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Ghostbusters Summer: Geek Monthly interviews Proton Charging

A few months back I was contacted by Ghostbusters fan and PC reader Gordon Holmes with some general questions about Ghostbusters and running a Ghostbusters site. The pay-off is that a couple of solid quotes and a plug for ProtonCharging.com ended up in this month’s Geek Monthly Magazine article on the Ghostbusters (the whole 25 years between the movie and the game) – I’m in there with Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson. This wasn’t on my bucket list, but I’ve added it, just so I can cross it off.

Here’s the thing though – Gordon, like all magazine writers, writes months in advance of publication, so space is approximate. Could be room for a little or a lot. So, I did what I always did. I rambled. And it’d be a shame to see all that go so waste, so as it essentially covers mi vida busta for the last 15 years, and most of it ultimately wasn’t used, why not share it here as part of Ghostbusters Summer. And for the love of Venkman, if you’re not reading Geek Monthly, why not? If nothing else, I’m in it! More than average!

GH: Well, I spoke to Hudson and Ramis, now it’s time to hear from the real Ghostbusters expert…

PC: I also answer to “the extreme Ghostbusters expert.” That’s a little GB brand humour there. Very little.

GH: How/when did protoncharging.com get started?

PC: Depends on how you count – Proton Charging came together pretty much as soon as I got my grubby hands on my University internet account, which was this brand new thing they were doing at the time. It was limited to online chat and newsgroups, but once they started giving students web server space, that’s when things officially took off. And then a few years later I got myself a domain. So, if you go by the start of the site, it’s been 14 years. If you go by the ProtonCharging.com domain, it’s been 10.

Looking back at what I just said, “when” turns out to be very boring. How is slightly more interesting. I wanted to learn this HTML stuff everyone was talking about, and kind of got it, but needed to put it into practice, and rather than it being a chore, I opted to try it on something I loved, which was Ghostbusters. It helped that there were only a couple of other Ghostbuster sites at the time, most notably The Ghostbusters Homepage, retired years back.

And viola, here we are – still a fanboy, still active.

GH: How big is the Ghostbusters online community?

PC: That is very hard to say. There’s no good measuring stick. I get a lot of readers a month, and growing. And then there are other community sites, and they have lots of registered visitors for their messageboards – no idea how much unregistered traffic they get on top of that, but I’m sure it’s considerable. Then there are other people who are online, doing their Ghostbusters thing, and I’ve realized over the years all these fans don’t entirely overlap. Only a small core group visits all the sites all the time. And there are a lot of fans that don’t visit any of them.

I guess if you wanted to come up with a number for the hardcores, you’d go by the people who took the time to sign up on the key messageboards at GBFans.com or Ghostbusters.net. But I prefer to look at things like two dozen dudes showing up at Comic Con in full gear – that’s comparable to the guys showing up in Stormtrooper gear. Or looking at Twitter – for everyone person following me @protoncharging, there are hundreds of others who aren’t following me tweeting “I’m watching Ghostbusters” or “I just introduced my nephew to Ghostbusters” or making quotes and references. Search Twitter for “ghostbusters” and you’ll see a couple of times a day, someone goes “Who ya gonna call?” and a handful reply. To a certain degree, everyone is a Ghostbusters fan.

The story goes that the video game got the go ahead because Sony commissioned a brand marketing study, and not counting religious symbols, the most recognizable logo in the entire world was Coke. The second most was Ghostbusters. I’d like to teach the world to sing… the Ghostbusers theme.

GH: What was site traffic/fan interest like back when Ghostbusters was considered a “dead brand?”

PC: It was pretty slow – in the early days of Proton Charging I would make up features. I’d write a whole post about how I taped the movie audio to cassette to listen to while traveling. There – that’s something to talk about for awhile.

News was fairly slim, and kind of a mixed bag. Like, Dan Aykroyd would make a cameo as Ray in Casper, then the next year, Universal Studios would close the Ghostbusters Spooktacular – so, it was really a sad, lonely time for the hardcores. When the movie got its first release on DVD it was pretty exciting, but then at the same time, some fans were regularly looking into the Ecto-1 that was used at Universal and cataloging its slow deterioration. As a fandom, it could have died and collapsed back in on itself if it wasn’t for a couple of hundred regular ghostheads keeping the faith, bolstered by the odd cookie, like Extreme Ghostbusters or Toyfare magazine featuring a custom-made Venkman 12″ doll, to keep things chugging along.

GH: What was keeping the fans satiated during the “dead brand” period?

PC: It depends on the fan. All the official things that came out here are there were a big part of it. The movie coming to DVD was a very big deal – the commentary and extras were a huge deal – and the “Green Slime’ reissue too. The Real Ghostbusters getting a limited release on DVD a few years back helped tide people over until last year’s full series set by Time-Life. It seemed like for the better part of a decade, someone passionate about the brand would take a shot at putting something out, and it would do kind of OK, but not OK enough to warrent making more stuff – the 88MPH comic series, the NECA action figures, stray t-shirts and hoodies – but it was enough to keep people talking Ghostbusters, and over time, more and more people who were just kids when Proton Charging started, who weren’t even born when the movies were out, would get to high school and university and they’d jump on-board. It kept things alive until we got to this year, the 25th anniversary, and Sony was ready to put on a big push.

At the same time, a lot of fans just made their own fun – they’d make jumpsuits and props and hit the cons and Halloween parties or visit Children’s Hospitals (big hit with the kids, let me tell you.) They’d write their fan fiction, or make their own art. A number of fans started their own online comics. A brave handful made some amazing fan films, like The Return of the Ghostbusters. A lot of fans just stayed in touch on messageboards, interacting and occasionally educating the regular waves of newbies coming in. And some of us started websites. Scouring the web for information was a lean fan existence for a few years, but it was all we had sometimes. “Someone registered ghostbusters3.com! What does that mean!? Is it coming?! Discuss!”

GH: How has traffic/interest picked up since the announcement of the game?

PC: Well, given that in March 1999, Proton Charging had two stories, one of which was a checklist I made for the role-playing game, and March 2004 had 5 stories, and March of this year clocked in at 79 stories, you can see how things have gone from flat-lined to straight up. And the traffic has followed a similar path – visitors have doubled in the past year. I didn’t have to touch my site for years and then this past year I had to suddenly get very serious about optimizing requests to my database and generally streamlining the site.

GH: Were you surprised when you heard Bill Murray would be involved in the game?

PC: A little. None of those guys really needs a third movie and they need the game even less. They’ve all got other things going on. And of them, it’s a well known, oft discussed fact that Bill Murray dislikes sequels. Not counting Garfield voice work, Ghostbusters 2 was his only real sequel and that took a lot of convincing apparently. So, voicing a video game seems like it wouldn’t even rank. But I think there’s a bit of a I Am Not Spock / I Am Spock thing going on, where the guys who considered Ghostbusters just another movie of their career are realizing just how deep the movie resonates in the popular culture, around the world. And once they realize that it’s not going away and it’s going to outlive them, you have to embrace it – 25 years later and they’re meeting young fans, that’s got to mean something to them. And they realize you can’t look a six-year old in the eye and tell them, well, that was a long time ago and I’m not really Peter Venkman. So, there’s this sense that getting involved with the game is a good example of them embracing their Ghostbusters legacy – helping to turn it from just a movie-into-game into, essentially, something worthy of the phenomenon.

GH: Why do you think GBs has stayed popular for 25 years?

PC: I’ve spoken to fans, people who’ve worked on the various things with Ghostbusters stamped on it, I’ve interviewed stars from the movie, and I always ask that, and their answers vary, but they say much the same thing – it’s just a great movie. It’s funny, it’s got blockbuster, if slightly dated, effects, it’s got create performances, and generally shows you stuff you’ve never seen before or since. That’s a big part of why I love this movie – it helped shape how Hollywood was going to be for the next 25 years. The teaser PR campaign? Ghostbusters pioneered it. Weeks of posters and billboards with nothing by a black field and a funny ghost symbol in the middle – not even a name. Roger Ebert pointed out in his review at the time that the movie was two things that never work well together – an effects blockbuster and a sly dialogue film. And as far as he was concerned, they nailed it. And thus was set a template Summer blockbusters still follow today.

But personally, I think it’s the vary simple message at the heart of the film, which is really big with kids. I’ve often wondered why the film and the cartoons, which are slowly aging, are still unconditionally accepted by the kids who watch them. And I think it’s because they see four regular guys – no super powers – use their brains to fight the things that go bump in the night. And laugh about it. If that isn’t extremely attractive to some kid who thought they saw their closet doorknob turn in the middle of the night, I don’t know what is. And I think that over time that becomes a useful metaphor for adult fans as well – face the monsters of the world, whatever that means to you, and it can only help. And then relax – laugh it off.

That, and also their car is stupid awesome.

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