Column: The Private Sector – Where Has All the Pyrotechnic Fluid Gone?

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)

Column: The Private Sector – Cross-Dimensional Janitors

It’s a quick and simple process: go into hotel, destroy ballroom, capture ugly little spud, emerge from hotel, become rock stars with fans that chase you around New York City chanting the name of your company and selling t-shirts with your logo. Pretty quick route to becoming a superstar that’s beloved by the general public, right? But what if an enterprise like the Ghostbusters actually existed in real life, present day? Would they be treated like the rock stars we see in the movies, or would they be treated like any other public service?

These are the things that I tax myself with when I can’t sleep at night, and depending on how you look at it – it’s either incredibly profound or incredibly sad. But bear with me for a moment while I take you through my thought process, because I have a feeling that if Ghostbusters were a real Yellow Pages business here in the so-called “real world,” they might not receive the same reception that they get in the movies. And even more shockingly, I think the public might have a similar reaction to (gasp), Mr. Walter Peck.

Let’s start by breaking it down. Ghostbusters fundamentally exists because of a belief in the supernatural. And, while the widespread belief in organized religion certainly needs no argument, I’d imagine there are quite a few skeptics in the belief of the paranormal out there. Come on, be honest: how many of you have watched a couple of the Dan Aykroyd hosted specials on paranormal and extraterrestrial activities and said to yourself, “No way?” So immediately, the Real World Ghostbusters that exists in the tired and alcohol destroyed brain of Troy Benjamin has quite an obstacle to overcome.

For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll say that ghosts do exist and a real company has found a way to actually track and contain them. Once we’ve come to the conclusion that they exist, they infest your house, they’re a total nuisance and ruin all of your possessions (pun, somewhat intended), they scare the bejeezus out of you, and you yourself have no means of ridding your house of the infestation, who are you going to call? Well, when you have mice, termites, or any other pest you usually call the Orkin man. Right? Do large masses of people follow the Orkin man around selling t-shirts with his logo on it and chanting in unison, “Orkin, Orkin, Orkin, Orkin!” Most likely not. And if so, that would be pretty awesome to see.

I have a feeling that you, as the consumer, would be relieved to have the Ghostbusters arrive to take care of your problem (you might not be so relieved when you see their excessively expensive bill). But given the circumstances and the real world parallels, I don’t think you would necessarily idolize these guys. After all, they have incredibly destructive equipment; one would also imagine they’re covered in ectoplasm that doesn’t necessarily carry all that attractive of an odor. Think about it, when your Waste Management facilitator shows up at your door and takes out the garbage, if you’re Dana Barrett are you in any hurry to plant one on the dude’s kisser? I bet you’re telling him to hop in the shower before you head anywhere near him.

Okay Troy, you’ve got me convinced but there’s this little thing that the Ghostbusters do that you’re leaving out of this equation: they save the world and they put on one helluva light show as they do it (so what if they conjure up a couple hundred foot Marshmallow Men that crush whole city blocks?). Well, you have me there. However the cheesy and perhaps a little sentimental answer is that garbage collectors, exterminators, firemen, all of these public service members are saving the world in their own way. Garbage collectors are preventing the world from turning into the Earth seen in Wall-E (kind of), exterminators are saving us from another plague being spread (what’s the Swine Flu?), firemen and police officers it goes completely without saying. So how come masses don’t gather at four alarm fires and chant, “Ladder 6, Ladder 6, Ladder 6?” Again, I’ve never seen it but if it actually happens out there, I’d love to.

I know I’m completely ruining all the fun of the films by grounding them too much in a reality that, in all honesty – I love to escape in the form of film going in the first place. And surely, the best argument against me is that I have yet to meet a team of Orkin men that are as charismatic and entertaining as Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson.

But don’t you just wonder? If Ghostbusters really existed and was available for me to truly call, how would I react?

(The Private Sector is a weekly syndicated column written by Troy Benjamin presented every Wednesday on Ghostbusters.net, GB Fans, and Proton Charging as an op-ed look at the goings on in the world of the Ghostbusters franchise. Learn more about Troy at www.troybenjamin.com)

Column: The Private Sector – Y’know… For the Kids

I would have loved to be a fly on the wall back in a cozy Columbia executive boardroom circa 1987/1988. I can imagine the conversation started something a lot like this: “That Real Ghostbusters show is really doing gangbusters.” (Pause for a chuckle because of the poor play on words. I should also mention that this voice sounds something akin to a stereotypical newspaper tycoon with a snide accent.) “You know what we should do with this new Ghostbusters picture? We should gear it more toward those youngsters, then we really can’t lose.”

And you can’t blame them; take a look at the result. Ghostbusters continues to be a cultural phenomenon all these years later. However, many of the biggest trepidations toward the second Ghostbusters film amongst the fanboys involve how it opened up to a wider (read: younger) audience. The boys weren’t smoking anymore. They were watching their language. And let me tell you, did Slimer love Fuji Film. I may or may not be remembering that last one incorrectly… hindsight is 20/20.

It’s for this reason, that I’m extremely curious to see how the new Ghostbusters film is going to be directed, marketed and packaged.

Let’s set aside the five digits worth of folks that we call the Ghostheads, just for the purposes of this analysis. You know I love you all, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this. And we can assume that, barring some major disaster like learning Oscar swings from vines with monkeys, each and every registered member on GB Fans, Proton Charging, and GBN are going to be shoe-ins for a movie ticket – you can’t tell me that if you’ve made it to this fourth paragraph in my column on a Ghostbusters fansite that you’re NOT going to buy a ticket to a new Ghostbusters film and all the merch to accompany it. But much as we’d like to be the center of the universe, those numbers are only a fraction of the ticket sales and merchandising sales that need to occur for Ghostbusters III to be considered as big of a hit as its predecessors.

Which is the origin of my curiosity… the marketing and licensing folks (not to mention all of our heroes currently behind the scenes building the foundation for the upcoming movie) have a whole lot of masters to serve come Summer of 20—-datapacketlost—- when Ghostbusters III is released. They have to appease fanboys, adults, and appeal to kids that may only vaguely be familiar with what Ghostbusters is (if at all).

Want to hear my thinly thought through, nowhere near professional but common sense way of how I’d handle it? I thought you’d never ask…

You’ve gotta get the adults back that remember the first films fondly. Nostalgia will only get you so far (otherwise look at all the remake films that should have been huge hits but tanked like McHale’s Navy), so you have to remind those that grew up on or were already adults for the first two films that the movie was damn funny and entertaining and this one is going to be just as much so. Tag an original filmed in-character commercial with Peter and Ray sitting down to watch the Super Bowl that airs during said event and get a good laugh out of millions of the adult movie-going crowd right away… forget the smash-bang-CGI-filled teaser trailer or TV spot, what’s really going to get the adults into the swing is if they know that this is going to make The Hangover look like a Sunday Mass at the Ol’ St. Mary’s.

But that just gets the old folks in the door. Remember for this movie to be a smash hit you need to have ten-year old kids out on the playground using their backpacks as Proton Packs and being fuelled by the Ghostbusters themed breakfast cereal that you fed them earlier in the morning. So both the film itself and all of the advertising and merchandising needs to find a way to capture that same energy the first Ghostbusters had. It needs to teeter on that edge of the visuals and concepts being stimulating to the little guys, but the adults getting the laugh that the kids might not understand.

And mind you, I said that it needs to teeter on the edge… it should not favor either direction. If you cast a Jonas Brother in a role, you’ve pushed the border well past its limits. That’s not to say that a certain role can’t be appealing to the Teen Beat demographic, they better well make sure that the adults can stomach him or her too. I should mention at this point, to no detriment of his talents or abilities, my parents aren’t big Michael Cera fans. Sorry, Mike. Loved you in Arrested Development, if it hurts the sting a bit? My parents also were a part of the rip in the space-time continuum that made Wild Hogs a hit so…

It’s a fact that the change fearing Ghostheads will quickly have to comfort themselves about, it is still called show business and the good business sense tells every party involved that if they can get (dear God, am I really saying this) the 8 to 80 male and female crowd all buying tickets and eating Happy Meals, the Ghostbusters won’t just be saving the world in the summer, they’ll be saving the economy too.

Speaking of the economy and buying things, another interesting quandary is that you have the adult collectors and us Ghosthead Comic-Con going fanboys, which people have written entire dissertations trying to understand, that are wandering the toy isles and pushing little kids out of the way in order to be the first to buy swag. So in order to rake in the sales, you’ll need to set up a merchandise scheme that appeases both the kids and the adult collectors. I’ve really liked how Mattel has been handling Avatar, Dark Knight, and several others of their tie-in properties. You’ve got a line for the kids, but you also have a higher price point collector’s line that caters other needs. Hopefully all of the Ghostbusters merch will follow a similar suite.

Any which way you slice it or listen to me circuitously ramble about it, I’m sure that there’s already several binders filled with statistical data and analysis strategies and plans that have been mapped out for Ghostbusters III. It’s going to be an interesting ride that I can’t wait to witness.

And spend lots of money on.

Happy New Year to you all, looking forward to many more Private Sector columns to come. As always, if you have questions, comments, or just want to point out that you’ve caught onto my drivel, drop me a line at netsolo@aol.com and let me know.

(The Private Sector is a weekly syndicated column written by Troy Benjamin presented every Wednesday on Proton Charging, Ghostbusters.net, and GB Fans as an op-ed look at the goings on in the world of the Ghostbusters franchise. Learn more about Troy at www.troybenjamin.com)

Column: The Private Sector – A Knock-About Punch of Pure Joy

Okay, let’s have a real quick show of hands… how many of you out there in Ghostheadland were first exposed to the original Ghostbusters film not in the theaters, not on home video, but on the original ABC “Sunday Night at the Movies” airing of the film?

The event atmosphere surrounding the national broadcast television premieres of films has all but dissipated in this on-demand, streaming, DVD/Blu-raying, bit-torrenting, digital cableing world that we live in, so even the thought of being excited for a movie to air on ABC might be lost on some of the younger ‘heads out there. But let me tell you, when a new release film was going to air on TV back in the “good-old days”, you were sitting in your family room with the VCR cued up and the remote in-hand to record it. Video rentals, especially in the small remote town in Colorado that I’m from, were a special occasion reserved for weekends or birthday parties. And forget owning VHS tapes. They certainly weren’t as cheap as the home video items that currently populate the five dollar bin at your local Wal-Mart. Waiting for the movie to air on broadcast TV (unless you had a friend or relative cool enough to tape the movie off HBO for you) was the ONLY way that to feasibly own a copy of the original Ghostbusters film.

So, my strong love affair with Ghostbusters insisted upon one Sunday evening (best I can recall circa-1987), where I monopolized the two TVs in the Benjamin household. One to record the movie, and the other for me to watch as I very slowly and deliberately took at least an hour to get ready for bed, much to my parents chagrin. What can I say, Sunday Night at the Movies interfered with bedtime for this then six-year old.

Ghostbusters airing on ABC’s Sunday Night at the Movies certainly was an event that was not to be missed and for me, it was recorded from start to finish on a Memorex tape that has survived nearing a thousand views. That tape and I stood through thick and thin, through attention moving from Ghostbusters to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and then moving to the ladies, the Sunday Night at the Movies version of the film followed no matter where I went. And when Ghostbusters II aired on HBO, and my grandfather was kind enough to tape it for me, the stalwart Memorex tape was joined by its companion. And they endured for years to come…

It’s for this reason that I’m going to come clean and make a true confession that no true Ghosthead should ever have to admit:

I hadn’t seen the true theatrical version of Ghostbusters until my early teenage years.

Yes, yes, I know – that’s about as shocking of a revelation as telling Star Wars geeks that you never saw the first two films but loved Return of the Jedi — but until I got older and wiser, I never knew of difference between the Sunday Night at the Movies version that I had watched over and over and held near and dear to my heart… and the store-bought VHS version that fate would put into my hands somewhere around 1992/1993.

Getting home from the store that night and popping in the true version of Ghostbusters was like seeing it for the first time. Pete Venkman was a bad-ass bursting out of the ballroom doors at the Sedgewick and not exclaiming a sentiment about joy that I couldn’t make sense of, but informing the world they had kicked some ass. Walter Peck apparently lacked necessary genitalia instead of being “a rodent of some sort.” And my God, there was a whole missing scene where Ray got a happy ending.

It was that moment, seeing the first film for the “first time”, that really got be back into the franchise that I loved as a kid but had waned away from as I hit junior and senior high school. Combined with a visit to Universal Studios in Florida shortly after, the purchase of the first Ghostbusters movie and my rekindled interest was the main reason that fate steered me to Alta Vista the moment that I ventured onto “the internet” and discovered the Ghostbusters Homepage.

And here I am, another Private Sector column waxing nostalgic again. It’s hard not to venture into the past during the holiday season, and especially as I’m sitting in my old bedroom, visiting my folks for Christmas… and the old die-hard Memorex tape of the Ghostbusters Sunday Night at the Movies showing sits directly in front of me on the shelf…

Happy Holidays from myself and from the fantastic proprietors of the websites in which you’re reading The Private Sector. The column will be on hiatus next week as I take a much needed vacation (and finally get to researching and interviewing folks for a long-planned column) but we’ll be back in 2010 with all-new ways for you to kill time at your favorite Ghostbusters websites. As always, if you have questions, comments, or need a sponsor as you venture into a fierce hot dog eating competition, I’m always here for you by emailing netsolo@aol.com.

[The Private Sector is a weekly syndicated column written by Troy Benjamin presented every Wednesday on Proton Charging, Ghostbusters.net and GB Fans as an op-ed look at the goings on in the world of the Ghostbusters franchise. Learn more about Troy at www.troybenjamin.com]

Column: The Private Sector – Load “*”, 8, 1

There was a time when patches were only things sewn onto the worn elbows of your jackets, and us “gamers” definitely weren’t waiting around for them. Let me take you back to a time when floppy discs were king, joysticks were modeled after the Atari, and when I wanted to throw my damn Commodore 128 out the window…

My grandmother was one of the most technological people that I knew and, as a Christmas gift, had purchased the family a Commodore 128. I remember it took my parents several nights to set up and to figure out how to even turn the thing on. But aside from a few novel game cartridges like Frogger and Toy Bizzarre, the Commodore didn’t really garner much attention from me.

That is, until a chance encounter at the software isle at K-Mart revealed a new treasure: the Ghostbusters game for the Commodore.

I’m pretty sure that I begged and pleaded and all but promised to complete chores until the day I died for free to get that game. In fact, now that I think about it, I probably am still indebted for all the promises I made there in Isle 5. Finally, my parents relented, and it was in the shopping cart. I was transfixed for the duration of our shopping stay at the department store – unable to take my eyes off the screenshots on the back of the box which promised Ghostbusting adventures to come.

And then, as often happened when we departed a store with a toy that I couldn’t wait to tear open, we left the store and my parents stopped for us all to get dinner. Torturous is the time that you have to sit as a kid waiting to get home, and I knew that the Ghostbusters game was out there in the car taunting me. It was one of the longest dinners of all-time.

When we finally made it home, I couldn’t get upstairs to where the Commodore was housed fast enough. In went the five and a quarter inch disk. I typed in the command to run the program per the beautiful black, white, and red instruction pamphlet (which to this day still has some of my favorite line art of Slimer ever rendered)…

The game load screen game up – a multi-colored text card with Activision’s 8-bit rendered logo and credits for Ray Parker Jr.’s now infamous title song. The anticipation was killing me during the five to ten minutes the disk drive was working overtime, sounding like a pencil sharpener with every click and hum…

…the drive noises stopped. This was it, this was definitely it!

…and the game did nothing.

It just sat. On the load screen. Nothing. I waited for ten minutes, which became a half hour. A half hour became two full. Finally my parents came upstairs telling me that it was time for bed and I couldn’t believe it. After all the hype, after all the expectations, THIS was the reward? A title screen that did nothing and the parents calling for bedtime?!?

I was pissed. I was cursing David Crane, Activision, and anyone else’s name that was on that initial loading screen including Ray Parker Jr. and Raydio Music. How dare they tease me like this? I was hurt, offended, and whatever other range of emotion a five-year old kid could truly convey at that point.

Subsequent days, I tried and tried the game again. Nothing. Nothing. More nothing. We even returned to K-Mart to exchange the copy of the game for another. And after another tortuous dinner following and a journey back out to the middle of nowhere Colorado, it didn’t work again.

Eventually I gave up, and the Ghostbusters game sat in the desk drawer collecting dust. In the pre-internet days, there wasn’t a whole lot that you could do for support. I had even written a letter to the Activision address on the packaging, hoping for some sort of reply (which I still wait for to this day). I thought that I was cursed by the video game gods, and would never get to play it… that was, until one faithful day when I realized that my Commodore 128 strangely had this “Go 64” command.

Wow, I typed in the command and everything turned blue. What a strange and different world this was from the usual green-bordered screen that I was accustomed to. I don’t know what prompted or inspired it, but I decided to try loading the Ghostbusters game one last time. Maybe this blue screen made things different.

Load “*” ,8…

An error message.

But that’s what the instructions in the beautiful booklet told me to type! But wait, one of my other video games that worked always required you to add the number 1 to the end of that command…

Load “*” ,8,1…

The game started to load… the load screen came up… the disk drive sounded like it was about to die again… then… the disk drive noises stopped. Seemingly nothing happened, and my heart sunk again. I looked away for a split second…

“GHOSTBUSTERS! BWAA HA HA HA HA HA HA!” Yelled a strange and robotic voice from my Commodore as the no-ghost logo appeared and an unforgettable 8-bit rendition of the theme song began to thrum.

I hooted so loudly that you’d have thought the astronauts had landed on the moon for the first time again. The bouncing ball appeared. The lyrics to the song presented themselves. Every time I hit the space bar, the computer shouted “Ghostbusters!” It was like Christmas morning to me.

To this day, the Commodore 64 version of the Ghostbusters game remains one of my favorites. The emulations don’t seem to capture the graphics quite the same and building up the ridiculous amount of account money that I still think I have to code for remains one of the fondest memories of being a child fan of Ghostbusters that I continue to hold on to. Maybe it was because there was also a certain feeling of accomplishment that came with finally getting to play the game, because I had to deduce how to actually make it work in the first place on my own. Maybe the time spent without getting to play it made it that much sweeter.

But there’s one thing that I know for sure, when I hear folks still complaining about a lack of a patch that allows them to get one of seven hundred trophies on the new (and so fantastic that I can NOT stop singing its praises) Ghostbusters: The Video Game, I can’t help but smile.

What would those people have done back in 1985 when faced with the challenge of busting ghosts in a totally different age?

Thanks as always for your feedback on the articles, everyone. The response to last week’s “What’s the Criteria” was fantastic and you should expect a follow-up soon. I also received a great response to the upcoming article about the female demographic in the fan community, so look forward to reading about them in the near future as well. Have a question, or hope that I’d talk about a certain topic? The email is always open for you and for all of the spam bots that rampage within it! Drop me a line at netsolo@aol.com and say hi!

[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]

From the Proton Charging Vaults;

David Crane wins industry award
1UP’s Retronaut takes a dryer look at the old GB game.
David Crane talks about making the Ghostbusters game.
Miscellanea from the game. (Spook Central)