An Interview With the Original Fifth Ghostbuster a.k.a. The Rookie

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The new Ghostbusters movie is finally out, and hopefully we can all get past the controversy surrounding the all-female team of paranormal investigators and appreciate the movie as a fun summer flick lead by a talented cast that offers some laughs and wows us with cool visual effects. And this new era is reminiscent of another time when a new Ghostbuster was introduced to the public that hardly anyone seems to remember or talk about. (We won’t count the time Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) donned the jumpsuit and “helped” the Ghostbusters bring down Vigo the Carpathian, as I’m pretty sure he had to return that proton pack when all was said and done.)

As we covered earlier this week, 2009’s Ghostbusters: The Video Game is, for all intents and purposes, Ghostbusters 3, which means that the player character introduced in the campaign, known simply as “the Rookie,” is effectively the fifth full-time Ghostbuster to join the team. In my years before Fandom, I had the pleasure of working on that game, and I pulled some strings to reach out to a former colleague, Ryan French, the Associate Producer on the title who also has the special distinction of serving as the basis for the character model for The Rookie.

The character model for The Rookie in Ghostbusters: The Video Game.

Matthew: What was your official involvement in 2009’s Ghostbusters: The Video Game?
Ryan: I was an Associate Producer at Vivendi Games, which was the original publisher prior to the sale of the title to Atari. I worked with the developers to stay on schedule and see the project through.

Matthew: How exactly did you become the model for the likeness of the new recruit in the game?
Ryan: In short: I was an average looking fan, in the right place, at the right time. The longer version: During development, Terminal Reality knew they wanted an average Joe to play the rookie character. When I heard this while visiting them for a milestone review, I enthusiastically volunteered. As a pretty average looking Midwestern dude, I felt I fit the bill well enough for it to not seem too crazy a suggestion. The rest is history.

As time passed, I also got the opportunity to go to the Sony prop house in L.A. to photograph the original movie props for reference for the TRI (Terminal Reality, Inc.) artists. Being a huge fan, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see and interact with the original film props. My wife is a photographer, so I brought her to take the photos. We photographed dozens of props, but above all else, I will never forget putting on one of Bill Murray’s (Dr. Peter Venkman) actual Proton Packs for photo reference. Of course, I couldn’t resist striking a few appropriate poses and expressions. I think this might have put the first seeds in the devs’ minds that I looked the part after all.

More time passed, and they eventually circled back to me to ask me if I was still serious about lending my likeness. Needless to say, that was a short conversation — of course I was serious!

A rare shot of The Rookie that offers a clear view of the French as the fifth Ghostbuster.

Time was a factor, because there was a development deadline, so I was racing the clock to try to make it happen. I went home that night and my wife took about 100 great headshots of me making different expressions from different angles. Ultimately, a lot of it was overkill, since the player mostly sees the Rookie’s back, but regardless, those 100 shots were on TRI’s network the next morning. I gave the artists plenty to work with, so there was never really any follow-up conversation — in a way, it happened overnight.

Matthew: What was the response of the original Ghostbusters like Dan Aykroyd or Harold Ramis to the look of the Rookie in the game?
Ryan: I think their reactions to the Rookie mirrored their characters’ reactions… There wasn’t much fuss about him since he successfully hid in plain sight, getting the experimental gear tested, while also staying out of the way.

A typical shot of French as The Rookie, seen from the back.

Matthew: Do you ever get recognized? Or did you at the time?
Ryan: No, I don’t recall ever being recognized. Perhaps some of the folks from the various Ghostbusters fan franchises that were at Comic-Con in 2008 recognized me, but that wasn’t hard since I was demoing the game for eight hours a day.

It’s kind of a moot point now, since I have had a beard ever since then — but my friends think it’s fun to bring up now and again, and it makes a great profile pic.

Matthew: What was it like seeing yourself in a video game version of what basically qualifies as Ghostbusters 3?
Ryan: It’s quite surreal… The only reason it happened in the first place was because I was (and forever will be) a huge Ghostbusters fan, so it was a literal dream come true, as it would be for any fan.

Now that I am thinking about all this, one particularly cool moment was getting a copy of the official Rookie action figure in the mail from Mark Caplan and the Consumer Products group at Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The Rookie action figure front and center as the fifth Ghostbuster. Credit: PixelDan Eardley.

Matthew: Were you a particularly big Ghostbusters fan at the time, or are you now?
Ryan: I have always been a fan ever since my brother and I watched The Real Ghostbusters and wore the toy pack, trap, and goggles around as kids. We poured the slime through the roof grate of the toy firehouse countless times, and we loved rolling the skull down to trigger traps on the RGB board game.

These days, I buy all the video games when they come out, I think the movies are eternally re-watchable, and I am enjoying the new Cryptozoic board game as well. All in all, I appreciate everything Ghostbusters.

French with a proton pack circa 2007 (left) and a recent photo (right).

Matthew: What are you up to these days?
Ryan: I am currently a Project Coordinator, working on Call of Duty games. And I know what I will be doing this weekend! I am excited to watch the new movie, and I am also excited to watch the new documentary Ghostheads on Netflix!

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