When it was released in 1984, Ghostbusters was a remarkable film for several reasons. It was one of the first comedies to employ a significant amount of special effects and, as Lesley Blume points out in a Vanity Fair article on how the film was made, it brought several actors largely known for their TV work into the cinema, heralding a crossover between the two that would become an established norm today.
The film also celebrated New York City at a time when its image had been severely damaged by years of financial problems and high crime rates. Even the film’s last line projects this positive sentiment – “shouted by Winston Zeddmore,” Blume writes, “as he surveys the smoking, molten-marshmallow-drenched disaster zone around him: ‘I love this town’.”
Ecto-1, sporting the ‘no ghost’ symbol, from fatmovieguy.com
Amid these observations, the fact that a logo was to become so firmly embedded in the fabric of a comedy about a team of parapsychologists might sound insignificant, yet, in film terms, the ‘no ghost’ symbol went way beyond the contraints of the storyline. Before Ghostbusters had even opened in cinemas, the ‘no ghost’ had been established as the logo of the film itself.
Prior to filming, the design of a symbol for the Ghostbusters fell to executive producer Michael C Gross. In an interview from the bonus disk of the DVD collection, The Real Ghostbusters (Time Life), Gross says that in talks with director Ivan Reitman, he offered to art direct the film and look after the animation side, as it was clear that it was going to warrant a wide range of special effects and creature designs. “It was in the script,” Gross recalls in the interview. “Danny Aykroyd had it written on the page, that the boys came in with this logo on their shirt, or on the side of the Ectomobile, of a ghost trapped in the ‘no’ symbol. That was it.”
The symbol would be required for sets, props and costumes, Gross explains, so needed pinning down right away. With the newly-formed special effects house Boss Film Studios on board, Gross approached one of its artists, Brent Boates, who was working as a creature design consultant on the film, for some variations “of a ghost coming through the ‘no’ symbol’.
“He drew it up and there we were…. We didn’t think twice about it,” says Gross. “No-one really thought it was going to go past that. Of course, as everything grew and the advertising campaign came, it became the logo for the film.” The ‘no ghost’ was used extensively across the film’s promotional material and appeared in its opening title sequence (by R/Greenberg Associates) where an animated cartoon ghost is ‘caught’ in the sign, which then forms the ‘O’ of ‘Ghostbusters’.
Interestingly, as the film’s end credits roll, members of the huge cheering crowd assembled outside the building where the final scenes take place can be seen holding up T-shirts sporting the logo. As some film commenters have suggested, the Ghostbusters logo is ‘diagetic’ ie of the fictional world of the film. This in itself is not unusual (there’s a logo for Omni Consumer Products in RoboCop, for example), though the extent to which the Ghostbusters’ logo is used and referred to – in and outside of the film – has only since been bettered by Jurassic Park.
And there are, in fact, two versions of the Ghostbusters logo, Gross reveals. “The interesting thing is – and it’s hard for people to figure this out – but one of the versions I did had ‘Ghostbusters’ written in the diagonal sign,” he explains. “And it doesn’t read well the way the actual symbol is: so I flipped it so it reads the other way.”
Gross explains that this ‘correct’ version of the symbol (ISO 3864-1, signage buffs), with the crossbar running top left to bottom right, was then only used in Europe where the ‘no’ sign was more familiar than in the US. “We took the word ‘Ghostbusters’ off it – and it’s still backwards – so if you ever see it the ‘correct’ way, that’s for European release,” says Gross. “They said, ‘look we can’t run it backwards over here, we’ve been using it for fifty years’. So it’s two ways; if you see it ‘backwards’, it’s US; if you see it the ‘correct’ way it’s European.” Here’s a British poster for the film, with the crossbar top-left to bottom-right:
And here’s a Spanish version:
Spanish poster with same logo, via imgkid.com
Even as it flipped back and forth across the Atlantic, on its home turf the Ghostbusters logo became so recognisable that versions of it even became a feature of the 1984 US election, with both ‘Reagan busters’ and ‘Fritz busters’ badges appearing in support of Walter ‘Fritz’ Mondale and Ronald Reagan alike:
As for what happens to the Ghostbusters logo in 2016, when the film returns with an all-female ghostbusting team, a recent graphic from Sony Pictures’ Twitter showed little sign of a new version as yet. Which is probably just as well, as no-one wants a repeat of what emerged when the Ghostbusters came back for a second time in 1989. Now that really was scary.
Update: In July 2015, the first photos of the new cast showed the original logo was being used in director Paul Feig’s film, the first trailer for which can be seen at @Ghostbusters. Michael C Gross, the originator of the Ghostbusters logo, died in November 2015.