Interview: Repo's Darren Lynn Bousman and Terrance Zdunich
- Henry Northmore
- 18 March 2009
Repo: The Genetic Opera is a truly unique film mixing rock opera with lashings of gore and dark sci-fi. Set in a world where transplanted organs are repossessed if you fail to meet your payments. Director Darren Lynn Bousman (who also directed Saw II, Saw III and Saw IV) and co-writer (and star) Terrance Zdunich have created a flamboyant world of garish show tunes, blood, guts and Paris Hilton (as Amber Sweet). Interview: Henry Northmore
Could you sum up Repo: The Genetic Opera in your own words?
Darren Lynn Bousman: It was something that I needed to do. I think I needed a break from the Saw films; I did three sequels back to back and I just needed to do something different. I have been a fan of rock operas probably since I was in high school. Jesus Chris Superstar is one of my all time favourite movies, I've probably seen it a 1000 times.
It's not a particularly popular genre. Would you like to see more rock operas or do you think that this is part of Repo’s appeal?
Terrance Zdunich: People like music, they like movies and they like stories. I think part of the problem is that it is an enormously time consuming process to write a rock opera, or an opera in general. It took us years. Unlike something like High School Musical which will never really resonate beyond the pop moment, because it's manufactured. It's like “let's get some people together to do something huge” as opposed to doing something that you really love and want to do. I think when you do it that way, even if you're a genius, you can't just pop it out, it takes years. It's so complicated.
How different was it going into something like Repo compared to a normal film?
DLB: I wouldn't say the Saw films were easy, because that's not the right word. They were like a machine and I was a clog in this machine; I came in every morning, did my job and then I would run home. With Repo, the work still has not ended and there is no machine. We have been setting up MySpace accounts, blogging, taking pictures and sending them to all our friends. It has been a kind of underground movement. That didn't happen with Saw. With Saw, I would walk off of the movie set and next thing I know there are 3000 billboards and movie screens across the United States, TV and radio ads, bumper stickers. To put it in perspective, Saw III opened on 3500 movie screens, the biggest of the whole series, Repo had 12. Not just 12 in America, 12 across the world.
Do you both have a greater personal attachment to Repo than other projects?
TZ: Definitely. We are literally touring it like a concert. In many ways I think that it needed to happen this way. In no way has it been easy and in no way has it been Hollywood.
Where did the idea come from in the first place?
TZ: Let's make a distinction first : there are two Darren's involved with the project; Darren Smith, the co-creator, and Darren Lynn Bousman, who directed it. Not only directed the movie, but directed the fully mounted stage production of Repo. The three of us have really been pushing this thing along for years and developing it. Where did it come from, though? Darren Smith and I were doing what we call ten-minute operas. They were just little short stories with the music and we would play them out in clubs. It was more performance art than musical theatre operas. Along with those stories, we were revolving around this character idea that ultimately would become the Grave Robber [played by Zdunich] we use in the film. It was this idea of a Grave Robber who witnesses the underbelly of society. Darren Smith said that you had seen that Victorian melodrama before so let's make it different; let's put it in the future. By doing that, it led the way to thinking about different things he could be stealing. He wouldn't be stealing pocket watches, so how about DNA? We liked the idea that it was topical and it was a challenge, and that is where it began.
You said it was a complicated shoot, but it looked like a hell of a lot of fun. Is that true?
DLB: Yeah it was like a party at all times. It was kind of like a circus; you would walk on our set and we would have tents, carnival performers, popcorn machines, little people, men on stilts and fire eaters, and this was just one part of the set. Go 10 feet over and we had a massive Victorian graveyard. On top of that, there was blaring music at all times and half-naked woman. It was awesome. I think everyone that was there was passionate. No one was making money on this, and I mean no one.
Were you quite surprised by how good some of the actors who are not known for their singing actually were?
DLB: Yeah, it's crazy to see a lot of people who I did not actually know sang, like Paul Sorvino. With Saw, I would go in and meet Tobin Bell, talk to him and rehearse for a couple of days, we would shoot and then that was it. It was just like “see you next year, Tobin”. With this movie, I would talk to Paul Sorvino weekly, Anthony Head three times a week, Alexa Vega every day and Terrance every day. It has become a family, such a close -knit family. So it's different from anything that I have ever done before.
TZ: It's a movie you either get or you don't. There is no middle road. Everyone from the crew, the actors to the fans signed up because they got it. There was no money involved so it's not really payday, so you either really like it and are passionate about it or you're not. To me, it felt like an absolute extension to the theatre experience. It's almost like a repertory theatre where people are rehearsing together every day and hanging out every day after the shows and meeting the people who come and see the shows. Even though we did it as a movie, it's not very much the same experience.
Why do you think that people like these extreme, leftfield movies?
DLB: With Repo, I think that people like it and are attracted to it because it is not like anything you have really seen before, it’s like a community. This movie does not appeal to mainstream America or mainstream anywhere at that. It is very obscure to the extremes. What happened is that some people stand up saying “I love this” and see other people saying the same thing, they became friends, starting hanging out and hooking up. Seriously, they starting hooking up through Repo websites and would go to parties and make road trips together.
TZ: These are kids that don't have a lot of money, and Repo is only showing in limited places so it's not like people can wait until it comes to you, you have to go to it. They don't have money, so they ask who else is going. They haven't even met each other, they don't know other people's names, only their screen names. They are saying “let's book a room and share the costs.” Maybe this is because the audience that this appeal to is very much creative, and many people may not feel as if they are part of the mainstream. They have a lot of creative energy and this is demonstrated by the fact that people are making their own Repo-inspired costumes and getting really involved.. The community is just naturally supportive of each other, and in a way, use the film as a reason or an anchor for something to congregate around.
DLB: Another thing is, I think it sucks that we live in a society that judges you on monetary success. Monetarily we have failed. But you don't see people dressing up like Heath Ledger and acting out The Dark Knight in front of the movie screen. But here's Repo, a movie that only released in 12 cities, and there are people that are showing up at every stop completely dressed up as characters. I am not talking about just one or two people, I am talking about hundreds of people at every stop who are acting the movie out, which is called shadow-casting, in front of the movie. They are yelling, screaming and cheering and then going out after to an all you can eat buffet and hanging out ‘til the wee-hours of the morning just talking about Repo and talking about the music. When was the last time that happened with a movie? I think that is what has made this movie a bigger success than any movie I could have ever do.
What was Paris Hilton like to work with?
DLB: Who you are changes how that person acts with you. Paris is different to me than she was to Terrance. Paris was great to me, I thought she was great and I would cast her again. She was able to bring awareness to the film, because no one else might have heard about it. Paris Hilton really is Amber Sweet and I think she did a great job. I have got nothing but positive things to say about her.
It was very strange seeing established stars like Sarah Brightman gouging her own eyes out. People you'd never expect to see doing these things.
TZ: That's opera though. Some people have this misconception in which they confuse musicals with opera. Not that there are not overlaps. Operas are usually big, bloody and violent with grand stories and so things like eye gouging and killing are rather normal in an opera. It seems like it may be way out-field, but if you think of it like an opera, a 21st century opera, I think it makes perfect sense.
Repo: The Genetic Opera (Lionsgate) is available on DVD now