Sure it’s crowded, it’s dirty, and there’s people here that would just assume step on your face than look at you, but one of the benefits of living in Los Angeles is the incredible wealth of talent, especially when it comes to “movie magic,” that calls such a place like Los Angeles home. This past Saturday, some of the greatest talents in the visual effects business gathered for the Visual Effects Society’s “25th (and 1/2) Anniversary” Screening of Ghostbusters at the Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood.
The event, which was touted as a screening and Q&A session with “special guests” turned into an impromptu reunion of the Boss Films crew, the former Marina Del Rey folks behind the visual effects of Ghostbusters, 2010, and their final project Alien 3. It goes without saying that the event was memorable – from stories of the complicated process in which the Stay Puft costume was engulfed in flame (“We… uh… put gasoline on him… and lit him up.”) to the wealth of fantastic archival photos by Virgil Mirano, which were expertly (and far too quickly) piloted by fellow DVD producer and visual effects magician Van Ling.
But what I really took away from the reunion/screening was just how fun the process of making movies used to be.
It’s funny seeing the twinkle in Richard Edlund’s eye when he reflects upon his time spent building Boss Studios from the ground up specifically for Ghostbusters and 2010, especially considering that Edlund is one of the greatest proponents of a digital, non-photo chemical, visual effects age. You get the feeling that he, and all of the participants that were on stage at the event, loved the challenge that having to produce everything optically presented. And when you stop and think about it, why wouldn’t they? If given the choice between being on a soundstage and rigging a solid-steel model of a Central Park West apartment building with explosives – then blowing the thing to kingdom come… or sitting and having a team of twelve animators at ILM digitally create the explosion frame by frame, I think the former is quite a bit more exciting than the latter.
There was one point in the moderated panel where the crew was discussing the challenge of animating the “rubberized light” beams that emit from the Ghostbusters particle accelerators. The solution, as described, was that the weapon was actually sucking atoms and particles from the area in which it was pointed so the pyrotechnics that were assembled on-set were made to look more like something “pulling” from the sets and less like the impact of an explosion (and, if you frame-by-frame through the DVD, you’ll notice the actual animated streams actually start on the wall and THEN link back to the proton gun three frames later). Fascinating and fun anecdotes that I had never known, and each person on the panel spoke of the process with a childlike glee.
But even taking that “fun aspect” out of it, one could argue that better and more effective work was produced when there was a challenge presented to the filmmakers. Can you imagine Steven Spielberg’s Jaws if the mechanical shark was computer generated and didn’t present any problems? How about Ridley Scott’s Alien film if he wasn’t hiding the man in a suit in the dark shadows of the Nostromo? I’ve vented at great lengths elsewhere (and frequently) about how computer generated effects have freed up (but become a handicap for) visionary filmmakers, so I won’t venture into that territory again. But I think that the point is clear: they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.
That much was abundantly clear in seeing and hearing the former wizards of Boss Films wax nostalgic on their Ghostbusters work. It was challenging, it was stressful, the pressure was insurmountable, and the fate of both their studio and others hung in the balance… yet twenty-five odd years later they are all still able to come together and the result is akin to a family reunion. Because despite all that hardship, they still had a helluva time.
Here’s hoping that the folks already hard at work on a third installment of this famed franchise take into account the challenge, and don’t take any of the shortcuts available in this modern era of filmmaking for granted… well… okay… and that they have a helluva time doing so.
(The Private Sector is a weekly syndicated column written by Troy Benjamin presented every Wednesday on GB Fans, Proton Charging, and Ghostbusters.net as an op-ed look at the goings on in the world of the Ghostbusters franchise. Learn more about Troy at www.troybenjamin.com)