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Filmmaker Jason Reitman on taking on Ghostbusters franchise from father Ivan

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In more than 15 years of filmmaking, Jason Reitman says he’s never been as nervous about a premiere as he is with this week’s release of Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

“I want to make my father proud and I want to do well by my family legacy, and this is the only movie that I’ve ever made that has never belonged to me,” the Montreal-born filmmaker behind the Oscar-nominated dramedies Juno and Up in the Air said in a recent phone interview.

“On my other films, I felt like I owned them until they released, and then they belonged to the audience. In this case, I just picked up the baton for a moment and I tried to treat it with respect and carry it carefully.”

Of course, the father he’s referring to is Ivan Reitman, the Toronto-raised director and producer of the first two Ghostbusters films, the supernatural comedies featuring a group of spirit-chasers in New York. He also produced the 2016 female-focused relaunch.

The younger Reitman remembers being on the set of the original 1984 film as a six-year-old and dressing as a Ghostbuster for Halloween, donning the signature flight suit the characters wore.

As he followed in his father’s footsteps and became a director and producer, he was often asked if he’d helm a Ghosbusters sequel.

Up until about five years ago, he said his answer was always no, considering it to be his father’s franchise. But one day he had a vision of a 12-year-old girl who finds a ghost-capturing device known as a proton pack in a barn.

He ran the idea by his father, who’d been dogged for years by failed development attempts at a follow-up to the first two Ghostbusters.

His dad was onboard.

New generation of paranormal hunters

This spawned the Alberta-shot Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which hits theatres Friday with a new generation of paranormal hunters, including Mckenna Grace as that 12-year-old and Vancouver-raised Finn Wolfhard as her brother.

This image from Ghostbusters: Afterlife released by Sony Pictures shows, left to right, Celeste O’Connor, Finn Wolfhard, Logan Kim and Mckenna Grace. (Kimberley French/Sony Pictures/AP)

Carrie Coon plays their single mother, alongside Paul Rudd as their teacher. The film includes original Ghostbusters cast members Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts and Ottawa-raised Dan Aykroyd, who is also one of the executive producers.

The story sees Coon’s character move with her children to a derelict farmhouse passed down by her late dad in a small Oklahoma town, where it soon becomes clear there’s something strange in the neighbourhood.

Reitman’s own family was top of mind while he was co-writing the film, which has a major plot point he didn’t want to spoil.

He said he thought about his 15-year-old daughter a lot while crafting Grace’s young protagonist.

“I know the way that I viewed my father’s films growing up, and I think about the way that she’s going to view mine, because she’s a cinephile now and can be a little smug in her impression of movies and filmmakers, so I want to make her proud,” Reitman said, noting she’s only seen two of his films so far.

“We need to do a little marathon. But if I’m being honest, I’m very scared to show her my movies, because I really want her to love them,” said Reitman, who also directed the dark comedies Thank You for Smoking and Young Adult.

‘I got the whole Bill Murray experience’

As legend has it, Bill Murray is famously hard to get ahold of. Many articles have been written about how he doesn’t have an agent or manager, and can only be reached at a secret 1-800 number.

Original Ghostbusters cast members Dan Aykroyd, left, and Bill Murray attend the premiere of Ghostbusters: Afterlife in New York. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

But Reitman said it wasn’t tough to get him onboard for Ghostbusters: Afterlife, noting his father had already directed Murray in five films.

“I got the whole Bill Murray experience — from getting to see him in a flight suit again to him improvising lines that only made me look like a better writer,” Reitman said.

He shot the film in 2019 with a Canadian crew in and around Calgary.

WATCH | Ghostbusters fans flock to small Alberta town for special screening:

Ghostbusters fans flock to small Alberta town for special screening

Residents of Fort Macleod, Alta., and out-of-town fans all descended on the historic Empress Theatre to celebrate the release of the latest instalment in the Ghostbusters movie franchise. 1:35

The pandemic postponed the film’s release a couple of times from its original launch date of July 2020.

Now that it’s finally come to fruition, does he want to take on another?

“It’s like children,” Reitman said with a laugh. “All anyone wants to know is when you’re going to have kids, and once you’ve had a kid, all they want to know is when you’re going to have another.

“I don’t have an answer yet. I honestly still live in the anticipation of the release of Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

“This is a film that I was intimidated to make my entire life, and my father and I have had to sit on our hands waiting to see whether or not people will embrace this one. They seem to be embracing it. I’m obviously anticipating the release like nothing ever in my life and only hope to make people happy.”

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