Set Visit: Repo! The Genetic Opera


Part two in our coverage of the horror musical

“Want to see somethin’, Rotten?” invites Laura Bosserman – girlfriend of director Darren Bousman – before I realize her query was not Do you want to see something rotten?, but a question posed to yours truly. Either way, what comes sauntering over by her side is nothing less than grotesque: it’s Kevin Ogilvie, folks, or at least we think it’s the frontman of Skinny Puppy. “This is Kevin,” Laura confirms. Okey-dokey. He’s wearing a necrotic guise, a fleshy facial slab only a dude like Leatherface would jones for. This pale second skin is pulled taught by bolts affixed to Kevin’s cheeks, forehead and chin giving it a silky appearance. His eyes shine through intentionally blackened sockets. Laura adds, “When the FX guys made the mask for him, they cast my face…this is ME.” We inspect closer. Yep, she’s right. Slight curves in the cheekbones and nose give it away, and having known Laura personally for some time now this faux representation of her makes our skin crawl. Then, this “Ogilvie-Laura Thing” before us utters, “She loves herself.” Laura laughs before planting her lips on the side of Ogilvie’s latex-covered cheek. “See?” he says before heeding the call of three wardrobe personnel vying for his attention during this brief exchange.

In the warped world of Repo! The Genetic Opera (coming soon from Lionsgate), Ogilvie is Pavi, one of two brothers sprung from the loins of Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino). What’s Pavi’s story? Well, he likes to wear women’s faces and carries around an ornate, silver mirror to look at himself. He’s “a narcissist with a misogynistic twist. I love women, but more for their faces than for the actual contents of them.  I see them as objects, I guess, and I usually believe that they’re laughing with me, however, usually I’m being laughed at,” Ogilvie explains to us later. Like many of the roguish characters in this horror-rock musical, Pavi makes a killing off of the organ repossession business.

“It’s set in the not so distant future and in this future, people are buying and selling body parts on credit,” divulges co-writer Darren Smith who penned the script with Terrance Zdunich. “They’re not just buying them for health reasons. In this future it’s kind of like the next phase of plastic surgery.  Upgrading your body parts, upgrading your internal organs has become a fashion statement. It’s legal for the organ financing companies to repossess your organs if you don’t make your payments on time. Our story is about one of these organ Repo Men, and his 17-year-old daughter [Shilo], who doesn’t know what her dad [Nathan] does for a living. It’s kind of her coming-of-age story discussing about the world outside and, of course, daddy’s dark secrets, and all put to music.”

As Smith and Zdunich emphasize – this ain’t your parents’ opera and the evidence is all around us during’s visit to the Toronto set in mid-October. Bousman has roughly a week and a half left of principal photography and bemoans its inevitable end like a kid knowing he’s going to have to leave a crush behind at summer camp. His giddiness has not wavered since we visited him last during the recording sessions for “Repo!” in North Hollywood, California (read up on that here in part one of our coverage) during which all of the principal cast members – Paul Sorvino (an aspiring tenor and accomplished sculptor, as we came to learn over a few pints back at the hotel bar), Sarah Brightman, Bill Moseley, the aforementioned Ogilvie, Alexa Vega (as Shilo), Paris Hilton, Zdunich, and Anthony Stewart Head (who displayed his set of lungs during a musical version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and plays Nathan) – laid down their vocals.

Today, Bousman stands on the steps of an opera house facade created within a cavernous soundstage accommodating numerous sets for this production. Wrought iron fencing trails off from the opera house entrance’s doors in two directions and stone pillars soar high above vibrantly-colored tents erected before them. It’s an odd contradiction of class and dazzling cheap thrills, but here it stands – an opera house built before what is evidently a circus. Kiosk signs lining this carnival row scream advertisements such as “Replace Your Face!” but the crowd of extras made up from local goth punks, rave queens and other counterculturalists adorned in latex and leather pay no mind to these brazen temptations. They’re watching Bousman give direction to Sorvino, in regal attire, Brightman (playing “Blind Mag”), Ogilvie and Moseley (each dressed to impress). The scene they prep for is a ribbon cutting ceremony heralding the opening of the opera house.

Forty-five minutes earlier we receive a tour of the inside of this set, following a red carpet within. David Hackl, production designer on the film and Bousman’s “Saw” sequels, has built a work of baroque beauty, the influence is Argento-esque in color design. The only audience seating one finds is reserved for the balconies and boxes positioned stage left and right. “The first thing Darren said was, ‘I don’t want this to look like a Saw movie.’ Certainly, the colors are far brighter than the other ‘Saw’ films, he wanted it to be a look of its own. One of the things we wanted to do was open up the look of the films we were making,” Hackl says, elaborating on the prospect of CGI for “set extensions and trying to create a bigger world – bigger outdoor and underground environments. We wanted to try and create an entire universe and I think that we want ‘Repo’ to be this otherworldly place, not necessarily Earth in 50 or 60 years but another world altogether.” Switch FX is handling said visual extensions that will certainly help with more challenging shots such as when the camera “travels out of Shilo’s bedroom window out to see the entire world, the entire GeneCo. island, the buildings in the distance and the blimp floating around in the sky.”

No pre-viz effects were available for us to see the demonstration of scope Hackl suggests, but we take Zdunich and Smith up on their offer to show us some of the other sets as they explain the history of “Repo!” “It began as sort of little rock-and-roll vignettes in rock clubs in Los Angeles,” Zdunich begins. “Then it spring-boarded into a full-length theatrical play and then into a promo 10-minute movie [see our recording session write-up].” Smith adds, “‘Repo!’ is based on one of the 10-minute operas called ‘The Necro-Merchant’s Death.’ People tend to like this 10-minute opera, and from that we were like, ‘Well let’s see if we can expand this.’ Terrance just suggested we [turn it into a] full-length production in L.A. where we met Darren Bousman – he was our first director of our stage play. That was five years ago.”

We wind our way through skeletal wooden frames, over electrical cords and past the ever-important craft service table into a clearing of more detritus. Zdunich tells us, “The city [in the film] is built on the dead, the graveyard is a big part of our set, unfortunately, most of it is gone.” All that remains is a mausoleum doomed for destruction. The set piece had previously been used for Bousman’s Saw IV. “The entire area where you are standing was filled with dirt, there was cobblestone roads and tombs and torches. These are the remnants of what was here.”

“The graveyard set, when we started it, was only 40 by 40 feet,” Hackl interjects alluding to the budgetary constraints imposed on the production. Needless to say, Bousman was concerned about the size of the graveyard, however, Hackl “scraped and scrounged everywhere we could to find gravestones. We got ten dump truck-loads of earth and just got to it.”

Our exploration continues through a dingy alley; weathered posters – Zytrate Addicts Support Meeting, Napoleon’s Body Parts – lazily peel off the cement walls. Our curiosity gets the best of us and we ask what “Zytrate” is – we find our answer in the props office of Jim Murray. He keeps a neat sort of clutter. Every character in this film has a storage bin brimming with morbid items that Murray keeps track of. The Repo Man’s gun? Readily available at a moment’s notice in a bin aptly marked “Nathan.” Here is where you might find Zytrate, a fictional narcotic of “Repo!” that’s realized by the toxic juice you’d get in a glow stick. “We had to buy every color for [Bousman] to look at,” says Murray, they finally settled on blue. “Zytrate is extracted out of the head at death, they crack the skull and jab [a needle in] the brain cavity and suck this blue liquid out. Then that is the drug you inject into somebody else.”

By our feet rests an open container of neatly-sealed organ baggies. On a production such as this, one would figure these are in high demand. “The organs are interesting because no one wanted to do them but Francois [Dagenais] who does all of the prosthetics ended up doing them all. We had to figure out how a Repo Man would transfer the organs back to GeneCo. – so he would vacuum seal them. We got a food saver from WalMart and just did this,” Murray holds up a messy bag of intestines. Not a drop of viscera is spilled, nor does an ounce of blood leak onto the floor. “These are all made out of rubber latex, but for some of the scenes, because we were rushed, we did go and get animal brains, tongues, hearts, livers, because once they’re sealed, they’re safe.”

Elaborating on the precise work of a Repo Man, Smith explains, “They have to take [the organs] out without destroying them. It has to be at a certain temperature so this organ can still be usable for the next person.” We refer to a specific piece of concept art which shows a Repo Man tearing out someone’s spine intact. “[There are scenes] even more brutal than that and, yes, there’s somebody with his entire organs being taken out. In basically one song, ‘Thankless Job,’ our Repo Man is tortured because he’s got some conflicts. The Anthony Head character becomes sadistic and does a soft shoe routine saying, ‘It’s a thankless job’ while he’s skinning the muscles inch by inch, tearing off the tissue as he has this poor guy in a wheelchair. And he’s repossessing all of the organs.” The Repo Man does this in a dark disguise. “He’s the Batman of the show and we had to get the costume right,” admits Murray noting that most of the Repo Man’s tools are customized. He opens a leather satchel introducing us to an array of pliers, needles and scalpels – all tarnished by flecks of blood and rust. “We have leeway here ’cause Repo Man is this crazy character who is a doctor and a surgeon. We built his mask and based it on a paintball mask and then basically added plastic and leather all over it. [Then we] built in LED lights so his eyes could be lit up top and bottom. So you can’t really see who it is but there’s illumination.”

A quick jaunt down the hall brings us to the Repo Man’s “training room,” appropriately walled by plastic curtains. Within, eight wrapped bodies hang from the ceiling creating a perfect circle around a turquoise dentist chair. Bad shit has gone down here – crimson smears coat the chair’s head and armrests. Here is where Nathan the Repo Man will face his demons…and extract some innards. A perfect way to end a tour. Shock returns to the opera house where Bousman is ready to roll cameras. The extras are riled up, Sorvino has a proud look on his face. The people are here for a show and he’s going to give them one. Somewhere amid the circus tents off camera someone in the crew calls “action” and the previously-recorded music kicks in.

The opera is about to begin…

More to come as Shock talks with the cast and director of Repo! The Genetic Opera.

Source: Ryan Rotten

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