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Among the leaked drama that has been flooding the internet due to the recent Sony hacking scandal, one exchanged e-mail discussed a legal suit over the new Ghostbusters film and Bill Murray’s involvement. The e-mail hinted at taking serious action and potentially sueing Bill Murray for not participating in the new film.
The specific exchange, reported by The Daily Beast dates October 31, 2013 between David Steinberg, head of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s legal department and Leah Weil, SPE’s general counsel. Steinberg writes to Weil about Bill Murray’s reluctance towards starring in the upcoming Paul Feig reboot and discusses the idea of indentifying aggressive litigation counsel to figure out the alternatives.
Planning to go forward with "‘aggressive’ litigation counsel" while still keeping the case on the down low doesn’t seem to be the easiest way to go about things. Steinberg even admits that it would harm the studio’s reputation if they went public against a popular actor like Bill Murray, and believes that they "should look for someone who isn’t seeking the spotlight."
Aside from the chaos that a legal suit with Bill Murray could cause, does Sony even have the means to sue? If Murray still held his portion of the rights to the franchise, it could be possible, especially since Murray openly mocked previous screen plays for a new Ghostbusters film. But, in many previous interviews years back, Dan Aykroyd insisted that Murray had officially given up his rights to the Ghostbusters property. In an interview with Esquire, Aykroyd states:
"Well, I have one-fifth of the voice, along with the partners and the other owner of the property, the picture company, and Ivan, Billy [Murray], and myself, and Harold [Ramis]. We all have to sign off on it unanimously — uh, I'm not sure Billy does anymore, since he abrogated his rights by sort of, by saying, two years ago he said, ‘I don't want to be involved,’ and the picture company I think had some clause in there that if he actually passed on the third of fourth offer, he no longer has a view of the franchise. So, that's for the lawyers to decide."
This interview took place in 2012, meaning the referenced ‘two years ago’ was dated back to 2010. If these so called legal actions referenced in the e-mail have not been yet, it is most likely that the clause Aykroyd mentions did exist, and Murray no longer holds any shares in the property.
Back when Aykroyd was defending Murray’s decision, despite the rumors of Murray mocking scripts and writing a note to Aykroyd that said "no one wants to pay money to see fat, old men chasing ghosts" (which Aykroyd denies happening), Aykroyd always stuck up for Murray calling him a friend before a colleague. While Aykroyd admits that Murray is an important part of the franchise, he respects his friend’s decision, and won’t push it. In many interviews back in 2012, he adamantly insisted that Murray had made his final decision not to return. So, it seems highly unlikely that Sony has the means to sue, especially if the creator himself Dan Aykroyd time and time again states Murray’s is out.
While we all obviously wish to see Bill Murray back in his flight suit, the actor is not one to take a movie just to cash a paycheck. Something called artistic integrity? The all-female reboot of Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters 3, is bound to bring some laughs, but without Murray at the head of them. The film does not have a definitive release date quite yet, but it will be directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) and rumored to include a star-studded female cast.