Interview: A Conversation With Ivan Reitman

ivan reitman interview

A dream of mine has come true. Yesterday, I sat down to a meal of chicken nuggets and Oreos with the legendary Ivan Reitman. Growing up in the 90’s I wasn’t old enough to see most of his movies in the theaters, but my mom did rent them for me at our local Blockbuster. I was constantly playing and rewinding the VHS tapes of Ghostbusters, Meatballs, Twins, Junior and my Kindergarten Cop (my personal favourite – don’t judge me!). These timeless films continue to live on today, and are still incredibly funny 20+ years after their creation.  On the odd occasions that I do watch cable, I can almost guarantee one of these funny and familiar films will be playing; I’ve watched Ghostbusters during the Halloween season at least half a dozen times. I grew up with Ivan Reitman’s movies. I never imagined I’d get to sit across from him on a leather couch and shoot the shit. This has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Thank you, Ivan, for taking the time and being so gosh darn cool!

Ivan Reitman Brock McLaughlin

Before meeting Ivan Reitman yesterday afternoon a small group of journalists (6!) and I were checking out The VOID. It’s an immersive, location-based entertainment company that has opened within The Rec Room here in Toronto (I’ll have an article about The Rec Room tomorrow).  The VOID have created a hyper-reality Ghostbusters: Dimensions Experience inside the  40,0000 square foot venue that is absolutely incredible. I’ve gotten my hands on all kinds of VR experiences but nothing of this scale. This is the best use of VR I’ve ever witnessed.

The Ghostbusters experience is much like a ride you’d find at somewhere like Universal Studios or Disney Land. It’s a pilot project for the city of Toronto with hopes of it expanding across the world in the future. Players strap into a VR headset and full bodysuit equipped with a gun that acts as your Proton Pack from the movies and embark on a journey to save New York City. Your adventure will see you progress through an immersive experience, connecting and engaging with others and your surroundings through sight, touch, smell, and motion. By combining interactive sets, VR, real-time effects, and custom RAPTURE gear, the ride propels users beyond the confines of reality, immersing them in a VR experience unlike ever seen before.

My biggest take away from the adventure was how much we as participants bonded. Myself and Drew (from Game Moose) know each other quite well – we host a podcast every week. Our other two companions were strangers (Hi Raju!). By the end of the experience we were high-fiving and we felt like close friends, sorta like a team of longtime Ghostbusters. I’ve never experienced or seen anything like this in VR. Usually VR is done alone and sure you can watch someone else partake but they don’t know you are there. With the Ghostbusters game I could see my comrades and interact with my comrades – we could reach out and touch each other if we wanted.  Some puzzles inside the experience required our team to put our heads together to solve the problem and save the city.

Without giving too much away (I believe going in blind for an experience  like this is the way to go) I have to say that what happens within that room is magical. I found myself dancing out of the final door after taking down the last big bad guy and laughing with pure joy. It was an incredibly fun experience. I truly felt like I had been transported out of Toronto and into the Big Apple and assumed the role of a Ghostbuster for an afternoon.

It’s also worth noting that before going in you can choose your gender and race so each experience is customized to you.  You won’t be able to see yourself but your team will. This is a great feature that I’m glad was not overlooked.

The Ghostbusters: Dimensions experience was developed in partnership with The VOID, Ivan Reitman and Sony Pictures Virtual Reality which leads us to our conversation after with Ivan and his thoughts on Virtual Reality. Mr. Reitman has compared the Ghostbuster VOID experience to the 1984 original film; “both projects truly break new ground in terms of a new form of storytelling” a similarity that attracted him to the project.

About two years ago Reitman watched a VR production by two French Canadians that got his attention, getting the wheels turning about a use of simple spatial experience to create a story He quickly realized that this was going be a very complicated thing to do; that his goal would essentially be to create a new language. One that would let him tell a story with incredible effects without having the audience miss a beat.

There was a great old film producer/director called William Castle who used to do all these great 3 dimensional effects, and I used to go as a kid, at the Alhambra Theatre here in Toronto, and I remember there would be stuff like a Ghost on a chain that would come out from behind the screen. He really believed in these, I think he was the first person to try Smell-O-Vision, and this is like a very highly advanced version of that, where you really feel like you are in the room“, stated Reitman.

It was after that experience that he took a trip down to the VOID headquarters in Utah to see a project they were working on called Curse of the Serpent’s Eyes. This was the first VR project that really blew him away.

We’re at the point of the Great Train Robbery in terms of where this is, and you compare it to the history of film. I’ve done mostly comedies in my life, which are really a group experience but we now enjoy those films on our DVRs but the strength of them was to enjoy them with 300 people in a dark room. And there’s something about laughter and fright that works best in a room full of people, so we have to rediscover how to do that. I think it’s really possible. But we’re not going for jokes in the same way. It’s about taking the historical ways of creating a story effect and just redefining it for how people are going be watching it and how you use the specialty and intimacy around you. It’s very intimate. Things are very up-close in a way that no 3-D movie can be. 3-D in a film just doesn’t do that” stated  Reitman, discussing  future of VR, and his creative process with the VOID.

When asked if he is surprised by Ghostbusters longevity, he’s extremely humble and calls it, “a very special part of his life, especially for a Canuck“. You can hear in his voice that he really appreciates all the fans that have kept the franchise alive. He calls Ghostbusters, “a contemporary Wizard of Oz and has made him feel very fortunate”.

When talking about magicians and magic Reitman compares VR too, “Creating the misdirection. It’s actually direction (laughs). So you need the audience to look at the right place when they need to, and other times being free to experience.”

The Ghostbusters ride is about 12 minutes long; Reitman is confident that there are plenty of other experiences to be had in VR. “We want all want to sit back and be swept away. There’s going be a series of new experiences that see you sit back and get taken for the ride but in a more interactive way than you’ve ever had. There are ways you can become a partial storyteller but the real storyteller is manipulating you to go on the ride they’ve created. That’s what creates the various forms of emotionality. Everything from fright to laughter to adventure to arousal, so it will be all sorts of things.

Before leaving he shared with us that, way back before Tim Burton directed Batman, he had been working on a Batman and Wonder Woman script that unfortunately never saw the light of day, but he was absolutely in love with the recent Wonder Woman film and sent his love to Patty Jenkins the director.

I also learned that Reitman is an avid gamer at 70 years old. He was raving about Jon Favreau’s VR title, Gnomes & Goblins and also spoke about his experience playing Bethesda’s new DOOM VR title. He says he is “always looking for the next big thing.

Ivan and the team behind the Ghostbusters experience intentions were to use the VR technology to tell a story and bring a group of people together. I can say without a doubt they succeeded beyond my wildest expectations and I can’t wait to see what they dream up next.

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Brock McLaughlin

Brock McLaughlin

Brock McLaughlin 🕹 🎮 Twitter @brockmclaughlin New Media (B)Rockstar. Blogger. Video Gamer. Podcaster at the Game Moose. UnBrocxer. Host/Producer at @comedygamers4u. Somewhat Charming.

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