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‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ Director Explains Why the Firehouse Was Key to the Sequel’s Story

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” saw Gil Kenan, who co-wrote 2021’s “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” with that film’s director Jason Reitman, step into the director’s chair to continue the “Ghostbusters” franchise. And for Kenan and Reitman (who co-wrote and produced this sequel), once they settled on New York City as the location for this next film, they very quickly hit upon a theme: home.

“We knew in sitting down to write the story for this film that there was going to be an embracing of the firehouse as home,” Kenan told TheWrap. “It’s always been the headquarters of the Ghostbusters; it’s never been home. But it created just an opportunity we couldn’t pass up dramatically, to explore that life/work balance or imbalance of what it’s like to be a ghost-busting family living in this iconic building that’s not designed to sustain a life of a family that is a modern and dynamic family.”

The latest entry in the franchise is a direct continuation of 2021’s “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” and sees the Spenglers (Carrie Coon, Mckenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard), as they have moved from Summerville, Oklahoma to the iconic Ghostbusters firehouse. That’s where they face off against an ancient evil that could trigger another ice age if they aren’t careful. (A real ice age, mind you, not a hilarious animated “Ice Age.”)

TheWrap spoke to Kenan about the origins and execution of this sequel, and where the story might go next. We talked to him about the important decision for him to direct this time, the equally important decision of returning the action to New York City and whether or not there will be future adventures with the new Ghostbusters. (Spoiler: yes.)

Obviously you and Jason have been overseeing the “Ghostbusters” world for the past few years but what led to you taking on the project and bringing the gang back to New York?

Well, I’ll break it down into a few components.

My relationship with Jason obviously has gone back now almost 20 years just as friends, as filmmakers who share our love of film and our experiences of making them, that’s been now a conversation that’s been going on for a long time. We began to collaborate 10 years ago, and that again, just organically grew out of the conversations we had as filmmakers who liked each other’s work, and who found a common voice of communicating story together.

When it came time for Jason to step into the family business of making “Ghostbusters” films, he started those conversations with me. And again, that’s flowered into in a very natural organic way into the story that became “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” The experience of making that was an incredible honor for me as a lifelong fan of these films and these characters, and also to have a front row seat to watch my best friend have a very meaningful film experience with his father, who happens to be one of the greatest directors of his time, and who was there front and center as producer on that film.

When that film was winding down, and it was about to be released, Jason and I began to have conversations about where the stories would go, moving forward into the future. We had already had some instincts about where we could take it. New York City was a natural one. The Spengler family at the start of “Afterlife” are unmoored, they’re searching for a grounding. And, and they think they’re going to find it in the in that derelict farmhouse in Summervile. They find a whole lot more but not a home.

And it leads them onward to New York City, where we just had that the very end of “Afterlife” that perhaps there is a future sparkle of opportunity for our family. And we knew in sitting down to write the story for this film, that there was going to be an embracing of the firehouse as home. it’s always been the headquarters of the Ghostbusters; it’s never been home. But it created just an opportunity we couldn’t pass up dramatically, to explore that life/work balance or imbalance of what it’s like to be a ghost-busting family living in this iconic building that’s not designed to sustain a life of a family that is a modern and dynamic family.

As they’re living there, it is revealed to be the absolute focal point of some of the greatest cataclysmic events in the supernatural universe and is a perfect foil for their own internal struggle as a family that is at risk of coming apart through forces of adolescence, of parenting, the natural dynamics of a modern family. That conversation was one that built progressively from the ones that we started in “Afterlife.”

We had a story that was complete, that felt like it was it had a beginning, middle and end, before “Afterlife” came out, that we shared with Ivan and then with Columbia. And we started building that story together. Sadly, Ivan passed away just after the release of “Afterlife” and just after we had begun working on the screenplay for this film.

Over the evolution of the writing of this process — the script took about 10 months to a year — it started to become clear that this was a film that I was going to be directing. And that was a kind of natural handoff. I mean, Jason and I approach our work as filmmakers first and writers second. It’s a pragmatic writing process. And then we are creating material to bring to life on the screen, they’re not intended as words on a piece of paper, they’re sort of living documents to be transposed into a motion picture. That process was always visual in our writing, we’re always plotting out action as we’re going, I’m illustrating a lot of the supernatural elements on the margins of our writing. That’s how Garakka came to look the way he does Pukey, etc. That natural evolution sort of got me into the seat where I’m at right now.

Is this the second part of a larger story?

Look, I really hope we get to continue the story of the Spengler family and Phoebe in particular. It’s been a gift that we didn’t anticipate to be able to track the story of a family as the children in that family age in real time, while we’re making these stories. And the opportunity to allow their own internal dramatic development to progress in lockstep with the actors who are growing in the two years it takes us to mount each of these productions. It is actually like a rare dramatic gift because it means that we are able to check in at various sort of thresholds in their development as characters and that introduces new drama and new internal drama. And you know, if we do our job right, that internal drama then starts to inform the external stakes. If we do our job right, the two are feeding off of each other and that that becomes a really fertile ground for storytelling. I do hope we get to tell more.

Just like Richard Linklater.

Yeah you know what “Boyhood” was missing? It needed a sewer dragon.

In the same way that the first film mined the iconography of the original “Ghostbusters,” “Frozen Empire” has a lot of fun with the sequel – in particular the dark suits from the marketing materials that are barely seen in the final movie.

I love that poster so much with the dark suits. I think some of the branding for the second film is extraordinary – that teaser poster with the with the “two” is just brilliant marketing. And that that that poster, the dark suits are so cool. Yeah, Alexis Forte, one of my two costume designers, I split the tasks of costume design in this film. Alexis was so fearless in pushing the language of the traditional “Ghostbusters” iconography. She’s the one who came up with those red parkas that have become so iconic in this campaign. And invoking the dark flight suits from the second film to become the de rigueur uniforms for the engineering core of Ghostbusters.

Did you ever think of putting a montage in there like in the first or second movies? Where ghosts are all over New York City?

I think of that news segment at the beginning of the film as my version of the montage, because it has that collage and assembly quality, using a check-in on the development of the Ghostbusters brand through time a little bit. It was so fun to put that thing together, just opening up the toy box of ridiculous “Ghostbusters” pop culture excursions and be able to pull some of the most audacious ones into that into that sequence was super fun to make.

And to make Ray Parker, Jr. a part of the “Ghostbusters” universe.

I mean, we’ve all known it right? What’s the glue that holds these films together?

The climax of “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” is intimate. Was the plan to always keep it in the firehouse?

It was always the plan to come back to the firehouse. We had a more expansive concept earlier on where a lot of the action at the beginning of the third act spilled out much wider. But the idea thematically goes back to the search for home that I was mentioning earlier and the Spengler family drama is a struggle to find a cohesive center. They’ve been unmoored, buffeted by the double whammy of realizing that you’re descended from Ghostbusters and for Callie, losing her father a second time. These are all forces that really had a big dramatic impact on the characters. It was important that once they found that potential home, that place to anchor down to in the historic headquarters of Ghostbusters, the firehouse, that they would have to draw a line and put their put their lives on the line to defend it. Because that felt like a way of both acknowledging the importance of this place within the ghostbusting universe. But also, more importantly, within this family as a way to anchor themselves and so that that dramatically always felt like a like where we were heading.

“Ghostbuster: Frozen Empire” is in theaters now.

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