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I Was A Theme Park Ghostbuster - CK’s Jaimz Dillman reflects on Her Time Busting Ghosts at Universal Orlando

By Jaimz Dillman

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Look at all the popular films and TV shows from the 80s and even 90s getting sequels and reboots. The children of those eras are now grown up and yearning for the comfort of their favorite movies and well-loved characters from their childhood. And they’re the ones with money to spend. 

Studios have paid attention to this trend and just this year alone reboots of Dune and Willy Wonka have been pretty well received along with the much-anticipated sequel to Beetlejuice coming quickly down the pike. Of course, another franchise from the 80s has to be recognized and you can gather fans by the millions when you ask ‘Who ya gonna call?’ 

Ghostbusters, and its sequel, was not only a hit in its original release but has become one of those movies parents pass down to their kids. And now those kids have the chance to share that same experience with the next generation in continued stories of busting in Afterlife and Frozen Empire. 

But in between those installments, there was big love for the Gozer and Vigo-stricken universe, local fan Corps gathered in their homemade packs and modified cars, attractions were created to fight the evils of the afterlife, and yes- there were theme park Ghostbusters. I had a chance to reflect on those times with my fellow Ghostbusters this week with the anticipation of Frozen Empire opening this weekend.

“I grew up thinking Ghostbusters was one of the greatest movies of all time. It was funny, had scary moments, romance and it created its own mythology and lore. Then I had the opportunity to work at Universal Studios and perform in the Ghostbusters show?!? I played Louis Tully and still to this day I believe that role was the most challenging role at Universal. The amount of time you and you alone had to hold the audience’s attention then we would do back-to-back shows with no break. Intense but super rewarding. I have very fond memories of my time there and continue to have lifelong friendships.” said Eric Miles. 

Universal Studios Orlando had several incarnations of the Ghostbusters with first, an immersive inside show featuring state-of-the-art animatronics from the Chiodo brothers (of Killer Clowns fame). At first, the shows featured the well-loved characters of Venkman, Stantz, Spengler, and Zeddemore as well as Tully, Peck, the deity Gozer, and Stay Puft! Iconic scenes from the movie were brought to life in front of thousands of guests for years. Then, a second version of that show was presented, and once the building was repurposed into a new attraction, the boys were moved outside to a musical offering combined with Beetlejuice. And then a second version of that show followed, and finally Street Busters. Ed Budd recalls, “When I first hit the street as Egon Spangler, when I first started, I was so excited to be a Ghostbuster. I was always so happy that the Ghostbusters afforded me the opportunity to do so much character work and explore so many new ideas without restriction. It’s a creative freedom that you rarely see today. A true gift for an actor.”

Without a set scripted show or a venue to perform, the Busters were given range to be a more organic unit. Really living out scenes and improvising sets, ghosts just seemed to pop up while guests were walking through the park, having lunch, or even a waiting for other attractions. Show Director J. Michael Roddy reflects, "Upon the show's closure in 1996, my focus shifted towards show production. Collaborating to craft fresh experiences for Ghostbusters aficionados became my mission. From orchestrating encounters with all four Ghostbusters prowling the backlot streets in pursuit of specters, to navigating the challenge of ghost sightings in Florida's blazing sun, our aim was to evoke lasting memories for our guests. The evolution of Ghostbusters, from the original team to the Extreme Ghostbusters and beyond, mirrored the ever-changing landscape of entertainment."

Restructuring and rewriting gave new opportunities for other actors to join the ranks to grab rogue spirits throughout the park. Including the chance for the first time to have new original characters added to the roster. Enter Ghostbusters with their own backstories, personalities, and yes- girls!! We did it first, kids. Well before the (debatably) forgettable 2016 film, the Busting ladies of Orlando were seen alongside (or on top of) the Ecto, holding smoking traps, and posing for pics. I’ll forever be honored to say I was lucky enough to be a part of that crew. It really is one of my favorite entries on my resume. Now, more often than not, we got funny looks from park guests, but once they understood we were "student" Busters learning the ropes, they were all in! There was no questioning why, it was just an accepted excitement of… cool!

A fellow GB gal, Kelly Malick said, "Being a Ghostbuster in the 90's was a highly memorable time in my life. From bustin' ghosts in the pre-show of Beetlejuice's Graveyard Review to riding through the park on top of the Ecto, the days were NEVER dull and FUN was inevitable! My GB family will always be a part of me and YES....I still enjoy listening to Ray Parker Jr sing that classic song!!!"

Rarely will you get a chance to meet your heroes. For us, we got to be them! And meet people and take pictures and represent the brand. To say we were proud to wear the jumpsuit is an understatement.

“It was one of the best and most creative times I had working in the park. Every buster on the street worked together to try and create unique experiences. We all had a deep understanding and love of the lore. And we all understood the audiences didn’t want to just see the Ghostbusters as celebrities. We all knew the audience wanted to see the Ghostbusters busting ghosts. I look back on that time so fondly.” said Todd Feren. 

When that car came around the corner with music and sirens blaring, there was nothing like it. Playing with our friends, who are some of the most talented actors around, day after day- it truly was a dream job. "I had the great joy of taking part in so many incarnations of Ghostbusters in the park." said Stephen Middleton, "I remember writing so many skits and sketches and building and fixing props so we could really "bust ghosts" for real. I remember doing a Stripes-style drill team in the early days as students. I remember when we were the Real Ghostbusters. I remember being students who were just any wild characters that we could dream up. I remember when we became our own version of the Extreme Ghostbusters. Guys, we drive around in... The Ecto for a living. I could literally go on forever. So many many memories and towards the end I got to don the jumpsuit with my wife."

The torch being passed to Reitman’s son Jason was just the most perfect way imaginable to carry on the legacy. Several of us Uni GB were at the first showing of Afterlife- and let me tell you- there was so much laughter (especially when they couldn’t start the car, IYKYK) and also so many tears. We caught lightning in a bottle in our work at a little Florida theme park. And it seems lightning is striking twice with the resurgence of love from all over for our boys, and NOW girls, from NYC. Roddy continued, "In the years since, Ghostbusters has experienced a renaissance, spanning new movies, video games, and a haunted house at Halloween Horror Nights, masterminded by former Ghostbuster, Mike Aiello. As a new movie graces theaters this weekend, I can't help but reminisce with a blend of nostalgia and melancholy, cherishing the unique camaraderie we shared on the Universal backlot—a bond forged by something strange in the neighborhood and something truly special."

Rumors are circulating among the park insiders that the Ecto may return to the streets of Universal this summer. Dare we hope to see some version of the Busters, too? 

Wherever the new storylines take us and whatever new villains arise, the sentiment is the same among fans worldwide - Bustin' makes me feel good! 

(click on images to enlarge)


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