Ivan Reitman is clapping his hands. "We're getting there, we're getting there," he says to Bill Murray, who's slouching at a table in the middle of a posh restaurant. "But you gotta crank it up a little. You're still a quart low."
"I'll tell you what," says Murray, who's been eagerly sampling the bright chunks of carrots on his plate. "I'm getting a little low on vegetables."
For the past eight hours, Reitman, Murray and Sigourney Weaver have been sweating under the hot lights in this Toluca Lake location, near downtown L.A., trying to polish off a key scene for the movie Ghostbusters II, the summer's most anticipated comedy sequel. Darting from table to table in a white dress shirt and black slacks, Reitman looks more like a harried waiter than one of Hollywood's highest-priced comedy filmmakers, the director of Twins, Legal Eagles, Ghostbusters, Stripes and Meatballs and the producer of Animal House.
He ducks behind his video monitor and focuses on Murray and Weaver. Even with boom mikes lurking in the background, it's a cozy moment. Playing Dr. Peter Venkman, the wisecracking leader of the Ghostbusters crew, Murray is in the midst of wooing Weaver with champagne, caviar and the doctor's trademark self-mocking charm. It's the last week of a thirteen-week shoot, and Reitman is eager to get this scene in the can. He calls for quiet. Suddenly Murray stands and waves his napkin in the air. "Correct me if I'm wrong," he says, "but isn't this double Academy Award nominee Sigourney Weaver's last shot of the movie?"
The crew cackles with glee. Throughout the day, whenever work has been halted by technical delays, Murray has lectured the crew about "keeping our double nominee waiting," a reference to Weaver's being up for Oscars for both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress (for Gorillas in the Mist and Working Girl; she would win neither).
Having worked with Murray over the last fifteen years (as producer of The National Lampoon Show and on Meatballs and Stripes), Reitman knows his meal ticket thrives on playing the room before each shot. At thirty-nine, Murray is one of Hollywood's reigning kings of comedy. Though his Saturday Night Live days are nearly a decade behind him, he still craves the roar of a crowd, even if the laughter is coming from an audience of burly crew members and awe-struck extras. "You're right, Bill," Reitman says. "It's her last close-up."
Murray smiles. "I say if she blows this scene, maybe she doesn't deserve the awards," he says. The crew hisses in mock outrage. "No, no," Murray says. "She thrives on the pressure."
From across the table, Weaver grins and bears it.
Murray leans over to her. "You know," he whispers, "you're not such a big deal when you're working with actors as tall as you are." Weaver, who's five feet eleven, giggles helplessly. "That's right," says Murray. "You can't work with Mel Gibson forever!"
Finally, Reitman calls for action. The scene is Dr. Venkman's last chance at romance. As the camera rolls, the doctor coos, "So … making any New Year's resolutions?" His love object tosses back her hair and coolly replies, "I want to stop getting involved with men who aren't any good for me."
Venkman is crushed. "Does that start exactly at midnight tomorrow?" he asks. "Or could you maybe hold off for a few days?"
Reitman beams. "It's a take." The crew cheers. Weaver stands up, merrily spins around and takes a bow.
Murray is delighted too. When the crew's applause dies down, he stares at Weaver's chest, tilts his head and raises his eyebrows. "Is it just me," he asks, "or can everyone see through Sigourney's dress?"
Seeing The Spirit Here, it's easy to forget that this is the set of a $30 million movie whose success this summer could give Columbia Pictures a much-needed dose of box-office credibility and whose failure could deliver a knockout blow to the ice-cold studio.
Over the past year, Columbia has been staggered by such flops as True Believer, Physical Evidence, Vibes, Things Change, The Beast and Rocket Gibraltar. Punchline, its ballyhooed Tom Hanks-Sally Field comedy, grossed only $21 million. (Even Columbia insiders admit the studio's most profitable film of 1988 was probably Spike Lee's low-budget School Daze, a success marred by the fact that Lee publicly bad-mouthed Columbia for "ghettoizing" the movie's release.)
"You better believe Ghostbusters is a priority" says Columbia president Dawn Steel. "In the dollars-and-cents point of view, it's probably the most important, eagerly awaited sequel in the history of Columbia Pictures."
Almost all Hollywood moguls are sequel crazy these days. It's easy to see why. With their brand-name titles, familiar faces and easily recognizable story lines, sequels are considered box-office studs. No one made six installments of Police Academy trying to win an Oscar. Whether it's Rocky IV, Rambo III or The Karate Kid, Part II (which actually made more money than the original), sequels are irresistible to studios – movies with a built-in audience.
This summer's Roman-numeral parade begins on May 23rd with Paramount's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The studio has a pair of warhorses set to follow, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Friday the 13th Part VIII: Terror in Times Square. In addition to Ghostbusters II (which opens June 16th), Columbia has Karate Kid, Part III, while Warners is putting its bets on Lethal Weapon 2. To add to the congestion, several smaller studios have date-night fodder out as well, including Nightmare on Elm Street V and Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives, both due in theaters by late August.
Ghostbusters II seems to have an advantage as the strongest comedy package in the field. Its celebrity-studded cast (Murray, Weaver, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis all return) and instant name recognition should give it a mammoth opening weekend. But it needs to stay near the top of the box-office charts well into August to make a run at the coveted $100 million mark. And it's not always possible to handicap summer-sequel duels. Last year, many industry experts predicted Rambo III would trounce "Crocodile" Dundee II in the Memorial Day-weekend war. Instead, Croc devoured Rambo, which earned barely half of its expected $100 million domestic booty.
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