Tom Gebhardt of Keansburg, N.J. is a normal guy with a wife and two kids, and who works at a pizza shop. But when there's something strange in your neighborhood, he's the guy you might want to call — after all, not everybody has a proton pack and Ecto-1 at their disposal.
"I may not be Dan Aykroyd, I may not," he says. "But when I show up like that, I'm a Ghostbuster."
Which, in a way, is true. Gebhardt, 30, is a "Ghosthead" — a member of the subculture dedicated to the Ghostbusters movie franchise that kicked off in 1984 and starred Bill Murray, Aykroyd, the late Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson.
A fan since childhood, Gebhardt now ties altruistic action to his obsession, visiting area children's hospitals and events to spread some unexpected cheer, like many other Ghostheads. This subset of film fandom will soon see the spotlight with the documentary Ghostheads, which launches an Indiegogo campaign today and aims for a 2016 release.
Produced by local filmmaker Tommy Avallone, of I Am Santa Claus fame, the doc will take a look at the film's die-hard fan base, as well as why they're so obsessed.
"The good thing is that it's intense, but they are doing good things with it," Avallone said of Ghostbusters fans. "There are worse things to be obsessed about. I'd rather this than the Eagles."
Most Ghostheads agree that this strain of Ghostbusters fandom began more than 30 years ago with the King Ghosthead himself, Peter Mosen. A New York native, Mosen began to building prop replicas and proton packs shortly after the release of the first movie.
That work earned him a small appearance in 1989's Ghostbusters II, which Mosen parlayed into almost a decade of promotional work for Columbia Pictures, making appearances at children's hospitals and events.
He's still active in the Ghostheads community, where he's regarded as a patron saint. Now, Ghostheads like Gebhardt follow in his footsteps, using their fandom for the greater good.
"Ghostbusters is just the surface of what they believe in," Ghostheads director Brendan Mertens, of Ontario, Canada, said. "They use it to have an audience to play to," whether it's visiting kids in hospitals, going to comic cons or getting paid to entertain at industry events.
Ghostheads have organized dozens of chapters across the U.S., including several in the tri-state Philadelphia region. Gebhardt, for example, is a member of Ghostbusters NJ, founded in 2003. He serves as the group's public-relations director and "Ectomobile technician," as he owns his own version of the movie's ambulance.
With an all-female Ghostbusters reboot now filming (the cast includes Kristen Wiig, Chris Hemsworth and Melissa McCarthy), Gebhardt said that interest in the group is growing online. They're getting more bookings. Then there's the documentary, which is still being filmed.
Ultimately, though, the existence of the Ghostheads fan base really speaks to the staying power of the films. Ghostbusters came out more than 30 years ago and still somehow holds the imagination of kids and adults alike today. Or, enough to get them to dress up like its characters and brighten people's days, anyway.
And for producer Avallone, that comes down to one thing: how relatable it is."It's normal people trying to do the best they can at an extraordinary job," he says. "People always dress like Superman and Batman. This is just a different kind of superhero. No capes, just proton packs."