The Journal's Nadine Berger told viewers.

"He counts the number of times an audience laughs during a screening. And if they don't laugh enough, he goes back to the editing room, again and again, to make the film funnier."

Marvin Antonowsky, a movie marketing executive, told The Journal that Reitman understood the market and knew his audience. 

"I think Ivan is a genius and I think Ivan, basically, aims his pictures ... at the people who buy the most tickets," Antonowsky said.

But not everyone saw enduring value in his work.

The late film critic Jay Scott saw Reitman as being a significant player in the movie business — for a Canadian.

"In American terms, he's just another producer who makes schlock," said Scott.

Dealing with criticism

'Criticism always hurts'

35 years ago
Duration 1:08
Despite his commercial success, critics have been tough on some of Ivan Reitman's work.

Despite the success he'd seen in the part of his career that came before Ghostbusters, Reitman admitted criticism was tough on him.

"Criticism always hurts and I just tried to ignore it," Reitman said, when asked how he dealt with criticism of his prior work.

Ramis, who co-wrote the Ghostbusters script and who also co-wrote Animal House, Meatballs and Stripes, said these projects sprung from the minds of creators who "retained" a portion of their teenage mentality when it came to their comedic instincts.

"People think it's pandering to do these movies, but I don't see it as pandering," said Ramis. "These things genuinely represent our cherished adolescent values."

'One of the great joys of my life'

The U.S. Library of Congress added Ghostbusters to the country's National Film Registry in 2015. (Columbia Pictures/Library of Congress/Associated Press)

Whatever the impetus for their creative process, Ghostbusters proved popular with movie audiences and established itself as a film with an enduring audience. 

In 2015, Ghostbusters was among 25 films the U.S. Library of Congress put into its National Film Registry.

"Making Ghostbusters was one of the great joys of my life," Reitman said in a statement included in a news release from the Library of Congress.

"It's an honour to know that a movie that begins with a ghost in a library, now has a spot on the shelves of the [U.S.] Library of Congress. It's humbling to be part of a collection of extraordinary films that I have loved all my life."