Interview: Jean-Marc Lofficier

After running into his webpage quite by accident, PC approached Jean-Marc Lofficier for an interview. Jean-Marc responded almost immediately (which leads me to suspect he’s in front of his computer a lot) and agreed.
Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier have an interesting Ghostbusters pedigree. First Randy wrote what appears to be the very first article ever written about Ghostbusters for the June 1984 edition of American Cinematographer (parts of that article and the interviews that she conducted to write it later appeared in other magazines, namely Enterprise Incidents, England’s Starburst and France’s L’Ecran Fantastique (roughly translated as The Fantastic Screen). Later on Jean-Marc and his wife Randy (both are pictured to the left) wrote two episodes of The Real Ghostbusters, “The Headless Motorcyclist” and the very cool “The Ghostbusters in Paris”.

PC: Let’s start with the American Cinematographer article. How’d you get that sweet assignment?

JML: I think we got commissioned to do the piece like six months before the movie came out, and did all the interviews during a three month period — our deadline being like one month before the movie came out.

PC: In your article you describe Egon as “maniacal”, which always seemed odd to me.

JML: We hadn’t seen the movie; just read the script — not even a final version, no doubt. If memory serves he was a bit more “maniacal” on the printed page.

PC: You talked to cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs as lot. Nice guy?

JML: Nice elderly gentleman. We interviewed the entire special FX crew. Some of the stuff that didn’t find its way in American Cinematographer was used in Starburst in the UK and L’Ecran Fantastique in France.

PC: How did you get the gig writing for RGB?

JML: Like everyone else who was an animation writer at the time. We pitched premises (one-page story summaries) to story editor Joe Straczynski (Babylon 5). I forgot if the fist one he liked was “The Headless Motorcyclist” — I think it was. “Ghostbusters in Paris” came next. Anyway, once Joe liked a premise, he then commissioned an outline. From that point on, you got a contract and were guaranteed to be paid. After he approved the outline — if I recall, there were very few changes — then we went to script. That was it. Very simple.

PC: Were you a fan of the movie or cartoons heading in?

JML: As mentioned, we’d done extensive coverage of the first film — in fact the ONLY thing there was at the time. The cartoons hadn’t aired, yet, when we worked on the show. We’d only seen the black and white art they’d put in the show’s writers’ bible.

PC: So there WAS a writer’s bible. I knew it! What did you like most about writing for RGB or cartoons in general for that matter?

JML: Joe Straczynski was the best story editor we ever worked for. Because the series was for syndication, he wasn’t subject to the infantile, mindless restrictions of the Networks’ Standard & Practices that apply to Saturday Morning shows. So you could pitch intelligent stories. I recall that the only restriction was that you couldn’t show (or even hint) that the ghosts had once been live humans, and not show a human dying & returning as a ghost. The ghosts had to be “monsters”. But other than that, it was a great show to work for..

PC: J. Michael Straczynski has said many a time that the “suits” liked to stick their fingers in the show, try and water it down. You never had any trouble with your scripts? “Ghostbusters in Paris” has some dark, scary moments.

JML: No, not at all. I think what Joe was referring to was the Saturday Morning version that got diluted pretty bad. The Syndicated series got away with, er, murder by animation stantards. Joe probably fought a lot. I remember for instance that he had to fight to keep the character of Janine (don’t ask!) and especially her “pointed glasses” that the “experts” said could scare the children!

PC: I loved “The Ghostbusters in Paris”. I thought making the Eiffel Tower a containment unit was amazing. Besides the obvious fact that France is close to your heart, you were born in Toulon, why take the Ghostbusters to Paris?

JML: I remember that after that one first aired — in the afternoon in Los Angeles — we immediately, like within five minutes of the credits rolling, got a call from Harlan Ellison to congratulate us on the premise — and the way we resolved the situation. One of the producers, Michael Gross, told us it as one of his favorite shows and even apologized because the subcontracting studio that was assigned to it in the Orient (they were using like 4 different Asian studios) sort of botched it up.

Anyway, as you said, being French and all, it was sort of natural to want to take the gang to Paris and “do” France the way it’s often done in American films: everything but the kitchen sink! There was even a scene in Montmartre that gut cut out of the script for timing reasons.

PC: Did you have a favorite RGB episode?

JML: No, not really. But I thought most of the syndicated RGBs were better stories than the second film! And we got paid a lot less! [laughs]

PC: This is traditional PC question. Who’s your favorite RGB character and why?

JML: I think every writer would probably say Pete Venkman, the Bill Murray character. I still chuckle, I don’t know why, when I remember the line in “Ghostbusters In Paris” when the voice actor who plays him says “Down is bad Ray”

PC: What is it about the idea of four guys running around busting ghosts that’s such a hit with people?

JML: Well, the personalities of the four guys, well, Pete, Ray and Egon in any event, were extremely well defined. It was very easy to write for these three, and I think the quality of the writing is what made the show popular. Let’s face it, you wouldn’t like “Ghostbusters In Paris” for the quality of the animation! [laughs] I think they could have been car salesmen, you still would have had a good show with these three. The ghosts were just the excuse for the plots, provided nice visuals, but they weren’t essential to the show’s success.

PC: Why only the two episodes? Personally I would have been interested to see more episodes penned by you and Randy.

JML: We tried for a third one, and I recall there were a couple of ideas Joe liked, but by that time, the show was almost over. It was a huge undertaking, producing like several episodes every week on separate “tracks”. [The show] wasn’t done sequentially, one pisode at a time. Also if I recall we also did a Duck Takes more or less at the same time — in fact that Duck Takes (“Magica’s Shadow War”) was very much like a Ghostbusters episode.

PC: If they started production again tomorrow, would you consider writing for the show again?

JML: Absolutely! But I doubt they’ll think of us now. New guys generally don’t like to hire people who’ve been there before, especially before them. It happened to us on Duck Takes. The story editors changed for the second season and they wouldn’t consider any of the writers who’d written for the first season. As with everything, there’s a lot of politics.

PC: Was there any story you wanted to write or something cool you wish you gotten to do with the RGB characters, but never got to try?

JML: There was a premise about [Charles Lutwidge] Dodgson (Lewis Carroll’s real name) and “Alice In Wonderland” [which was titled] “The Ghostbusters In Wonderland”, that we talked about. That one Joe liked. I also remember one using themes from William Hope Hodgson’s “House On The Borderland”, but Joe didn’t like it because he thought it was too far off-topic, as it were. I don’t remember any of the other premises.

PC: You and your wife know a thing or two about Dr. Who. You’ve written a tonne of books on the Doctor. Who’s got the cooler toys, the Doctor or the Ghostbusters? Better yet, who’d win in a fight mano-a-mano, The Doctor or Egon? I’d put money on Egon.

JML: It would depend on which Doctor, wouldn’t it?

PC: You translate books and comics from French to English so I’d like to ask your opinion about something. Is “S.O.S. Fantomes” really the best French translation possible for “Ghostbusters”? It sounds cool, but it’s kind of missing that zing “Ghostbusters” has.

JML: Hmm, possibly. “Les Chasseurs de Fantomes” (Ghosthunters) would be closer, but less punchy. Also too long to say in the dubbing, like Janine answering the phone.

PC: What’s it take to get into writing for TV or film?

JML: Patience. Perseverance. Lots of luck & networking. A modicum of talent.

PC: Ghostbusters 3?

JML: Well I hope it’s better than the second film! Also the actors are getting old and they’re not (just like the rest of us) what they used to be. I wish they’d leave it alone, really.

PC: What are you and your wife working on now?

JML: In terms of fiction, we mostly work in comics these days. We have one more, possibly two more, Elseworlds scheduled at DC in the same series we’re doing with Ted McKeever, which began with “Superman Metropolis” and continued with “Batman Nosferatu”. The next one is “Wonderwoman The Blue Amazon”.

Right as we speak, there’s a two-part Superman story that we’ve written for “Legends of the DC Universe”, drawn by J.O. Ladronn, that ought to appeal to Jack Kirby fans.

We’re also working on a third TONGUE*LASH story — that’s our Mayan fantasy series — but we need to find a new publisher, so…

Finally, we’re presently writing an Arzach novel (based on Moebius’ character) for Byron Preiss’ iBooks imprint.

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