Richard Mueller not only is the author of the Ghostbusters‘ movie novelisation, but he wrote episodes for both The Real Ghostbusters and Extreme Ghostbusters. With the novel being reprinted these days, we felt like this is the perfect moment to ask Mr. Muller a few questions and he was kind enough to answer them.
How did you get the writing job for the Ghostbusters novelisation and what was your foundation for adapting the story?
I had sold my first novel–JERNIGAN’S EGG–to Jim Frenkel at Bluejay Books. Jim’s wife, Joan Vinge, was offered the novelization to GHOSTBUSTERS but she had already agreed to do MAD MAX; BEYOND THUNDERDOME, so Jim asked if I wanted it. (The answer to such a question is always ‚yes,‘ by the way). I borrowed an IBM Selectric and they sent me the script. There was a slight problem. None of Peter Venkman’s lines were in the script. Venkman was supposed to be played by John Belushi, but he became a ghost, so they seized on another Saturday Night Live player. Bill Murray was coming back from doing a film in India, and he said he was too tired to learn lines, so he’d ad lib his. The studio was going to send me a VCR of the movie but they never did. Luckily. GHOSTBUSTERS was a great date movie and I had seen it several times, and I have a pretty good memory, so I got most of the lines right. I put it together in four weeks. The only disappointment was that Tor Books made me PG-rate the dialogue so I couldn’t say „Yessir, this man has no dick.“ To write it I used my memories of New York, and greatly expanded the story by bringing in the boys‘ relatives, most of whom showed up later in the series. I had also lived in a haunted dormitory my senior year in college, and had gone ghosthunting in the midwest.
You added more depth and information to the characters. How much freedom did you have on the adaption and what was your inspiration for the additional info?
I had to make up a lot of detail because screenplays are actually very short. If you compressed a 120-page screenplay into a prose novel you’d be lucky to have 40 pages. And no one is going to buy that. So I took character clues from the dialogue and made up relatives and friends. Venkman was inherently a con-man. Egon and Ray were almost childlike in their scientific delight. Winston was a cynic. As far as leeway, they wanted it done quickly and well. So I got to stretch out.
J. Michael Straczynski was the story editor, translating the Ghostbusters Universe into television format. He did a perfect job and so did you with some of the most awesome stories! How did you came on board to The Real Ghostbusters?
I knew Joe from SF writing and I had done some ADR for Harmony Gold. I think I had also done a Spiral Zone and I had a relationship with Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine. I got a call from Joe and he said, „I just got hired to deliver 165 episodes of The Real Ghostbusters for Fox. Will you please come and write for me,“ or words to that effect. So I said, „sure.“
One of our favorite episodes is „You Can’t Take It With You“ — in which an old billionaire opens a gate to the ghostly realm and tries to take all his money into the afterlife. The episode captures the humor, but also the spirit of Ghostbusters in a perfect way. It also appeals to both kids and adults, which makes Real Ghostbusters great. Can you tell us how the stories for the RGBs were developed, especially „You Can’t Take It With You“.
“You can’t take it with you.” One of my favorites too. I’m not much for mega-capitalism so a really mean billionaire getting his just desserts appealed to me. And mean enough to drag his staff to the afterlife with him puts him, for me, as in the same category as a mass murderer or cannibal. I think it was the only episode in which a living human being was “killed,” sent across to the other side. And the scene of all the gold bars raining down after he goes across brings out Venkman’s larcenous streak. It was fun to do. I remembered a favorite scene from When Worlds Collide when the mean investor doesn’t get to go at the last minute because his butler gives up their seats to a young couple. As far as ideas In general, we mined every ancient pantheon of gods, folklore, urban legends, superstition and famous monster we could find. Having been a dedicated Dungeons and Dragons player certainly helped me.
Do you have a favorite episode of your The Real Ghostbusters tales?
My favorite season was season 4, edited by Chuck Menville and Len Jenson. I did three episodes and the animation was stellar. Venkman’s Ghost Repellers involving Peter’s ego in building a machine he thinks will make him rich, but attracts a giant monster named Mee-grah. Short Stuff sees the guys shrunk down to action figure size by the Ghostmaster General’s bounty hunter, while Slimer and Janine look for a spell to reverse it. And the Brooklyn Triangle happens when Winston’s father accidentally break into a parallel Land of Lost Objects while digging a building foundation. There they meet the Collector, who will not relent until he finds “the key.” Each one gave me a great chance to use sight gags and dialogue. But I think my favorite was “Elementary, my dear Winston.” Through the power of ‘belief made manifest’ Moriarity shows up in New York, pursued by Holmes and Watson. After the guys mistakenly put Watson in the Containment, Winston has to replace him and help capture Moriarity and his accomplice, the Hound.
You also wrote two episodes for the next generation of Ghostbusters, Extreme Ghostbusters. Can you tell us something about your work on the spin-off?
I was working on all sorts of stuff when XGB came along, but I said I’d like to write for it and I got 2 episodes. One had wild plants taking over Central Park. The other had a succubus (Nora Dunn) getting hired as a temp, (Temporary Insanity) and trying to take Egon away from Janine. Not that Janine was going to put up with that. During the nineties there were a lot of great shows and I wrote for many of them, more than one with Extreme in the title. We got to work with wonderful actors and animators.
You’re still very active on social media when it comes to Ghostbusters, so we have to ask: Did you saw the upcoming movie’s trailer and how could we imagine a third Ghostbusters movie written by Richard Mueller?
I have always followed RGB closely. I’m proud of my work on the show and I’d love to work on a new series. I sent my hundred-year-old father a copy of the novelization reprint, which I originally dedicated to him and mom. He loved it. I’ve seen the trailers for the new film and it looks great. And I love connecting with Real Ghostbusters groups around the world. RGB turned out to be a strong backbone of my work.
Gummi Bears, Batman, Ghostbusters… Decades later and people still love these shows. Today, all of them still have a very big fan base. What do these shows mean to you today?
I’ve been blessed to be a part of science fiction, of animation, of history. Vic Dal Chele, who directed 39 episodes of Extreme Ghostbusters, became my best friend. I know many of the voice people, and had the pleasure of working with wacky ideas and strong stories. To do Gummi Bears and work with June Foray. To do Batman The Animated Series and help craft great hero-based animation. Adrienne Barbeau was my Selena Kyle, and whenever I see her, I call her Selena. And to do great shows like X-Men, Wing Commander Academy, Robocop and Godzilla. Not bad for a totally unplanned career. I am truly grateful.
Thanks to Mr. Mueller for the great conversation!