Interview with Michael C. Gross
Michael C. Gross, the long-time art director for the National Lampoon and executive producer of the Ghostbusters films (and is the man responsible for the no-ghost logo that adorns many a product to date) was gracious enough to give an interview to GBHQ representative Neil Vitale, best I can figure somewhere around 2000.
Presented here is the interview as it was on the website at the time (spelling errors and all, with few annotations added).
MG=Michael C. Gross
NV : How did the Real Ghostbusters show come about? Was it the next logical step after the film became such a big success?
MG : The first movie was made when there was no idea of doing a second movie. One of the surprises of the first movie was the appeal to kids.
In fact at the first preview screening we saw kids there and thought
they might find it too scary. When the scary parts (to a kid) were then
diffused by a joke and silly laughter...kids loved the release. It also
became a useful tool for parents to use so little kids would be less
afraid of things that go bump in the night. So here we were, no sequel in mind, kids, a few toys (nothing much because we didn't pre sell something that didn't seem ok to kids). So..... folks who made livings from developing cartoons from movies came along and convinced us... and THEN a toy deal could fall into place.
NV : How long did this cartoon take to plan before it went on the air?
Was it tough to cast the show, where you trying to find voice actors who sounded like their live action counterparts, etc? I think I speak for all of us when I say that this is the BEST movie to toon adaption ever done. Plus it really expanded on Winston's character to boot.
MG : It went into quick production. Columbia TV and we (Ivan's people) looked at production companies that could deliver 64 shows for syndication. (the ABC deal was yet to be made) and in a few months we were off and running. Joe Strazinski was hot to be story editor and not only was talented and funny, but respected and understood the movie.
Ivan is particularly good at casting and put the final approval on the
voices. Arsenio Hall was easy to pick (he auditioned for the movie but
was thought to be a bit young). The other guys were able to do multiple voices and were improve comedians as well, so tweaking the scripts on set became easy. Expanding on Winston and Janine was easy on TV because you needed to come up with new plots and you had lots and lots of time (episodes).
NV : This is a most asked question. Why was the show changed to a more toonified look in season 3 and focusing soley on the adventures of Slimer? I like to refer to it as the Scrappy Doo years of the GB
franchise. It tried to bounce back to the story structure of the first
two seasons toward the end with 'Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters', but do you think it really recovered from the change over? I'm curious as to wether it was a network decision or a creative one.
MG : Well your questions about the "toonification" is interesting. Part
of it was this...the show was simultaneously sold to syndication AND
ABC... it had never happened on TV. What this meant is the first season got on air on syndication and meant several things...not as much money for animation, so one in three shows would be difficult to watch (quality of animation, drawing etc) but always (I think) bailed out by the great writing. There was no standards and practices for syndication and the show was more adult. When the ABC shows were getting made (same creative team and production team) we had more bucks for animation but had to write a little more for Saturday morning (as it was then called).
Meanwhile, Slimer became more popular with the kids. THEN.... the
decision was made to go for a longer show....hence the more stylized
(intentional) Slimer spots. The style and writing tone were to separate it more and keep the Slimer cartoons lighter. It then sort of ran out of steam (5 years in all on the air and 100 shows...let's face it, only the Simpson's outran us in the comedy animation world).
NV : Speaking of Character changes....What happened to Janine during the final seasons of the show? I loved the way the change happened as an episode plot, rather than just magically popping up in an episode as a character re-design...but most fans of the show missed her old Annie Potts Look and NY accent...
MG : Annie's accent did not change. The hair changed because as a woman she was the only character We COULD change (thereby making her fresher). She was also developing as a leading smart heroin. The hair change was my idea and I always liked it.
NV : From the Newsgroup: "Why wasn't Lorenzo Music used past the
midpoint of the Real Ghostbusters?"
MG : Lorenzo Music. First off let me say he was a wonderful, smart.
Talented, Funny man. When we started the show we couldn't use the
original film actors... too expensive, conflicting and busy schedules,
etc. So the voices had to reflect the CHARACTERS not the actors. In
(Bill's) Venk's case it was difficult to get the voice to go with the
writing... but he was great. Then mid-way through production Bill was
having lunch with Ivan Reitman and said how much he liked the show and said "why doesn't he sound like me?" We just assumed we wouldn't get permission and worked around it. Ivan came and told us to change it. Then because we had impressionists/comics doing the voices any way, we went for Bill and figured it wouldn't be the first time changes in a character would be made mid-season on Television. I missed Lorenzo.... on the other hand some people didn't care for him because his voice was so well known for Garfield among many other things.
NV : I know that you didn't have any part in Extreme GB, but if you've
seen any of it, what do you think of the series? And fans want to know, 'Is it considered Cannon with the original?'
MG : I never even saw one episode of Extreme GB. It was a concept of Hasbro to try and revitalize the franchise to sell toys (I never saw a toy either). I think they may even have paid to get it produced, not sure.
NV : What would you like to see released as extras on the animated
Ghostbuster DVDs? Any particular forms, ala season sets or best ofs? Any current plans to put these out?
MG : It's a shame there is no collection of the best shows. The first
set of videos was when video tape was still a young industry. There were only a few shows completed and some were just terrible... we were still feeling out how to do the show. One of my favorites was the chickens show and the very sophisticated boogie man show...too many others to recall...but I wish there would be a good collection. I'm surprised we haven't seen the show being aired anywhere at all...
NV : Last RGB question....There's supposedly a Ghostbuster Revival going on. A new Comic Book (editor's note: this was the 88MPH book at this point) has appeared, shifting away from the RGB Designs (Fans of Egons hair from the series are dissapointed), and going with a more movie toned look. If this is a success, do you think a new animated series based on the book can make it in todays toon market?
MG : I haven't seen a new comic...can you send me one? I have no idea if it could come back to life... my feeling is no... that was then and this is now... new audiences, etc.
NV : First of the Movie questions. What was it like working with these
guys in their prime? Where they really as wild as reports during their
Saturday Night Live days would have us beleive?
MG : No, not nearly. I knew Bill (and in fact John Belushi's wife was my assistant in my National Lampoon days) during those days... they WERE wild, By the time the movie was made, no one was wild anymore.
NV : Dan Aykroyd is apparently really into ghosts and spooks, as is his brother Peter. I'm curious if he ever took you to a 'live haunted house' (no pun intended) as research for the movie? And have you had any real ghost encounters?
MG : Danny talked a lot about the super natural and I'm aware of his
brothers interest... but no we never did any thing approaching the
subject. The closest thing we did for "research" was movies...we
screened "Ghostbreakers" "Scared Stiff" (the same movie but with Jerry Lewis instead of Bob Hope... same script, director, some scenes even picked up)... and others. But actual haunted houses etc...no.
NV : Who's idea was the 'Stay Puft Marshmallow Man'? One of the best movie ideas and designs ever. You just feel so sorry for the poor guy when he gets burned to bits.
MG : Danny came up with Stay Puft in his very first draft. The actual
design was figured out at the effects stage. We were very unsure of the idea all through filming...thought we might be crazy and we were
worried...but the first screening calmed those fears...he went over
HUGE... then we asked ourselves, how could we have doubted ourselves.
NV : With CGI as prevalent as it is today, what type of Ghost effects do you think you can get away with compared to the 80's? Or do you think that CGI can ruin the 'realism' that a puppet or manaquin can represent?
MG : No cgi has only made effects better. We struggled with
transformations, etc.. today, kids stuff. On the other hand, it is a
good example of how it is concept and writing that in the end count.
NV : Many people are wondering if a 20th anniversary DVD of Ghostbusters is in the works? I don't know why it would be needed since the first one, with the MST3K Style Commentary, is one of my favorites ever made. They are also hoping Ghostbusters 2 can get the same treatment..Is it possible to get the 4 guys to do a Cast Commentary for one of them if the first or second are ever re-released?
MG : I think the DVD that exists is IT... anything else would be milking it. #2 with commentary? I don't know.... doubt it.... we've all gone our separate ways...but hey 6 years from now? First let's see who is still alive.
NV : Whatever happened to Ghostbusters 3? Was there ever serious talk behind getting it started? So many rumors, and then it just stopped....
MG : Only rumors about#3.... especially after EVOLUTION... ouch.
NV : During the end Credits of Ghostbusters 2, we see what appear to be bloopers. (There's one of Murray dancing near a refridgerator). Do any bloopers of the two movies exist for a possible DVD re-release?
MG : The bloopers (or more accurately outtakes or scenes cut) probably are in the vaults...I don't know. Sony doesn't even speak to me..... I didn't consult on HEAVY METAL for instance.
NV : If there where a Ghostbusters 3, what direction would you like to
see it go in? All new Cast? All new villains?
MG : Too hypothetical a question.....but my guess is that it would have to be so different it would have to take place on Mars.
NV : Winston was really developed as a Character in RGB. How come he never had a big enough role in the movies, and did Ernie Hudson have any input for his animated counterpart? Did he give you any feedback on it after he had a chance to see the series?"
MG : No Ernie was just acting in it, not particularly concerned about
enlarging the role, etc. He's a GREAT guy by the way. If you study the
structure of movies you can see why there is no room to enlarge any
character when there are that many in a feature (90 minutes, three acts, remember?).