[Editor's note: This is Part V in a series of blog posts. Click here to read the entire series.]
- Flux Capacitor — check.
- Oscillation Overthruster — check.
- KITT Knight Rider Scanner — check.
- Personalized ECTO88 License Plates — check.
- PKE Meter, Ghost Trap, and Ecto Goggles — check.
Only one key piece of Ghostbusting equipment is still missing, my Ghostbusters Proton Pack. And, according to my UPS tracking number, it should be arriving on my doorstep sometime later today!
At the end of my last post, I promised to tell you the tale of how I came to own one of the coolest and most screen-accurate Ghostbusters Proton Packs ever built. It's a strange-but-epic tale, and it begins way back in 2003 with my friend Chris Stewart.
Chris is easily one of the coolest people I know, and I've still never met him in person. He's been a vocal champion of my geeky writing for almost a decade. Way back in 2003, he emailed me to tell me that he really enjoyed my spoken word stuff and to ask if he could interview me for the online magazine he worked on. (You can read that ancient interview here. My favorite bit is where I predict that my novel, Ready Player One, which I'd just started working on, would "hit the shelves within a year or so." I was only off the mark by about half a decade. Ah, the hubris of youth.)
In addition to being a writer and video game producer, Chris is also an extremely talented graphic designer. In the years since I've known him, he's sent me more unannounced packages of awesome stuff than I can count. Chris is the guy who designed the "Ernie Cline has a Posse" image on my website, and, after he read my novel, he designed this "Anti-Sixer logo" described in the book:
One other thing about Chris? He's also the biggest Ghostbusters fanboy I know. He runs Proton Charging, the oldest (and coolest) Ghostbusters fan news site on the Internet. So when I decided that I needed to obtain a Proton Pack, Chris was the first guy I contacted.
Over email, Chris immediately introduced me to his friend Bryan Fear of the West Coast Busters. Chris described Brian to me like this: "Bryan is the platonic ideal of a Ghostbusters fan. First guy I ever met with a PKE meter, takes a team to SDCC every year, makes it a point to visit sick kids in hospital (what kids doesn't want to meet a Ghostbuster when stuck in the hospital?), always let's me know there's a spare couch and pack for me if I ever make it to SDCC, and is the proud owner of a Dan Aykroyd-signed, PERFECT Ecto-1. He even built Ernie Hudson a pack so he could wear it at cons with his GB jumpsuit — Ernie is now a con favorite, thanks to being that cool, and Bryan's pack."
Brian is the fellow at the far left in the photo above (and that's Ernie "Winston Zeddemore" Hudson in the center). Readers of my blog might remember that Bryan is the guy who gave me a ride to W00tstock in his Ectomobile last month at Comic-Con. I've gotten to know him over the past few months, and he's just an unbelievably friendly and generous guy. He's also some sort of jack-of-all-trades car mechanic/electrical engineer/movie buff/prop builder/artist/Ghostbusters-lore expert. His Ecto-1 is the coolest and most screen-accurate Ectomobile I've ever seen, and he and his friend Eric Eseke (the guy on the far right in the photo above) built the entire thing themselves. For fun. And since they live in San Diego, they drive it down to Comic Con every year so that other fans can enjoy this thing of beauty they've created. For me, that captures the whole spirit of what a fan (of anything) should be.
I told Bryan about my Ghostbusting Time Vehicle project and my mission to obtain a proton pack. I wouldn't learn until later that this is one of the most common (and annoying) questions that prop builders like Bryan get asked by other fans: "Hey, can you build me a proton pack? Or will you sell me one of the ones you built?" This is something akin to blasphemy. Screen-accurate proton packs can take months and cost thousands of dollars to build, and an awful lot of knowledge and attention to detail has to go into them. Someone who invests that kind of time and energy to create a work of art probably isn't going to hand it over to some stranger. Bryan explained that he couldn't build a pack for me, but he had another idea of where I could get one...
This proton pack replica has just gone up for auction on eBay. I'd seen the listing while searching for a pack, but I'd passed right over this one, because it looked like total crap. It clearly hadn't been taken care of, and someone had sprayed red paint all over it, in a half-assed attempt to age it or simulate rust or something. And the guy selling it clearly wasn't even a Ghostbusters fan, because in every single photo of the pack on his auction listing it showed the pack displayed upside down, like you see above.
What I didn't know was that this pack had originally been built by one of the most talented and meticulous prop builders in the world. Bryan laid out the history of the pack for me in his email:
Many years ago an uber-fan friend of ours bought a screen-used "hero" pack from Ghostbusters 2 for a princely sum. But he never received the COA (Certificate of Authenticity) from the auction house who conveniently seemed to have it on the podium during the auction but then lost it. Our friend's screen used pack was later stolen from baggage claim in an airport, never to be seen or heard from again. But his never-issued COA later showed up on an auction for another proton pack. A fan-built proton pack, being passed off as one that had been screen used. The fan-built pack was built by Sean "Venkman71" Bishop. Sean recognized his work immediately and asked for them to take the auction down. Although the auction was rescinded, the COA was never recovered and Sean's former pack was an item he had sold years ago and could lay no claim to.
Now, nearly 10 years later, Sean's pack had resurfaced on eBay. Bryan told me that Sean himself was aware of the auction and had debated buying it back for the sole reason of cleaning it up. Of course, with all the packs he already owned, he really didn't have room for any more, it was a passing thought.
Bryan suggested I buy the pack off eBay and ask Sean to restore it for me. I couldn't believe my luck! I told Bryan that I loved his idea, and he put me directly in touch with Sean.
Sean turned out to be just as friendly and generous as Bryan. He's also an incredibly humble guy, especially when you consider what a legend he is in the prop-builder world. Ghost Heads around the world have been coveting his creations for a decade. He's an all-around amazing guy, who has worked as a screenwriter, storyboard artist, and voice actor. When I looked up his IMDB credits (which are as long as your arm), I discovered that he'd work on Madagascar, Over the Hedge, and several of the Shrek movies — all flicks my daughter and I had watched dozens of times. He wasn't just a fan of movies. He works in the movies. And his accomplishments as a prop builder are nothing short of epic.
Here's Sean helping Ernie Hudson try on the proton pack Sean built for him. (Sean is also standing next to Ernie in the Ecto-1 photo above). To get a sense of to unmatched level of awesomeness that Bryan and Sean bring to their love of Ghostbusters, watch this video of them escorting Ernie Hudson to a special Ghostbusters event at Gallery 88:
Remember a few years ago, when Bill Murray showed up at the Scream Awards in his Ghostbusters jumpsuit, wearing a proton pack? The pack he's wearing was made by Sean.
Oh, and remember that same night, when Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox appeared on stage with a DeLorean Time Machine to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Back to the Future? That was Sean's time machine they were standing next to. The one he built in his garage for fun. (His DeLorean Time Machine replica is also featured in a documentary on the BTTF blu-ray).
After I learned all of this, I remember asking Sean: "So... after Bill Murray has worn one of your proton pack replicas, and Doc Brown and Marty McFly have stood next to your DeLorean time machine replica, where do you go from there? As a movie fan and a prop builder, how can you ever possibly top that?"
Sean said something humble in reply, but the real answer is — I don't think he can top that. Ever. And he doesn't need to. Because once you've pull off something that epic, you're already a legend to Ghost Heads and Back to the Future fans everywhere, and you will be for all time. So says I.
I won the auction for Sean's long lost pack, and the seller turned out to live in Century City, a short drive from Sean's house. He offered to go pick up the pack for me, and then Bryan offered to give him a ride in his cherry Ectomobile. I would have loved to see the seller's face when Ecto-1 pulled up outside his apartment building to reclaim a piece of Ghost Head history. Sean took the pack back to his workshop and began the restoration process. He promised that he would bring it back to life, then make it even better than it was originally.
Like Bryan, Sean has a very altruistic philosophy about his hobbies. He creates his props and replicas to be enjoyed by other people, not to lock away in some ivory geek tower. And he hasn't kept all of the knowledge he's acquired on how to build these props a secret — he has shared it with everyone else in the fan community, so that they can build their own awesome costumes and props. Check out these Proton Pack and Ghost Trap plans that Sean created nearly a decade ago. He took the time to create those plans (for no money) because he wanted to share his knowledge and love of Ghostbusters with other fans around the world.
Sean stripped all of the parts off the pack shell and completely repainted it. Then, with an artist's eye for detail, he expertly aged the pack, to make it look worn and beat-up from countless Paranormal Elimination jobs. Over the summer, I continued to get text messages from Sean, with photos of the pack's gradual rebirth.
Because my pack was 10 years old, it didn't have the ability to make sound like most modern pack replicas, because sound kits didn't exist back when Sean first made it. In another show of stunning generosity, Bryan offered to upgrade my pack with a new soundboard, if I would cover the cost of parts. I felt like the featured guest on a new episode of Pimp My Proton Pack. He also installed a new rechargeable battery and updated the pack's wiring.
Here's a photo of Sean with the completed pack. I can't wait to get my nerdy little hands on it and put it in ECTO88. If you'd like to see photos and video of my pack in action, visit www.ecto88.com later this weekend. You can also find my book tour dates there, and if I'm driving to a town near you in the next few weeks, you can come and see ECTO88 and all of my Geek Gear in person.
My thanks to Bryan and Sean for their boundless generosity and amazing work. And my sincere thanks to Powell's for letting me hijack their blog this week and turn it into an '80s movie geek nerdfest.
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Ernest Cline has been a short-order cook, fish gutter, plasma donor, elitist video store clerk, and tech support drone. He eventually ditched those careers to express his love of pop culture as a spoken word artist and screenwriter. His 2009 film Fanboys became a cult phenomenon. Ready Player One is his first novel.
Books mentioned in this post
Ernest Cline is the author of Ready Player One