Screenwriter Katie Dippold On Ghostbusters Criticism, Diversity In Hollywood & More

Photo: Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Sony/AP Images.
For a fun, kid-friendly horror comedy, the all-female Ghostbusters remake has seen quite a bit of controversy. First, there were the die hard Ghostbusters fans who were outraged that the film was being remade, period. Then there were the naysayers who (for some reason we're still trying to comprehend) questioned the casting of women as Ghostbusters. And then there was the criticism about Leslie Jones' character — accusations that it was racist to cast her as the only one of the foursome who wasn't a scientist, and that her persona played into a problematic Black-people-in-horror-movies stereotype. Screenwriter Katie Dippold, who co-wrote the film with director Paul Feig, admits that it's been tricky territory. When I met her in New York's Flatiron district, the 36-year-old — who, after beginning her career in improv comedy, wrote for MadTV and Parks and Recreation before penning the script for the 2013 comedy The Heat — tells us signing up for Ghostbusters was indeed intimidating. "I knew right away this was going to be really tough," she says. "This was one of my favorite movies as a kid, as it was for a lot of people, so I knew it would be hard to pull off. But I also knew it would be worth it. I loved Ghostbusters too much not to take this on." I talked to Dippold about her writing process, diversifying Hollywood, and more. Read on: So obviously each of your four Ghostbusters — Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Kristen Wiig — has their own very unique comedy style. Was that hard to blend together while writing the script?
"We actually wrote the characters first, before anyone was cast. It was important for me to write four distinct characters, think about their dynamics and what they would be like together, and then cast from there. Of course throughout the writing process there were certain people who kept popping into my mind, but I pretty much left that part up to Paul. And there was a lot of improv! Paul cast brilliant comedians for a reason: Because he wanted their minds in the movie so it could be as funny as possible. It was a really collaborative process."

"I think everyone in this business needs to look outside their own world and seriously think about how they individually can be more inclusive."

Katie Dippold

There are some really fun cameos in the film. Did you guys wing those, or were they written ahead of time?
"Some were written in first. Like, we knew we had to have Dan Aykroyd in there. But originally he was going to be a spiritual adviser, and then we made him a taxi driver who gets attacked by a ghost. But then we thought people probably wouldn't want to see Dan Aykroyd get the movie he created. So then we figured out something else fun."

There are also so many subtle (and not so subtle) girl power moments in the movie, like a sea of men who are frozen while the women save the day, or a ghost who gets busted in his balls — literally. How intentional was that?
"For me, it was important to write this movie as if it were four men or four women starring in it. I didn't want it to just feel like a gimmick, because that would be thin and pointless. So I tried to look at it as four Ghostbusters who are awesome and smart and humorous, and the fact that they are women would just be a bonus. But that being said: Of course some empowering winks and moments seeped in there."

Photo: Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Sony/AP Images.
What has your own experience as a woman in Hollywood been like?
"It would be insincere to say I've had all this trouble. I've been very lucky to work with feminists: the MADtv staff was full of gentle male comedians, I worked with Amy Poehler at Parks and Rec, Paul Feig is such a feminist. I think all of my problems are more internal. I've been trying to make an effort to stop apologizing for my ideas. I see men who will pitch ideas and make statements with such confidence, even when they're absolutely wrong. That's hard for me! So I'm balancing, as a woman, stating my opinion and doing it in a confident way."

Obviously a big question of late is how can we get more women and diversity both on-screen and in writer's rooms. If you had a magic solution, what would it be?
"I think it’s up to writers and show runners to look outside their wheelhouse. Like, for me: I'm a woman, so I've been fighting for women and trying to bring more people like me into writer's rooms and on the projects I'm working on. But now I see that I need to fight for diversity as well, even though that hasn't been my plight. I think everyone in this business needs to look outside their own world and seriously think about how they individually can be more inclusive."

There was a lot of criticism that Leslie Jones' character was the only non-scientist Ghostbuster, and that her easily-spooked character played into some long-standing stereotypes of Black people in scary movies. What’s your response to those critiques?
"I understand it. But listen, everything came from a good place. When I wrote that part, I originally pictured Melissa, because nothing would be funnier to me than Melissa McCarthy as an MTA worker getting fed up with these kooky scientists. And her getting spooked by ghosts and a mannequin chasing her? So funny. In fact, if you read the very first draft, you could tell I had Melissa in mind. But Paul said it actually felt too much like her character from The Heat. He's a really big fan of Leslie, so he envisioned this for her. He just thought she would be the perfect fourth Ghostbuster, this great new powerhouse energy. The criticisms made me sad, because of course I want there to be more Black female scientists. That's not the way we intended it." Each of these actresses are hilarious and super talented. Whose performance surprised you the most?
"Melissa. I just haven't seen this side of her in a movie before and I really loved it. She was so earnest and showed so much heart. It was so real, and I bought it!"

How do you get in the right mind-set, creatively, to bring to life something that's part funny, part spooky?
"I went to New York for a couple of days and walked around Columbia and the library, which was fun. And then, I headed to my old apartment, which I use as an office. I haven't really decorated it, so there's just one chair, and I started writing in October so there were some old Halloween decorations hanging around. So I wrote most of the script in one single chair with a skeleton hanging over it while listening to the scores from horror movies like Alien and 1408. I was like Well, this is a very strange place. But for Ghostbusters, it felt pretty...well...perfect." With reporting by Vanessa Golembewski.
This summer, we're celebrating the biggest movie season of the year with a new series calledBlockbust-HER. We'll be looking at everything film-related from the female perspective, interviewing major players in the industry and discussing where Hollywood is doing right by women and where (all too often) it is failing them. And now...let's go to the movies!

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