Movies

Upset about an all-female ‘Ghostbusters’? Screenwriter Katie Dippold makes no apologies

‘Ghostbusters’

Abby (Melissa McCarthy), left, Erin (Kristen Wiig) and Patty (Leslie Jones) get slimed as Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) watches in the new “Ghostbusters.”

(Hopper Stone / Sony Pictures)

There was the guy who tweeted that he hoped she’d die in a fire, the one who sent her Facebook messages warning that she’d fail at her job and the online news commentator who quipped, “Never trust a writer with a head shot.”

“I did find that last one funny,” said Katie Dippold, who has written the new “Ghostbusters” movie with director Paul Feig. A reboot of Ivan Reitman’s beloved 1984 supernatural comedy, this “Ghostbusters,” which will be released July 15, stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon as a mismatched group of paranormal investigators.

Like many people associated with the new film, Dippold has been on the receiving end of some strangely personal backlash related to the gender of the movie’s stars.

“At first I let myself read a lot of it and then I realized it wasn’t doing me any good,” Dippold said at Canter’s Deli this month. “It’s interesting to me that some people want it to fail. What if you watched it and loved it? Why would that be bad?”

It’s interesting to me that some people want it to fail. What if you watched it and loved it? Why would that be bad?
Katie Dippold, ‘Ghostbusters’ screenwriter

Based on the comedy pedigree of the filmmaking team and cast, the odds are that most audiences will end up on their side. A key — and lesser-known — piece of that pedigree is Dippold, an improv-world alumna who is forging a career writing for the some of the funniest people working in entertainment today, most of them women.

The 36-year-old wrote “The Heat,” Feig’s 2013 cop buddy comedy hit with McCarthy and Sandra Bullock, and served on the writing staffs of the TV shows “Parks and Recreation” and “MADtv.” After “Ghostbusters,” her next script is an R-rated mother-daughter road trip movie starring Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn and inspired by her own relationship with her mother.

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Despite her resume, Dippold is self-deprecating and a little shy. Her modest manner is reminiscent of a joke in the “Ghostbusters” trailer, when the stars, intense and suited up for busting apparitions, apologize for interrupting one another, in a kind of workplace joke that will be familiar to many women.

“If I sound like I’m talking strangely, it’s ‘cause I’m trying not to use ‘like’ right now,” Dippold said. “The fact that I’m not saying ‘I’m sorry’ every other sentence is good, though.”

As a child in Freehold Township, N.J., Dippold used to make up dark, elaborate crime and disaster stories in a newspaper she wrote for herself. While majoring in journalism at Rutgers University, she discovered an improv troupe, and decided that making up stories and characters was more appealing than reporting real ones. She started her professional career as a performer at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York and still performs weekly at UCB’s L.A. theater.

Coming from improv’s “yes and” tradition of building on another actor’s ideas has made Dippold especially helpful to Feig, he said, because she is able to adjust scripts on the fly for spontaneous performers like McCarthy.

Sneaks Ghostbusters

Katie Dippold, writer of the forthcoming "Ghostbusters," at ID-PR in Hollywood on April 14, 2016.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

“Writing is a natural extension of improvisation,” said Feig, who recruited Dippold to “Ghostbusters” after working with her on “The Heat” and who is producing her Schumer film. “You’re able to create those people in your head. On set, Katie sits by the monitor and scribbles down jokes and hands them to me constantly. We both realize that comedy in a script is a living, breathing thing.”

In writing “Ghostbusters,” Dippold said she has worked to maintain the unique tone set by the original film.

“I’ve always loved horror comedy, and I think it’s really hard to pull off,” she said, citing examples like “Shaun of the Dead,” and “Cabin in the Woods.” “Ghostbusters is so special to me ‘cause there’s an umbrella that holds both fun and scary.”

A part of the filmmaking process on “Ghostbusters” has been taking in the strong audience reaction to the project — both positive and negative. One critique of the trailer prominent on social media centered on the character played by Jones, the black actress in the group, being the only Ghostbuster who is not a scientist but a transit worker.

Dippold said she originally pictured McCarthy for that role and gave the character an Irish name in a nod to the actress’ ethnicity. Ultimately McCarthy ended up with another part that allowed her to parry with Wiig as frenemies, and Jones, long a favorite of Feig’s for her “Saturday Night Live” work, came aboard.

“To me that fourth character would be this breath of fresh energy, this powerhouse,” Dippold said. “I think some people think we wrote this character for a black actress. No, we wrote what we thought was a good character and then cast the best person to play her.”

I think some people think we wrote this character for a black actress. No, we wrote what we thought was a good character and then cast the best person to play her.
Katie Dippold, ‘Ghostbusters’ screenwriter

As Feig edits “Ghostbusters” and Dippold prepares for her mother-daughter film script to start shooting, it’s a busy, happy, scary time for the screenwriter, who is trying to shake her childhood habit of catastrophizing.

“Right now I’m just trying to rewire my brain to enjoy all the exciting things that are happening to me and not be neurotic and think of worst-case scenarios.”

rebecca.keegan@latimes.com

Twitter: @ThatRebecca

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