Except for maybe Wes Craven, few horror directors can claim the feat Darren Lynn Bousman achieved when he scored back-to-back $30 million openings with his first three movies, the second through fourth “Saw” movie respectively. With unprecedented success under his belt, Bousman was ready to do something different, but for him, different was a dream project he’d been wanting to make for over six years, something called Repo! The Genetic Opera.
True to its title, it’s a full-on rock opera created by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich with possibly one of the strangest casts to ever appear in a film togetherâmore about them belowâas it combines a dark futuristic storyline with the kind of gore that Bousman has mastered in the “Saw” movies. Much of the story revolves around the premise that in the future, 2056 to be precise, people have become addicted to replacing various organs and body parts, but when they’re unable to pay for them, the main provider GeneCo sends their Repo Men to take back the organs. One young girl named Shilo (Alexa Vega from Spy Kids) is looking for a cure to her disease in a world full of surgery addicts and illegal drugs, much to the chagrin of her overprotective father Nathan (Anthony Michael Head) (who also happens to secretly be GeneCo’s top Repo Man). Meanwhile, the head of GeneCo, Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino), is dying and he has to contend with his squabbling children, Luigi (Bill Moseley), Pavi (Ogre from Skinny Puppy) and Amber Sweet (Paris Hilton), all who have their own personal organ fetishes. Oh, and in case the movie needed a bit more actual singing cred, Bousman also convinced Sarah Brightman, the star of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera,” to make her screen debut as a key character.
ShockTillYouDrop.com has been covering this movie for over a year with Ryan Rotten’s visits to the recording studio and the Toronto set, but with the movie finally opening in less than a week, it was time for another Shock! writer to sit down with Darren for one last interview before the movie he’s been dreaming of making for years finally gets out to the audience of outcasts and freaks he hopes it will entice.
ShockTillYouDrop: Going back a bit, you directed this musical on stage before you did any filmmaking whatsoever, right?
Darren Bousman: I did actually. Yeah, the story was I did this play in 2001, 2002 in Los Angeles in a little black box theater. It was the first real thing I’d ever directed. I’d done some bad short films and a couple of horrible music videos, but this was the first stage production and probably my biggest challenge as a director up to this point, the stage production of it. So, it started on the stage almost six or seven years ago.
Shock: Obviously, you have a long-time love for horror, but there doesn’t seem to really be that much crossover between horror fans and those who like stage musical or rock operas.
Bousman: It’s not, and not only is it not a big crossover in the audiences, but the cast is a big contradiction. If you look at the cast, I mean, Sarah Brightman fans aren’t Paris Hilton fans; Paris Hilton fans aren’t Sarah Brightman fans. Musical fans are not really horror fans; horror fans aren’t really opera fans and that’s why I wanted to do the movie. One of my big reason for making this movie–and again, I don’t expect this movie to appeal to everyone and in fact it’s a very niche movie, however that niche market is bigger than people think. The reason I wanted to make it was I’ve done three sequels, one after another after another. You don’t see people taking risks a lot anymore. You see the same type of movie, the same marketing campaign, the same whatever, and I was sick of it. I was just like, “You know what? The reason I got into filmmaking was movies like people like David Lynch or Jim Jarmusch or Stanley Kubrick or Darren Aronofsky.” Every one of their movies took a massive risk. I don’t care what it was, it took a risk, and that’s why I wanted to make this movie, is to break outside of the convention I found myself in and do something completely out there.
Shock: The lack of crossover is surprising because obviously, the bar for a movie like this is “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” but you also have horror-tinged musicals like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” or “Sweeney Todd.”
Bousman: If you look at any of those, “Rocky Horror Picture Show” has 14 songs in it, it didn’t have 64. “Sweeney Todd” had 20 songs in it, it didn’t have 64. This is a conventional opera and the majority of these things that you see are musicals. They break out into song and dance where this movie has a music thread from the very beginning to the very end and it’s all sung. The last that I’d seen anything like this is probably “Jesus Christ Superstar”, or “Tommy”. It was in the seventies that actually did full-out, full-blown rock operas and that was what inspired me as a kid. I loved rock operas. That was my thing was growing up, and that’s what I was paying homage to.
Shock: When you talk about filmmakers like David Lynch or Darren Aronofsky who take a lot of chances, a lot of times those movies don’t exactly make a lot of money, so how do you convince a studio or producers to finance a movie like this?
Bousman: I still haven’t convinced anyone. This movie to me was a cleansing I think. I loved the “Saw” movies, and I was really sad seeing the “Saw V” stuff and knowing that I didn’t do it. I needed to do this movie because there is an audience for this and there is a massive audience for this. I think that soon, maybe not next week or the week after, maybe it will be a year, people will see the audience for this. I’ll give you a quick story. We’ve shown this movie in both Montreal at Fantasia, and then Fantastic Fest in Austin. In both cases in those two cities, the line wrapped around the block. There were waiting lists of hundreds of people, they came dressed up as the characters singing the songs, and what makes it weird is the movie isn’t even out yet. These fans have been following the movie for months. They’ve seen the characters, they’ve connected with them as characters. When we showed up in Austin, we had people in the aisles singing the songs dressed as Blind Mag, dressed as Repo Man, dressed as whatever like that, and it’s speaking to those people, the people that are weird or out there or different or whatever. It’s saying, “It’s okay to be weird.” That’s what “Rocky Horror Picture Show” did. It said, “You know what? You want to be a transvestite. You want to cross dress? You want to dress weird and funky? Come with us and join our weirdness.” I think this movie kind of promotes, “Wear makeup, dress in Goth attire, sing at the screen, be campy, be weird,” and people have responded to that. Now, since these few screenings, we’re going to colleges and now we’re going to NYU. Every single college we’ve been to there’s been a handful of kids that know the music and sing the songs with it. They dress up in their Goth attire and those people don’t have a voice in filmmaking. I mean, think about it. There are so many movies out there that speak to so many different groups and they don’t really have a movie they call their own. With “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” it’s been 35 years since that type of thing was around, and I think we’re finding that the audience, that crowd, is finding us.
Shock: The show only really played in L.A. and New York, but was there a cast record or something out there that people may have heard?
Bousman: The original music was on iTunes; it was only like seven songs. We started in L.A., we did two runs in L.A.: 2002, 2004, and then in 2005 it went to off-Broadway in New York. We did the short film in 2006, and now we’re here promoting the movie in 2008, so it’s been a long road for “Repo!” But again, in every place that we’ve ever performed the movie or performed the stage show, we have a loyal base of fans that come out. On the last week of the run that I did, we had people dressed up again, and that’s when I knew I wanted to make this into a movie. When I saw people dressed up as the characters the last week of our stage show I was like, “There’s something here. There’s something that we need to do with this.”
Shock: I’m guessing you weren’t working with Lionsgate at that point, so they were never able to see the reaction at those shows.
Bousman: No, no.
Shock: It might’ve helped them understand the appeal of the project. I was curious whether you always had some ideas how you wanted to visualize “Repo!” as a movie since you directed the stage show. Had you been storyboarding stuff over the years?
Bousman: Well, it actually started before that. I started in 2002, this started in 1999, the actual music and everything. You know what I wanted to do? “Saw” is not my style, that filmmaking, that quick cut flash frame, “Saw 1” had that. So again, trying to stay true to the sequels, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t deviate from what James Wan had done. Yes, still make it my own, but this is more my style, fantastic, fantasy based, sci-fi, colorfulâ¦ I mean this movie, it’s and assault on the senses of colors and sounds and that’s why I wanted to do it. This was again, my chance to have a blank canvas in front of me, where in “Saw” there was already outlines. This was a blank canvas, and so it was something that I wanted to look futuristic, but still be Victorian. I love the Victorian era. The houses are Victorian, the costumes are Victorian, and yet, it’s still set in this very fantastical sci-fi realm.
Shock: I assume you were probably somewhat limited when doing this as a stageshow, but this is an extremely cinematic film, not a filmed stage musical, which is sometimes what happens when a musical is ported to the movies.
Bousman: I think our first stageshow was two thousand dollars. We were in a black box theater with little cut outs of what we wanted. We didn’t have an opera stage, we had nothing. It was very little props, so I think that here was our chance to show what we wanted to in the stage show that we just never could.
Shock: Over the course of years, had you drawn a lot of what you wanted there to be in the movie?
Bousman: Terrance who plays Graverobber, he drew all the art in the movie.
Shock: He did the animation, too?
Bousman: The animation, yeah. So he co-wrote the movie, starred in the movie, and did all the animation. He has maybe 35 sketch books of all “Repo!” stuff and it’s crazy. He has book after book after book of sketches of characters, of costume ideas, and we pulled a lot from that as well.
Shock: That’s pretty amazing, because I assumed you got a professional comic artist like Tony Harris to do the animation art.
Bousman: I’m sure that’ll be a compliment to him and I’ll let him know. Yeah, he used to be a storyboard artist. I know he storyboarded part of “Into the Wild”, but he was a storyboard artist for many years.
Shock: I was really impressed by that, and he’s also one of the few people who actually carried over from the stage show.
Bousman: He is. There’s one other actress who played one of the Henchgirls and was the Henchgirl in the stage show. The casting of this thing was critical and I wish that I could’ve brought some of the original cast members to do cameos, but we just didn’t have the budget. We were pinching pennies in this thing, we had no money. In retrospect, I wish I could’ve shot a scene that just basically featured the cast members doing something from the stage show, but we just didn’t have the resources to do this, but Terrance has been the Graverobber in every incarnation of this.
Shock: As far as casting, did you, Terrance and Darren spend a lot of time figuring out exactly who you wanted for each character? How did that work out? It’s a very unconventional cast you have to admit.
Bousman: It is, and that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted the “what the f**k factor”. Which is like again we don’t have a marketing budget, we have no money. I think there’s this much money for marketing, so I knew going into this that there’s going to be an uphill battle. I said, “What would make me want to see this movie if all I saw was a poster? Let’s put in a crazy cast.” I want the “what the f**k factor” when someone looks at it and says, “Look at that. Sarah Brightman, Paris Hilton, Ogre, what the hell?” I think that that’s exactly what I wanted was you to look at a poster and say, “I want to see that.” And even Bill Moseley, if you look at Bill Moseley and Paul Sorvino, so we cast the movie with who can sing and who brings in a crazy audience?
Shock: Did you audition any of them?
Bousman: Oh my God, everyone. Paul Sorvino had to come in and audition. Paris Hilton had three auditions. Anthony Stewart Head came in. Anthony Stewart Head’s audition is actually on our website. The only one that didn’t audition was Sarah Brightman because she’s Sarah Brightman. Every other single person from Alexa to Paris to Ogre, everyone auditioned for this except Sarah. All of them came in two or three times to audition because again, it would just be different if we were just a musical, but we’re not, we’re an opera. We had to make sure that they could carry the movie from beginning, middle, to end, and sing, so it was interesting to say the least to have people like Anthony Steward Head or Paris Hilton to come in to audition for us.
Shock: That casting angered a lot of people who play the Hollywood Stock Exchange because of Alexa Vega and Paul Sorvino. If you don’t have a movie for three years, your bond gets knocked off the exchange and both of them were so close since they hadn’t done anything in a while, then it was announced they would be in your movie and they were saved.
Bousman: Well that’s good. I’m glad I could be that person.
Shock: Yeah, traders weren’t too happy about it though. I’m surprised Ogre hasn’t done more acting, since his stuff with Skinny Puppy has always been so theatrical.
Bousman: I hope to use him again because he is such an amazing professional. There are two types of actors, those that come in and do it for the paycheck and whatever, and those who do it because they love the craft. Every single person in this movie, no one made a dime on this movie, so that’s the great thing. To put it in perspective, Sarah Brightman could make more one day on a tour than she could on the entire run of “Repo!” and she did it because she loved the movie. Ogre came in and he was so excited; this was his first film role and this was Sarah Brightman’s first film role.
Shock: That’s pretty amazing actually.
Bousman: Yeah, I know. They were both amazing. Ogre would show up 20 minutes early and stay an hour late for every rehearsal, and he had books with all of his notes in it and questions, and things like that. I would definitely use Ogre again in a movie. It was awesome.
Shock: Was it conditional for him doing this that he had his face covered? I’ve seen Skinny Puppy live a bunch of times and I’m not sure I’d ever be able to recognize him on the street.
Bousman: Originally, we were going to have Bill’s face covered, but then I thought, “Wait a minute. Every movie that Bill’s been in from âTexas Chainsaw’ to âHouse of 1000 Corpses’, âDevil’s Rejects’, he doesn’t look like Bill, he looks like Otis, he looks like Chop Top.” I wanted to make Bill be the normal-looking oneâ¦ and Ogre loved it because he felt comfortable. I think it was a great transition for him into stage work which he’s been doing as Skinny Puppy into this now. On stage, he wears crazy masks and costumes, and now here he is on film doing the same thing, and I think this was a great transition for Ogre as well.
Shock: It’ll be really interesting to see what he does next. You did use a lot of the same team as the “Saw” movies like production designer David Hackl, but how you were able to make such a big movie like this? Did you have even close to the budget of a “Saw” movie?
Bousman: We had no money. We had less money than we did for “Saw III” or “IV” and those were low budget movies.
Shock: But you ended up building those huge sets and everything for this.
Bousman: Well, that gives credit to the cast and crew of this movie. David Hakl was the production designer, and you know, the fun thing about doing “Repo!” with this crew is, I was talking about “Repo!” on the first day of “Saw II,” so all the crew were so sick of hearing about “Repo!”, they all knew it anyway. So when we finally made this movie, that was after four years of me talking about it to the costume designer, four years of me talking about it to David Hakl. Everyone knew what the movie was, and so they didn’t start at zero, they started at nine and went to ten so that was great.
Shock: How did you feel when you knew that “Sweeney Todd” was gonna come out as you worked on your movie? Do you think that might have helped this in some ways?
Bousman: Well, it didn’t faze me. The way they were marketing it was as a horror rock opera; well I don’t really call it that. First off, it’s not a rock opera, it’s again a musical. I love Tim Burton, I love Johnny Depp, and if nothing else, I think hopefully it helped me to show to people that movies like this can be cool. The point that I want to get across, which is the most important to me, is that we don’t have a marketing budget. In fact, we’re in eight theaters, and I don’t know if anyone knows that we’re in eight theaters. I don’t know if anybody knows we’re coming out in two weeks.
Shock: Certainly ShockTillYouDrop and Bloody Disgusting have been writing about the movie for a good year.
Bousman: Well, they have. What I would ask is, I don’t care if people hate the movie or love the movie. I want them to talk about it. Because the only way a movie like this survives, the only way a movie like this will continue to move on is if people know it’s out there. With Ryan Rotten and with Brad Miska, luckily they’re channeling that and putting that out there, but the fact is, every week, every Friday, we have a ballot. November 4th is the big ballot, but every Friday as filmgoers, we are a ballot, and whoever buys a ticket votes on a movie. I don’t care if you love “Repo!” or you hate “Repo!”. The thing is that “Repo!” is different. It’s unique. You haven’t seen things like it, and I as a filmgoer, want to see new and unique movies. I’m so sick of seeing the same horror films, the same action films, that I encourage people to go look at it, judge for yourself. Get off the hype, get off the carousel, and get off whatever; go see the movie because it is something unique and different. Without the support of audience members on this first weekend, we’re gonna go into obscurity. No one will hear of us and more movies like this won’t get made. Here I am coming off three number one hits and no one knows this movie that is coming out. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but again, I think that with support from the websites, we now have an army behind us. We have the “Repo! Army,” and there’s thousands of kids that are out there every day helping. I just encourage that come November 7th, if you live where the movie is, give it a shot, tell your friends about it, because then more kind of out there, weird movies will get made.
Shock: What are you going to do next? I know Ryan wanted me to ask you more about “Mother’s Day” so are you trying to do something with that as well?
Bousman: I think that my, mentality, from this point going forward is going to be one for them and one for me.
Shock: Yeah, I know a lot of directors who try to do that.
Bousman: But again, the great news is that I don’t think I consider “Saw” one for them. I mean, “Saw” was one for both of us. My goal is to find something that’s one for both of us, one for them and me. I think that “Mother’s Day”, I was originally really turned off by it and I rejected it after the first kind of thing came in. However, the more I talked to the writer, who was one of my really good friends who’s writing it. His name is Scott Milam. He and the producers – I loved working with Mark and Oren – I had become increasingly more excited by the idea of it, so is it my next movie? I don’t know, but it’s something that I definitely, definitely am thinking about doing.
Shock: There’s been a strange resurgence of the holiday horror movies in the last few years, although it’s still a subgenre of horror that’s somewhat of a joke, as it was spoofed in “Grindhouse.”
Bousman: I can tell you one thing is our version of “Mother’s Day” is going to be insane. It’s not going to be the Charlie Kaufman version, it will be insane, and it will be probably be the most disturbing thing that I’ve ever done. What we’re talking about doing right now is going to offend everybody, and that’s what I want to do. I want to offend people.