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Ghostbusters: Afterlife Co-Writer Gil Kenan on Franchise Continuity, Exclusive Theatrical Windows, the Film’s Long Road to Release

October 18, 2021 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Ghostbusters Afterlife Mini-Puft Image Credit: Sony

After several delays, the long-awaited sequel to the iconic Ghostbusters film franchise, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, is finally due to release in theaters next month. Ahead of the film’s release, co-writer and executive producer Gil Kenan sat down with 411mania for an exclusive interview to discuss bringing this dream to life.

Kenan made his directorial debut in 2006 with the CG-animated feature, Monster House. His other directing credits include City of Ember, which also has a connection to Ghostbusters as it starred Bill Murray, and the 2015 remake of Poltergeist. Besides co-writing Ghostbusters: Afterlife with Jason Reitman, Kenan’s next film is A Boy Called Christmas, which he co-wrote and directed, and it’s due out on Netflix next month. Here’s what Gil Kenan had to say about bringing Ghostbusters: Afterlife to the screen:

Jeffrey Harris: It’s been a long, hard road to this movie’s release. How do you feel that after all this time, your film’s finally coming out?

Gil Kenan: Well, I feel like really we’ve been waiting since 1984. What’s a year or two amongst fans? I think we’ve all just been through so much, and the making of this film was really about as pure and positive of a process as I’ve had in this industry. It was done with friend, with loved ones. Everyone came together sort of in the same spirit of deep appreciation for what Ghostbusters means, what it’s given us as fans/audience members. I guess for Jason [Reitman] it’s a bit different, a little bit more loaded. But getting it from idea to page was a jubilant process of invention. But getting it from page to screen was more on my partner Jason’s shoulders. But still, it’s something where a lot of people worked very hard to satisfy the inner child in them, the movie lover, that a long time ago was shaped, moved or delighted by a film about a group of guys going into business together in Manhattan. So, finally getting it from that stage to the screens of the world, I think this part is the joy of it. This is the part where the movie that we’ve been working on, dreaming about and sweating over, it now becomes something that the audience gets to earn.

Jeffrey Harris: In terms of this movie, is Ghostbusters II still canon?

Gil Kenan: So, we took a really wide swath approach to canon. We saw this film as a direct link to the first film. That was our primary drive because there were suggestions and curlicues that the second film brought in that we were entertained and by (sic) but didn’t give us as straight of a narrative thread for the film that we were hoping to write, but we also took into consideration the animated series. We also were aware of and sort of inspired by elements from the video game, comic books, so I would say we had a macro view of the entire body of work, including the second film, but our story picks up where the first film leaves off.

Jeffrey Harris: How happy are you that the film will be releasing in theaters next month with an exclusive theatrical window, which is something I think is very important right now?

Gil Kenan: Well, look, I have a lot of thoughts about this because I’m releasing a film a few days after Ghostbusters: Afterlife that’ll go on Netflix. And I know that for a very different kind of film, that one’s going to have a very high set of eyeballs especially because it’ll be streamed, but Ghostbusters is a theatrical event. It’s been a theatrical event from conception from the very first film how I experienced it. I remember the very first time I saw it in a theater. I remember just as well sitting in a theater on the opening night of Ghostbusters II because by then, I was a full Ghostbusters nerd. And I remember when Bill Murray name-checked the beautiful San Fernando valley in his sort of cotavig(sic) monologue, the audience unironically — when I was watching it in Reseda in the Valley — erupted into cheers. So, I know that there’s an energy, there’s a shared journey that an audience feels when they see something together in a theater. I experienced it again again at Comic Con here in New York a couple nights ago where there’s a thing that, again, started out as a conversation between me and my best friend was now something that we were sharing with 3,000 people who have been waiting almost two years to have a shared experience with a franchise or movie or story they care about. I would say that there’s absolutely no substitute for the shared experience, and it’s why we do what we do.

Jeffrey Harris: The PKE Meter has an interesting new modification in the film. I’m not saying what it is, but what was the inspiration for the modification in the film?

Gil Kenan: The inspiration was that Egon [Spengler], who is the essential link between the world of our first film and the world of Afterlife, has been on his own, for various reasons that the film gets into, gearing up for a war. That Egon is a scientist first, a practical thinker and a tinkerer, and so the tools, some of them have been evolved. Some of them in various incarnations, like the upgrades to the trap mechanism, the gunner seat in Ecto-1, and like you mentioned, the PKE Meter having its own offensive capabilities. All of those are ways to help us give the audience a sense of Egon’s been up to over the years without having to put that stuff into exposition.

Jeffrey Harris: Do you have a neutrona wand or proton pack at home?

Gil Kenan: I am a collector of books. That’s about the only sort of excessive collection I’m allowing myself because I live in a very small house. And I would not have anywhere to put my sunglasses down if I actually started collecting all the things that I want to. The answer is no, but I will say that my writing partner not only has a proton pack and wand, but has the original 1984 [version] hanging in his home. And we all referenced it, looked at it and photographed it, and it was an important touchstone for us in writing this thing.

Jeffrey Harris: When breaking down the story with Jason, did you two ever have conversations about past reboots or sequels to longtime franchises and maybe what was down right or wrong in the past? Or would doing that be a distraction, and you have to strictly focus on just what you’re doing in the now?

Gil Kenan: Well, look, we’re well aware of storytelling universes that have been successful or unsuccessful in doing this, and we have the benefit of being able to see where the pitfalls are, whether through mythology or being too slavish to it, breaking from mythology and then finding that you struggle to create something that the audience has any sort of investment with. But I will say that we worked really hard to craft this story from theme to character to story to mythology, in that order. And then, the theme of this film was what always led us. It’s a story about family and trying to outrun your destiny. The other question is do you keep moving and hope it never catches up with you, or do you stop and turn and look it in the eyes and decide to take on your destiny and all the glory and all the danger that comes with it. That is an essential core idea was really what we built the film on.

Thank you to Gil Kenan for taking the time to speak with us. Ghostbusters: Afterlife opens in theaters on November 19. His next feature, A Boy Called Christmas, arrives on Netflix on November 26. You can check out 411’s official review of the film RIGHT HERE.