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“I remember, day zero, I was like ‘Fuck, this could really work!'” – Vogue Williams speaking about her Ghostbusters reboot, January, 2016.
Vogue Williams, the TV presenter, approached RTÉ in 2014 with an interesting prospect: To remake Ghostbusters, to have an all-female team, and to set the entire thing in Ireland.
“Licensing rights are a tricky topic,” she says, trying to avoid one of the production’s main stumbling blocks. “Like, if we all remember something, don’t we ALL own those memories? So can’t we all make anything we want from them?”
Lawyers for Sony, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Ivan Reitman, and Harold Ramis had a less open view of the question of who owns ‘Ghostbusters’, effectively answering “We do.”
Vogue disagreed. “Yeah, ‘we own the rights’ was their answer, but no one asked them the question. They just butted in on a conversation they weren’t a part of, like somebody walking up to you in the park and sitting uncomfortably close.”
Next to nothing had been shot when production was shut down on her Ghostbusters reboot but everything had been written, researched, discussed, and hammered out with the financiers. The film exists, just not on film. So, in an effort to preserve the efforts of all involved here’s what we know.
The idea for a Ghostbusters reboot came to Williams in early 2014 when she saw a pale man eating a sausage roll in front of a Twilight poster. She explains, “The ghost of Bram Stoker rises to take revenge on the world for what it’s done to vampire lore. It was pretty sketchy at first, I never even thought about it as a Ghostbusters reboot at that stage. I was thinking it’d be one of those Young Adult books everyone’s crazy for. I’d been to a book festival a few months before and they basically had to put up a protective shield to stop the barrage of Young Adult fantasy manuscripts being thrown at the speakers. I think Derek Landy took a manuscript to the knee, toppled him. This was by someone wearing his characters on a t-shirt! I mean the fanbase is rabid. This is where the money is! So, I came up with the basic story, and thrashed it out.”
Vogue spoke to her friends and colleagues in RTÉ about her idea.
“I told her that she should find a space for JFK in there,” said Ryan Tubridy, speaking of the many occasions that he advised Vogue. “Three simple letters, but they represent so much. Bram Stoker may live on in books, but Kennedy lives on in all of our hearts and minds.”
It became obvious that Ryan was trying to pitch a book to me early on in the interview. “Let me tell you about this idea for a book I have!” he announced, throwing his arms outwards, holding on to the last ‘vvvvv’ sound of ‘have’ until he’d exhaled all of the air from his lungs. “It’s set during JFK’s trip to Ireland but it’s about an Irish man called Jeff Kaye. A rookie Secret Service agent accidentally hurries him into the President’s hotel during a commotion, while THE REAL JFK is trapped outside. The Secret Service are all ‘No, the president is secure yadda yadda yadda’. So what happens? JFK goes out into the world, into Ireland, not as the President of the United States, but as a regular citizen, and through events he touches hearts and minds and has a profound effect on the people and this inspires him to be a better president. Meanwhile Jeff Kaye flies back to America and gets found out. It’s all very funny, what do you think?”
Routinely when I went to RTÉ to speak with Vogue, Ryan would corner me with another JFK-centric idea. I made a note of all of them, he made sure that I made notes, and I hope that I never have to share them as much as I hope that he never writes them. People I spoke to afterwards assured me that “He’s lovely really”.
“People told me to talk to Ryan because he was The Book Guy. After a few chats I kinda gave up on the idea of writing a book, I think I decided mid-conversation to make a TV show or a film. When I said that his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he threw his head backwards with enough force to topple his chair backwards. As soon as it hit the ground his whole body went into a backwards tumble then BAM! he was standing upright on the other side of the room, his head darting around for someone else to speak to. I didn’t see him again until the cast was assembled.”
As Vogue thought more about her idea it became apparent that it should be a Ghostbusters movie. “He’s a ghost! Anyone else fighting a ghost is just a person swinging punches at air in an empty room. It has to be Ghostbusters.”
“So,” she lit a cigarette and took a deep drag. “Bram Stoker is back, he’s all ‘Fuck you, Twilight!’ and starts wreckin’ the place because of how castrated the vampire genre has become with the proliferation of teen fantasy romance fiction. He’s pissed. Meanwhile, Dublin’s goin’ to shit with ghosts. Something’s making them act up too, turns out that because it’s 2019 – oh yeah, this is set in the future – and the 70th anniversary of Stoker’s death, he’s using a lot of supernatural power to get through to the mortal plain. As a side effect, the barrier between worlds is so fucked OTHER ghosts are getting through. So, because it’s the future, and because it’s Ireland, a dangerously under-regulated scrap metal industry has allowed a scientist to get access to some nuclear material, which she uses to build a proton pack to fight the ghosts. Now the whole Bram Stoker situation hasn’t fully set in, so she sets up her Ghostbusters team, they go to work. Then – fuck – Stoker, y’know?”
She pauses to take another drag from her cigarette and takes out a hip-flask, emptying it into her coffee.
“Did you want some?” she offers. I declined. “RTÉ have this rule about alcohol in the canteen…apparently.” She casts a scolding eye to another table.
“Anyway, so Bram is doing his thing, and the team are doing theirs. They’re all real characters though. You have the smart one, the funny one who is really confident with men but has a will they/ won’t they with the receptionist, the tough one who’s struggling with weight and body issues,
and the one who’s just out of a loveless marriage and is dealing with losing her cat in a car accident, her attachment to the cat mirrors her own life since she was adopted and never knew her parents so her sense of abandonment is compounded by everything. I dunno, I had a lot of ideas and didn’t want to lose them. You know, if you only get a chance to do something once, give it your all! Anyway, you have this team, you have this enemy, how do you resolve this? I’ll tell you how…” She looks sheepishly around for fear of being heard by someone in particular “… books!” she stage-whispers.
“Did someone say books?” Ryan Tubridy appears as if from nowhere. “I have an idea for a book, you know?”
Later, Vogue and I reconvene in the meeting room furthest from the canteen and I ask her did she or anyone in RTÉ have reservations about making it an all female team?
“No. So they’re women? If people can suspend disbelief long enough to believe that ghosts are real AND the only way to stop them is to use a portable nuclear accelerator in a backpack, they can hold onto that disbelief just enough to believe a woman can use one.”
As for the actual casting, did RTÉ have any input on who should be cast?
“Yeah,” says Vogue almost mournfully. “They gave me a list of their *ahem* regular, friends of the station or whoever. Held it over my head because they said that was where I fit in too.”
Who was on it?
“Roz Purcell, Rosanna Davison, Nadia Forde, Georgia Salpa. The guy who wrote the list gave it to me and I, like, saw my own name on the list, I said “Hey, you put my name there!” He stared at me then said “Who?” then was all, like, “Oh…”. That was the second sign that RTÉ weren’t on the same page as me. The first sign was that they wanted to talk about casting the movie before they wanted to talk story or script.”
“Pat Shortt was cast as the receptionist. We wanted someone much younger like Colin Farrell or even Jack Reynor, someone big to play such a small but important role, but RTÉ kept insisting that they didn’t work. What they meant was that they didn’t work THERE. We were auditioning people every day in March 2014. In the end we were down to two people when the head of entertainment walked in and put a video into the player.”
Vogue rubbed her eyes, “An actual video cassette. ‘I’ve got our man!’ he yelled, happy as fuck. The video rolled, it was Pat Shortt. The video was about 20 minutes long.”
Vogue showed me the tape. It opened up blurry, with the well-worn tape flickering and jumping.
“Howaya y’all doin’ there?” Pat arrived into frame, confident yet with a haphazard stance, and jumped into the office chair, slurring his words in a heavy yet undefined country accent. “I’m Tommy O’Callaghan, temp extra-ordinary, ye know me like, hah? My CV’s as long as all of Forty Coats’s forty coats laid end t’end. Ah, shure I’ve worked evahrywhere, AIB, the th’Anglo Irishhh – eh- Bank Reconcili-ah yah shure, ye know the one I mean, the one from that lad from the papers, hah?”
It was a rambling incoherent monologue, supposedly the oral CV of a temp who temped his way through the Celtic Tiger and by the time he settled down and decided to take a job the economy had crashed and there were no jobs. It was one joke stretched over 20 minutes, him having worked in all of the key institutions that led to the Irish financial crisis, all wrapped up in the paddywhackery package that Shortt was known for.
She ejected the tape then held the sticker up for me to see. Pat Shortt Audition Tape June 2010. “This is the shit I had to work with.” she sighed.
“Anyway… RTÉ said that If I wanted to make a Ghostbusters reboot with their money then Pat Shortt had to be in it. He got the job.”
“I fought harder to keep the decisions about the main characters up to me. Every now and then someone would seriously ask us if we were open to casting Brendan O’Carroll as his Mrs. Brown character as one of the Ghostbusters. I’d have to spend a week fighting the idea away, they’d say ‘We’ll put a pin in that for now.’ and we’d try to carry on until they brought it up again. The main cast ended up as me, Jennifer Zamparelli, Maeve Higgins, and Ruth Negga. Ruth jumped at the chance. She loved the script and the story so much that she said she’d do it for free!”
When I spoke to Ruth Negga she revealed that she far from loved it, but it gave her an interesting opportunity. RTÉ stars have a clause in their contracts that states that they can be recalled to appear in another RTÉ production at any time. It was primarily used to seize guests for the Saturday night talk show but if you didn’t appear on this then the clause sat unused, waiting to strike.
“It was the acting equivalent of being a sleeper agent. I could be ‘activated’ any day without warning.” Ruth told me later. “If I could do anything to get out of that contract I would. I met Vogue, read the script, expecting to hate myself, but it all seemed pretty tight. It might even be good.”
Once the main cast was agreed they met regularly in the RTÉ canteen, or at least tried.
“When the Rose of Tralee contestants visit, people kick down doors, rearrange their entire days to get down to catch even a glimpse of the photocall.” Zamparelli explains. “Yeah, we got none of that. Just a few people would come over to ask us what we were doing before they wandered on through the canteen. The only time we had trouble was when we left that copy of ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ on the table. Then Guess Who shows up.”We look towards the window on the door, to see the top of Ryan Tubridy’s
head, his eyes wide and watching. He looks surprised then quickly darts away.
“He’s lovely really.”
“Yeah, but it was just too busy there.” Vogue says.
The Big Ending
With the villain and the heroines established, the story needed that final push towards a resolution which was when the trouble started.”I didn’t want to dumb my film down to that pandering ‘this is sooooo Irish’ crap that seems to be the way to sell something these days. Like everyone wants to just stand around watching everyone else jerking off to the same joke again and again, but that nail was hammered into our coffin when Shortt was thrown on board. But I tried to sell it intellectual like. I wrote a solid ending, and made it solidly Irish, and as highbrow as I could get.”
She threw her cigarette out the window, checked her pockets and realised she’d left her packet on the distant table again. I threw them to her. She lit one, took a deep drag, and exhaled an appreciative “Thanks.” before continuing.
“So, Stoker was a famous author, I decided to pit him against an even more famous Irish author, and an even more infamous book.”
Vogue’s ending involved the occult, James Joyce, and a secret text hidden within Finnegan’s Wake that could be used to fight evil. In Vogue’s script James Joyce began writing a text in 1922, 10 years after Stoker’s death.
Stoker’s spirit broke free from the underworld and sought to roam and cause trouble, a wayward Joyce crosses paths with the spirit and uses an ancient Egyptian incantation to destroy the spirit – the Egyptian Book of the Dead being a book (apparently) alluded to in Finnegan’s Wake. James Joyce becomes a real-life version of Bram Stoker’s famous Professor Abraham Van Helsing. If this sounds complicated that’s exactly how Williams wanted it.
“One of the things I wanted to do was tell a story about HOW the Irish tell stories, and I think using the literary creation of one writer to inspire a real-life person who sets out to destroy that writer and in turn writes his own book entirely separate from any of those characters and settings was an interesting approach. I didn’t want to talk down to my audience thematically, you know?”
James Joyce writes more incantations, and hides them within his manuscript in order to sell a book but also to secretly distribute more copies of the ghost-destroying text; over the course of years he hides ciphers within the barrage of stream of consciousness text the book is infamous for. The team find the hidden passages, nearly unrecognisable through the style of the prose of Finnegan’s Wake, trap Stoker in a mortal form, and destroy him.
“Basically it’s like The Da Vinci Code, only better.” She sighs, then puts on a paddywhacked Irish/ leprechaun voice. “The most Oirish D’Vinci Code ye could imagine, shure to be shure. That was the elevator pitch for this one.”
As Vogue describes it, the finale would have been spectacular, if prohibitively expensive, and was cited by many within the Irish Film Board and RTÉ as the main road block to funding the film. A giant brass Molly Malone statue, piloted by the team, would have used her cart to balance a piece of debris from the destroyed O’Connell Street Spire and pierced the chest of a giant Mr. Tayto, the form Stoker chose when he became mortal.
“It would have been amazing!” Vogue insists “It’s a very powerful moment thematically for the film, and personally for the characters. That sense of release when you realize you can conquer real and personal demons in one fell swoop. All of these people who spend their days chasing after
literal dead monsters finally destroy their personal monsters and then another literal monster. I wish people could have seen it.”
Another stumbling block came in the form of Finnegan’s Wake. “It’s out of copyright here.” Vogue yells, pointing to the floor with both hands “In the US though… if you make a film you have to distribute it to the US to make money, but the lawyers caught wind of what we were doing and all of a sudden the public domain status of Joyce’s work HERE wasn’t enough, it’s not in the public domain in the US, so who gets the money? Would they own part of the film? Before we could get an answer to those questions, the lawyers for the US people who ‘own’ the Ghostbusters heard about us and we were shut down.” Understandably Vogue doesn’t like to speak too much about the end of this project. When legal notice came from the US, it wasn’t even in the form of a letter, a brief phone call was made, so brief that they didn’t even listen to Vogue’s pleas. “I had to break the news to everyone.”
She throws her cigarette onto the floor and stubs it out beneath her boot. She crosses one leg over the other, the ash and cigarette stuck to the bottom of her boot. “This is how dreams end.”
Where Are They Now?
Vogue Williams went on to appear in ‘Vogue Williams Does The Afterlife’, using much of the research material she had built up for her Ghostbusters reboot.
Jennifer Zamparelli returned to her radio show and multiple sitcoms.
Maeve Higgins went to New York and got famous. She declined to be interviewed for this piece.
Ruth Negga still breaks out in a cold sweat when her phone gets a message late at night.
Disclaimer: This, unfortunately, is a piece of satire and never really happened. Therefore this article is probably entirely made up.