Who You Gonna Call? Eric Steelberg


If you want to capture a ghost in a trap and place them in an ecto-containment unit, you know who to call. If you want to capture one on camera, however, the man for the job is Eric Steelberg, who served as Director of Photography for Ghostbusters: Afterlife and its sequel, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.

You could have told little Eric in the ‘80s that this was going to happen, and he never would have believed it,” Steelberg says. The opportunity to lens two films in the Ghostbusters franchise, as well as stepping into a galaxy far, far away as cinematographer for five episodes of Star Wars: Ahsoka, was a childhood dream come true. Born in 1977, Steelberg grew up in the golden age of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Ghostbusters. “Any movie that I was allowed to go see in the ‘80s made a huge impression,” Steelberg says, noting that he hungrily devoured anything that his parents brought home on VHS, Betamax or Laserdisc and was particularly drawn to movies that made him feel as though he were being transported to different places and let his imagination run wild. In high school, Steelberg met Jason Reitman, and shot two short films for him. Their first feature film collaboration, the acclaimed 2007 hit Juno, led to a long filmmaking partnership, which has included Up in The Air, Young Adult and Tully. It also gave Steelberg a chance to shoot the 2014 sports dramedy Draft Day for Jason’s father, Ivan Reitman, the director of the original Ghostbusters. “I’m so fortunate to have been involved with both of them and I’ve learned so much,” Steelberg says. When the chance to work with both Reitmans on Ghostbusters: Afterlife came along, with Jason directing and Ivan producing, it was both an amazing opportunity and anintimidating challenge. I’d never done a movie on that big of a budget,” Steelburg says. The film, which tells the story of young Phoebe Spengler (McKenna Grace) learning that her grandfather was one of the founding Ghostbusters while battling spectres on a farm in Oklahoma, cost approximately $75 million.

Eric Steelburg stands on set.
“Any movie that I was allowed to go see in the ‘80s made a huge impression,” Steelberg says. Photos courtesy of Jaap Buitendijk.

The film would turn out to Ivan Reitman’s swan song, as he passed away on February 12, 2022, mere months after the release of the film, and Ghosbusters: Frozen Empire bears a dedication to him. The new film has the Spengler family moving back where it all began, New York City, to continue the work of busting ghosts. Steelberg and director Gil Kenan wanted to mark this return by recapturing the aesthetic of the 1984 classic as much as possible. “It always had this kind of unromantic version of New York [as] a very lived-in place,” Steelberg says. “And we really wanted that to come through in the new movie, because you want this reminder to everybody that ghostbusting has been going on for 40 years…you want to see it and you want to feel that.” The filmmakers followed in Ivan Reitman’s footsteps by shooting in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. “Anamorphic is typically not a format that has ever been used for comedies, but Ivan decided to do it because it made it look more cinematic,” Steelberg says. “And it was a great way to showcase New York City –the contrast of a very vertical city, but a very horizontal frame – is really interesting.” Steelberg notes that widescreen ratio was ideally suited to putting all four of the original Ghostbusters into the frame at one time. Steelberg stuck with Panavision lenses to give it the feel of a big film, though Afterlife and Frozen Empire were both shot to the Arri Alexa Mini LF, a large format digital camera. While he’s done with Ghostbusters for now, Steelberg’s next film reteams him with Jason Reitman and Gil Kenan on SNL 1975, which chronicles the story of the days leading up to the premiere of Saturday Night Live. Reitman and Kenan wrote the script, with Reitman directing, and it all features one more Ghostbusters mainstay, albeit in a very different way. Dan Aykroyd, who co-wrote Ghostbusters with Harold Ramis and has appeared in all of the films, is portrayed as a young, up and coming comic talent in SNL 1975 by Dylan O’Brien (The Maze Runner). Steelberg is shooting the project on 16MM film and it’s set for release in late 2024.  

Whether he returns to the franchise in future or not, the Ghostbusters experience has been a milestone in Steelberg’s career, raising him to a new level of expertise. As Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman, the mouthpiece of the Ghostbusters, would say, “No job is too big, no fee is too big!” While the best place to experience his work is a darkened theater, it’s fair to say that for Eric Steelberg, the future is looking bright.

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