Columbia’s plan to reboot Ghostbusters is being haunted by a Mike Ovitz–orchestrated deal made in the early eighties on behalf of the series’ original director-producer, Ivan Reitman. The studio’s strategy is to revitalize the franchise for next year by having the original ‘busters train a dramatically younger crew in Ghostbusters III, while a correspondingly younger director handles things behind the camera. However, Reitman’s old contract — made at the height of his and Ovitz’s powers — still gives him exceptional creative control over the series, including director approval. “Those deals were made in the eighties,” explains one insider. “So his rights in this circumstance have a great deal of teeth.” Therefore, while it’s true that Reitman can’t force Columbia to make Ghostbusters III with him, he can make it nearly impossible for the studio to make the film without him.
In fact, a source tells us that Reitman and all three original principals (Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Harold Ramis … sorry, Ernie Hudson!) have a deal that says that if any of the four of them don’t like any element of a new Ghostbusters, they can singlehandedly veto and kill the project; it has to be unanimously approved before going forward. (Considering that both Aykroyd and Ramis have been consulting on the story, Murray is likely the only unknown quantity on the actors’ side.) However, the key difference is that Columbia would love for these actors to be onboard to pass the torch and cross the streams. Not so with Reitman.
Reitman was just 42 years old when he directed the first Ghostbusters sequel in 1989, and at the time had the most lucrative track record in comedy filmmaking: Twins and Ghostbusters II grossed some $300 million that same year. But now, at 63, Reitman (whose last movie was the bomb My Super Ex-Girlfriend) is precisely what the studio isn’t looking for: While the second draft of the script for Ghostbusters III — penned by The Office writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky — won’t be handed in until May, insiders say that by introducing a group of twentysomething ‘busters, Columbia’s brass hopes to do with the franchise what it’s doing with Spider-Man by hiring on (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb.
But the studio can’t fully realize that plan unless Reitman bails. Sony hoped the problem would be solved for them if Reitman were too busy on another project, which they thought just happened: Vulture has learned that Paramount green-lighted a new comedy to be directed by Reitman called Friends With Benefits (originally titled Fuckbuddies). Co-financed by the director’s Montecito Picture Company, FWB will star Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman in what’s described as “an inverse Harry Met Sally,” a sex comedy wherein two friends in a purely physical relationship begin to develop true romantic feelings for one another. Pressed for details, a source close to the project laughed and said, “It’s pretty much what you’d expect from a spec script that was originally entitled Fuckbuddies.”
(In its defense, Fuckbuddies is the offspring of Liz Meriwether, youngest member of the “Fempire” — the chick screenwriting cabal that also includes Dana Fox (What Happens in Vegas), Diablo Cody (Juno), and Lorene Scafaria (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist). The script also made 2008’s Hollywood Black List of great-but-unproduced screenplays.)
However, Sony’s hopes that FWB would lead to Reitman making a graceful exit from Ghostbusters III will likely be dashed. Insiders familiar with Reitman’s plans say he thinks the two comedies are not mutually exclusive, and still plans to direct both, raising serious questions about whether Sony will want to proceed with Ghostbusters III at all. However, losing Ghostbusters would make a tough 2011 even tougher, as the studio has no other franchise blockbuster scheduled.
Either way, the studio might want to revisit the words of Reitman himself from a 1989 Los Angeles Times interview, in which he downplayed the merits of ever doing another Ghostbusters again: “Ghostbusters II wasn’t as much fun to make as the first one,” Reitman explained. “In comedy, the element of surprise is everything. And I think once that element of surprise is gone, once people know there’s going to be ghosts, there’s going to be big ghosts, and they’re expecting something big at the end, a lot of the tools that are at your disposal are gone.”