Repo! The Genetic Opera: The Recording Sessions

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A preview of Darren Bousman’s horror musical

Three “Saw” sequels, and the liberal amounts of bloodshed that came with the territory, later, director Darren Lynn Bousman is taking the biggest risk of his career. Consider this: Bousman’s big break arrived in 2005 with the lucrative Saw II, placing him on the current map of sickos providing job security for MPAA members. The subsequent two years he spends painstakingly building the backbone of Lionsgate’s enigmatical franchise with Saw III and the forthcoming Saw IV. Bob Weinstein wants him bad for a Scanners redo. Original scripts are calling for his attention. Bousman is a man in demand. His next career could have led to anything he wanted. Instead, he’s chosen to take a radical departure from the norm with, get this, a horror rock opera. I’ll say it again: A horror rock opera.

Repo! The Genetic Opera‘s beginnings were on the stage playing out in modest Off-Broadway venues on both coasts. Bousman directed working from a book by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich. “We always thought of this in film terms,” says the latter who has been writing music since he was fourteen; his resume, however, contains a heavy storyboard background. “Both Darren and I are inspired by movies than plays anyway. We wrote the concept of this bigger than what we could ever do on stage, it’s nice to finally know that we can finally achieve it all on film.”

Set in a dissonant future where a large corporation corners the market on the growing need for internal organs, “Repo!” casts a magnifying lens over a worldwide epidemic and peers into the lives of grave diggers, spoiled rich girls, corrupt capitalists, addicts, “scalpel sluts” (we’re still trying to figure them out) and, of course, the Repo Men. If you thought the concept was wild, you should have seen the short (pictured right) film Bousman shot with cast and crew members of Saw II shortly after that sequel wrapped principal photography. The kooky fever dream quality of the piece, with the oh-so-catchy selected tunes, was presented at an industry screening in Beverly Hills earlier this year.

Needles were brandished, exposition was hashed out lyrically, Shawnee Smith’s svelte singing voice broke into Courtney Love wailing during a ditty called “Zytrate Anatomy” – it was an experiment of the highest caliber and unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Within weeks, Twisted Pictures and Lionsgate announced their support, dangling its greenlight status like a carrot on the other end of Bousman’s obligations with Saw IV.

Months later, Bousman is greeting me in the hall of a recording studio in North Hollywood. His usually unkempt hair is concealed by a baseball cap turned backwards; the jeans ride baggy, sleeves rolled up on his black tee – a simple wardrobe for a dude tackling MPAA concerns on one film (that would be Jigsaw’s fourth outing) and five weeks of music recording for “Repo!” with stars Alexa Vega, Paul Sorvino, Bill Moseley, Paris Hilton, Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy and a handful of others whose identities are being kept secret.

“Sorvino’s still here,” Bousman says directing us into the studio’s break room where Sorvino sits near a pool table covered with bottled water and a cardboard box of hardcover books – EC Comic collections. “Dude, I bought all of those at Dark Delicacies. Every time I walk in there, I spend money,” confesses the director referring to the Burbank all-horror shop just down the street. He introduces us to Sorvino, a tanned grinning bear casually sipping on coffee in a t-shirt and shorts. Respect is not so much commanded, but we offer it – this is Paul Cicero from Goodfellas, after all. In “Repo!” he’s the head of GeneCo, the aforementioned organ corporation; Hilton will play his daughter.

“Give Ryan a little somethin’, Paul,” Bousman asks excitedly. “Give him a note or two.”

Sorvino takes another swig, puffs up his chest and belts out some opera. I couldn’t identify what it was, but the actor’s head looks like purple grape about to burst. We applaud and no sooner than we meet him, Bousman is guiding us out, but before we leave, Sorvino says, “Y’know Darren, I’m getting what you’re doing now with this now. I understand what you’re gettin’ at.” A positive endorsement.

In one recording room, soundtrack producer Joseph Bishara (composer of The Gravedancers) and a pair of engineers are hustling to lay down some tracks with contributing backup singers Poe, Nina Bergman of Dead Rose Beauty and Nancy Smith (the co-writer’s wife).

“How do you want this next take?” Poe’s voice emanates from an overhead speaker.

“Darren always wants it sexy,” Bishara replies. “You ready?”

The gals on the other side of the glass nod and the music follows. Sexy is what they give in return. “That is what is expected, when you are infected,” they repeat in a breathy accordance. Nina, blue locks snaking through her blonde hair, nods to the rhythm. Judging from the song list that I spy on a desk, I’m guessing the song is called “Infected.” Others scratched off and circled include “Genetic Emancipation,” “Things You See in a Graveyard” and “A Needle through a Bug.”

Bousman leads me down the hall to another recording room, this one larger than the first but with only two engineers. “Can we pull up ‘Legal Assassin’….and not mention who the real actor is singing it, please?” Bousman asks a tattooed techie in a Total Skull (Sheri Moon Zombie’s clothing line) shirt and turns to me exclaiming, “We have so many gangster tracks!”

I get a preview of not just one song but three, the first from an unnamed actor and I’m teased into guessing who it is. I know, but feign stupidity to not let Bousman know that I already know and will withhold from saying here (there are no secrets in Hollywood). The actor in question “plays Nathan. It’s two roles, actually,” Bousman explains. “A father and a monster. It’s the monster who kills everyone. The basic scene is he’s pulling someone’s spinal chord out and he’s pushed his hand up into the body to make the mouth talk to him. So this is him as the monster and he’s got two different voices.” The schizophrenic crooner growls like Tom Waits and there’s a jazzy playfulness to the tune. My mind imagines dancing skeletons for some reason, but the lyrics are a morbid affair laden with conflict and gallows humor. Next is an equally crude piece that begins with an unrecognizable Hilton and the utterly identifiable Moseley sharing airtime before handing it over to Ogre. “He’s this completely effeminate dude who wants to be a woman and keeps wearing women’s faces.”

“This is thirty-percent there,” stresses Bousman a few minutes in. Could’ve fooled us, it sounds finished to our ears, then again, what the hell are we listening too? It’s difficult to put a finger on how to define this audacious, eclectic mix.

“It’s a mix of industrial with opera, traditional opera,” Zdunich answers over lunch later in day with Bousman and producer Carl Mazzocone. “You’ve got big operatic choruses with industrial samples. What you’ve heard is bare bones. It’s Nine Inch Nails meets Wagner.”

“I don’t think anyone really realizes what this show is gonna be, they think it’s going to be this lame-ass musical,” Bousman adds. “We’ve got Nine Inch Nails on this, we’ve got Daniel Lohner and Joe Bishara, guys from Jane’s Addiction, Rob Zombie’s guy Blasko… Then we bring these hardcore producers in to mix the opera stuff into the industrial.”

“Fifty percent of the movie is being done right now,” he continues. In a little over a month he’ll move on to Toronto where sets will be built and shooting will begin. “This is where the directing in the movie comes out. How I get the performance out of Paul Sorvino is how he reacts on stage. Unlike ‘Saw’ where we’re on the stage and playing it different ways…how Sorvino does it in the studio is how he has to play it on set, it’s a movie within a movie. So it’s making two movies. You’re making the album and then you’ve got to go out and make the visuals that are part of the album.”

And make no mistake, this is wall-to-wall music. As Zdunich explains it, “incidental music” will substitute dialogue to move the narrative along. “There are songs that exist in a typical song structure – a verse, a chorus, repeat. The more tricky stuff is the operatic things in between the songs. Those pieces don’t exist in the way a typical song does, but they’re used to progress the story, more like conversations put to music.”

“This is a passion project for everyone,” Bousman chimes in, swallowing down a slice of pepperoni pizza. “No one is getting paid much and to get five weeks of an actors’ time prior to getting in there and shooting a movie is ridiculous. Now when you’ve got a man like Paul Sorvino who’s made huge f**kin’ movies and can make basically in one day what he’s making on this whole project and is still doing it is ridiculous.”

But let’s talk about Paris. The tabloid heiress’ involvement gave “Repo!” instant media recognition when the trades broke the news this summer. Bousman admits that during a casting session, “I was not going to read her. I was not going to wait around, then all of sudden there was this lightning storm outside and it was not lightning, it was the paparazzi and I was like, I’m not going to deal with this.”

He hands the story over to Mazzocone. “When you sit in enough meetings with actors you realize half of them come in without ever having read the script. She came in dressed perfectly for the part. She not only read the script numerous times, she was quoting it. She was so hot sitting next to Darren, she was flirting with him he had a hard time looking at her,” he laughs. “We walked out of there and were very impressed, we cast the right person for this role. It’s a double-edge sword having her from a publicity angle but my argument has always been when you cast true to the part – and she had the best attitude, the best voice and was the sexiest – then no one could fault you. Our cast is a magnificent quilt but a harmonious pattern, there’s magic in our casting.”

“There are people who have not been announced who you would never imagine have the voices like they do,” says Zdunich. “We’re not shooting this like a typical pop album, it’s really going to be their performances. And there is freedom to the music, and every actor has their own approach. There’s some room for improvisation, some actors are really good at it, some like to stick with what’s on the page.”

I return to the studio where I part ways with Bousman making promises of visiting the set in Canada when principal photography begins. Actress Alexa Vega strides in, a former “Spy Kid” growing up fast and talking about how she smells like pickles. Something to do with her craving for them and being fed them as a youngster. I’ll have to get more on that story when I’m in Toronto and Repo! The Genetic Opera‘s marriage of music and visuals begins.





Source: Ryan Rotten