Just before Halloween in 2013, Katie Dippold went on a podcast and had a conversation that seems rather prescient.
The show was Who Charted?, a weekly scavenge of music and movie charts with guests from all corners of the comedy world. Since Dippold was still hot off The Heat, her screenwriting debut, and since she’s a huge scary movie fan to boot, she made a fitting addition to the holiday episode. What seems remarkable now, though, is that the music chart this particular week, Billboard’s Top 10 Halloween songs, included Ray Parker Jr.’s classic “Ghostbusters.”
“When’s the new one coming out?” host Kulap Vilaysack asks during the catchy, Huey Lewis-pillaging tune. “Are they even in production?”
“I don’t know,” Dippold responds. “I think they’re still doing script stuff on it.”
Then she chides herself over the decidedly non-industry term “script stuff.”
Little did she know almost exactly one year later, Paul Feig would announce Dippold as his cowriter on an all-female Ghostbusters reboot. She hadn’t been playing coy on the podcast either; the tumultuous path of the Ghostbusters franchise just hadn’t gone anywhere near her doorstep yet. By the time it did, though, she’d already proven herself as the ideal person to write this movie.
The actual story of how she got the gig is not exactly the stuff of Hollywood legend. Here it is in full: “I ran into Paul [Feig] at Comic Con and he said, ‘I wanna do a Ghostbusters reboot with females. Do you wanna write it with me?'”
But from her sensibilities to her experience, to the fact that she grew up with a mother who once made herself a terrifying, ramshackle Slimer costume, Dippold seems to have been groomed from the start for her current role.
“I was always a weird kid who loved haunted houses and spooky things,” the writer says. “So on top of Ghostbusters being hilarious, and loving those characters, I just thought it was a magical movie.”
You can feel Dippold’s reverence for scary movies in the reboot’s early scenes especially, when a New York mansion is afflicted with a touch of the wicked. But while the lifelong genre fan says she’d be interested in writing a horror movie one day, her professional life up until now has been anchored to comedy.
She began honing her craft at the near-mythical talent workshop that was the early-2000s Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. Her specialty was sketch comedy, which helped her land a job at Mad TV in 2006. Suddenly, she had to produce a lot more material a lot quicker, going from maybe one sketch a week, if the spirit moved her, to definitely at least five, no matter what. This experience with tight turnarounds proved an ideal training ground for later working with Paul Feig, who prizes writing on the fly. But before moving on to movies, Dippold spent three years writing for the posi-but-not-sappy sitcom Parks and Recreation.
“At Parks and Rec, they taught me to care about the story first,” she says. “You’re tempted when you write a script to think of all these jokes and figure out how to stir them all together. But then you learn that if you do it that way, all the jokes are gonna get thrown out and you have to start over, because the most important thing is that there is a story.”
If Parks and Rec is where she learned about story, though, Dippold’s doctoral thesis on the subject was writing The Heat as a spec script during 10 weeks off. The idea of a women-led buddy cop movie was just something she wanted to see, and so she made it happen. The script sold quickly, and soon she was implementing notes from Feig, a director whose first movie had been a cinematic splash of water in her face. It was just seeing Kristen Wiig’s character in Bridesmaids sneak out of a lover’s bed and put on makeup before officially waking up–something Dippold herself had done in college–that made her realize the possibilities of a big studio comedy from a female perspective.
The Heat wasn’t all jokes about Spanx and one lead character calling the other “tattle-tits,” although it did have both of those things; it was a crowd-pleasing hit that grossed $160M in the U.S. alone. Perhaps because of her success with that film, the writer walked into the process of making an all-female Ghostbusters reboot with undiluted optimism. That didn’t last long.
“I anticipated people might be bummed that the new movie wasn’t a sequel,” she says, “but I didn’t think the female thing would be an issue.”
Whether or not it should have been an issue, it was. The gender of the new film’s stars rankled leagues of misogynists disguised as purists who don’t want to see the film remade at all. Not even the casting announcement of comedy powerhouses Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon could quell the tide of Internet bile. The backlash started before Dippold even began writing the film. Because she is only human, she occasionally checked in on what Twitter had to say about the film and her involvement. Some of that hostility ended up grandfathered into the movie. By now, perhaps you’ve heard that a scene in the reboot finds the fledgling ghostbusters reading this comment on their YouTube page: “Ain’t no bitches gonna bust no ghosts.” Mostly, however, Katie Dippold sought to silence the naysayers by making the best and funniest movie she possibly could.
She and Paul Feig started off with a clean slate of character archetypes, in order to avoid having to decide who is the Venkman and who is the Spengler, etc. Then they combed through every inch of the 1984 film to decide which elements to keep and which ones to jettison.
“The only thing we didn’t do that was a big staple of the original was crossing the streams,” Dippold says. “That’s something [director] Ivan [Reitman] told us was really a last-minute thing, like, ‘Oh, we need to figure out something that solves this.’ So that’s one thing we wanted to think about differently.”
She adds, “The ghost-blowjob did come up, but at the end of the day, it did not make it into this version.”
After working together on The Heat, the writer’s chemistry with Feig and McCarthy was already potent. Dippold knew to be ready to conjure fresh jokes to follow any spontaneous lines from McCarthy, and any of the other performers–all relentless improvisers. What followed was a collaborative relationship of constant refining, which is evident in the joke-packed final film.
Next up for Dippold is an untitled mother-daughter action comedy with the Halley’s Comet-rare duo of Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn. She’s already written The Heat 2, which will hopefully get made in the near future. Eventually, she would be interested in directing one of her scripts herself, if she was in love with the material. Pay attention to any podcasts the writer shows up on while promoting Ghostbusters, and she might just drop a hint at what such a film might be.