Geared up flight suits strut around movie theaters. Proton packs light up at Comic Con. A fully-loaded Ecto-1 roams the streets.
No, ghosts haven’t taken over Louisiana. This is just everyday life for the Louisiana Ghostbusters, a group of the most dedicated franchise fans you’ll ever meet.
Looking like they stepped right off of the silver screen, these “everymen and women” from Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette and Houma dress up for a cause with regular monthly appearances in order to fundraise for the American Cancer Society.
So how did this state-wide group form out of a bunch of fans who enjoy the iconic characters created by Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd? The origins of the group began simply with a fascination for the franchise as a whole with a few core members getting ready for Halloween by throwing together plans for a Proton pack found on the Internet, or going to Comic Con and figuring out which costume hasn’t been really done before to stand out.
“[Ghostbusters] appeals to the everyday man better than probably any other fandom you could pick,” said Louisiana Ghostbusters spokesman and co-founder Ben Langlinais. “For example, if you went around in a Darth Vader costume or Stormtrooper suit down Bourbon Street, you’d probably get a lot of interest from some people and other people would not be interested at all.”
While members can frequently be found at the local comic or sci-fi conventions, the Louisiana Ghostbusters looked for more reasons to get together. It was after Langlinais and a few other Louisiana Ghostbusters met up with the Alabama Ghostbusters, who became their sister franchise, that the group discovered how they could do more with the type of “event enhancement” the Alabama Ghostbusters participated in usually in the form of parade or benefit appearances.
With the initial general appeal to the public, whether it’s the excitement of taking a photo with a Ghostbuster or seeing the Proton packs and Ecto-1, the group was now prompted to take their fandom further and use it to make a difference in their community. Charity was the perfect solution.
“It started out almost narcissistically, like much cosplay [does],” Langlinais said. “It’s about showing off your craft or expressing enthusiasm for your fan base. Eventually, that gets old and you start looking for more and more reasons to suit up and maybe something more meaningful. Ghostbusters seems to have a broader appeal among all the genres you’d see at a comic or cosplay convention than anything else out there. It seems to strike a chord with more people in a broader demographic and when you’re gonna choose a philanthropy you usually want to pick the one that makes the most people’s eyes light up.”
On July 21, 2010, the group made its first official appearance as the Louisiana Ghostbusters at Mechacon, and the following month they made an appearance in New Orleans to collect money for the American Cancer Society and to see how people would react.
“They flipped out,” Langlinais said. “In a manner of about 30 minutes, just by walking the streets and taking pictures with people, without really having to ask, we had a jar full of cash. We knew we were onto something.”
From that day, the group has donated every penny received to charity. It wasn’t long before they started to branch out and participate in different events, getting their name out and making appearances all over south Louisiana for various charities. Before too long, they developed a full schedule with something planned for every month of the year.
“We are now known among many ‘Ghostbusters’ franchises as one of the best Ghostbusters fan groups in the world,” Langlinais said.
The Louisiana Ghostbusters have worked with the American Cancer Society as their primary charity, along with the Alzheimer’s Association, the National Down Syndrome Society, the American Diabetes Society and the animal welfare organization APAWS through the years. They participate in hospital visits, fundraising walks, birthday party appearances and proton pack giveaways. They have made several appearances in the Red Stick, the first being the Cortana Kiwanis Christmas Parade in 2011.
The Ghostbusters can also be seen each year at BREC’s annual Boo at the Zoo event. Coming up next for the group is Toys 4 Tots at the Mall of Louisiana and participation in a Christmas parade.
The group has also caught the eye of Sony Pictures, who invited the LAGB to the world premiere of the newest addition to the film franchise in Los Angeles.
“Not only did they single us out,” Langlinais said. “But they also asked our opinion on who else they should invite…I think we represented what they wanted in ideal fans. I think that was very validating for us.”
If this sounds like a fan group you’d be interested in joining, Langlinais welcomes new additions to the group’s 40-60 statewide membership roster. To bolster the numbers, the group encourages people to join who are above the age of 18 with no criminal background, who must demonstrate a real knowledge of the group along with the tenacity to put together their own costumes and props.
“After that, we have a very long process and see if that doesn’t scare them away,” Langlinais said. “If that gives them the fever, rather than chases them away, then we really know we’ve got someone who is interested.”
Once the initial phase is completed, the interested party then works two fundraising events on a trial basis to see how well they work and interact with the group.
The Louisiana Ghostbusters connects “Ghostbusters” fans that can give, but the group is also a generational force. Langlinais mentioned that many married couples have met through their charity.
“Babies are being born because of this group, marriages have happened because of this group,” Langlinais said. “I told that to Ivan Reitman and Paul Feig, ‘Do you guys not understand the ripple effect of your movie?’ That’s the kind of effect I think something so positive can have on people.”
But it is charity, not just costuming, that spurs the motivation for the members, especially Langlinais who was able to rekindle his passion for charity work that he was missing after his high school and college days.
“I’d like to say for myself that it fulfills a role in my life that had been empty for a while,” Langlinais said. “It provided the sense of fulfillment and contentment I was missing despite having a career, being a dad, being a husband…I found contentment in doing this and feel more fulfilled as a person by making others happy and making others smile. Lighting up their lives a bit.”
Photo by Rande Archer.