Interview: Repo! The Genetic Opera Director Darren Lynn Bousman
by Alex Billington
November 6, 2008
I first met Darren Lynn Bousman two years ago when we interviewed him for Saw III (you can still find that here). Not only do I think he's a great filmmaker, but he's a big horror movie geek and very down to earth, which as everyone knows, is quite rare to find in Hollywood. So when he showed Repo! The Genetic Opera back at Fantastic Fest in Austin, I walked in very optimistic and open, just because I wanted to give something so unique and so original a chance. Last weekend I caught up with Darren again down in Hollywood for an interview and an opportunity to chat about Repo. If there's anyone who might be able to convince you to see Repo! The Genetic Opera on November 7th, it's Darren Bousman himself.
Repo! The Genetic Opera is a rock opera about a future where organs are being sold by a corporation. But if you forget to pay, the repo man comes and takes your organs from you on the spot. There's a full trailer out there that does a much better job of setting up the story. Alexa Vega and Anthony Head star as father and daughter and are joined by an eclectic cast (that Bousman speaks about below) including Paul Sorvino, Bill Moseley, Nivek Ogre, Paris Hilton, and singer Sarah Brightman. It hits theaters this weekend, November 7th, and will tour across the US as well (find details here). I definitely suggest that anyone who is slightly interested go see this - it will be worth your time (or maybe not) but is at least something very original.
Can you go over the process of how you first got involved in this project?
Darren Bousman: Well I had moved to Los Angeles in '97 and I was trying to find a project that could be my calling card that was different and unique and not like everyone else. And I wanted to do a musical because that's kind of my passion, my passion's in music. And I wanted to do a rock opera but there's no rock operas out there, I mean that's -- there may be a handful. And then I got this script called Repo! The Genetic Opera and it was this play. It wasn't even a script, it was a stage play, never been performed before. They had done versions of it in rock clubs but never as a stage production. I read it, I fell in love with it and I called the writers. And I met up with the writers and I had never directed anything. And I had to plead with them -- let's make this into a movie. They were like, 'Do you have any money for a movie?' And I'm like, 'Nope.' Everyone was like, 'But--' I was like, 'We'll figure it out.' And here we are nine years later and we figured it out.
I'm familiar with the casting, but did you see from the start when you were first scripting it that you would really have to have these musicians in certain roles?
Bousman: When we originally were looking at casting, one thing defined the casting -- the what the fuck factor, originally. We wanted -- the script was so out there, so weird and just insane that there was no way to cast this thing real. If you cast it -- let's say we went after A-list singers or A-list actors that could sing, it would have failed because the movie is too weird, quirky and out there. You can't do that. That's the why porn films work with no name actors. If you put A-list celebrities in a porn film -- something happens to it. Not saying we don't have A-list actors. But porn films -- that was a bad example. I shouldn't be using porn as an example.
But what I'm getting at is the movie and the script deemed that the casting be weird and fucked up. A lot of times you have a scripted project and you're like here's who I want. But those people that you want either a) don't have name value, b) aren't going to sell tickets to the movie, or c) they just come with baggage. With this movie I didn't care. I went after who I wanted. And it and happened to be that there was this weird eclectic cast. Like Bill Moseley was the first I cast. I wanted Bill Moseley. The second person that we actually cast was Alexa Vega. I wanted Alexa Vega. I was like, that's who I want. And we weren't looking at this a comprehensive whole. We weren't looking at it as, what's everyone going to look like next to each other? I just went with my number one choice.
My number one choice for Repo Man was Anthony Stewart Head, number one. So I called and I begged and I pleaded and I did whatever and I got Anthony Stewart Head. And so I went after, seriously, who I wanted for the roles. And then you have this mish mash of weird, fucked up, crazy, kooky whatever, and again I think that we stayed true to the original vision of the movie. We didn't sacrifice, we didn't cast anyone -- regardless of what people will say -- for publicity stunts. No one was cast because they're going to sell tickets to the movie. They were cast because they were the best people for the roles and who I wanted.
It seems like you have a very odd vision of people. I would have imagined looking at Alexa Vega for this kind of role. To come from where she did and end up doing this kind of weird thing. Is that what you saw in them?
Bousman: Yeah. I wanted to change people's perceptions of who they thought they were, including Paris Hilton. I mean, Paris Hilton is known for one thing: blonde hair, blue eyes. And I said, Paris, the first day I met her -- no more blonde hair, no more blue eyes. You're going to wear contacts every single day and your hair is going to be black, red, green, not blonde. We gave her prosthetics everyday. One of the worst things was we gave her something called nipple noses which sound ridiculous but you take the top of a baby's nipple, the milk bottle. You cut it off and you put it in their nose it expands their nose out. We gauzed her cheeks out so her whole face was different. At some points we put prosthetic noses on her, prosthetic chins on her. Because again I didn't want people to look at Paris Hilton as being that person. Same thing with all the characters. Alexa Vega, I mean we -- I didn't want her to look like the Spy Kid. I mean, she could look like that kid again, but we put her in the dark black wig and we dressed her in these sexy school girl things. Because again I wanted to change people's perceptions of who they thought these people were.
That was just something I was fascinated by -- I really liked your casting choices a lot.
Bousman: Great, thank you.
It turned out fantastic. What did you see as the biggest challenge going into this?
Bousman: Well in retrospect everything became the biggest challenge. There were no small battles in Repo. Every battle was a massive one and a huge one and I think partially because of me. Because I refused to compromise. And a movie, movies are full of compromises, the Saw films, plagued of compromises. That's what making a movie is. You have a vision, you get notes from the producer. The producer's bosses have notes, and you have this mish mash of everyone's ideas -- I would not do it. I would not stand for that in Repo, because Repo is such a weird movie. Repo was a stick of dynamite. It would explode if too many people came in the kitchen. Think about it, I'm making a rock opera starring Paris Hilton, Sarah Brightman, and an organ repo man rips the organs out and sings and dances. Now can you imagine if that went through the channels that a normal movie goes through -- what would have happened?
I remember the first notes that I got were let's add a lot of talking in there, let's put some expositional talk. It was like no. It's a rock opera, there's no talking. The next note I got was, what if the music sounded more -– or what if we had Blink 182 and Rob Zombie write some of the music? I'm like absolutely not. Avril Lavigne almost came on board and she wanted to write her own songs and I'm like absolutely not. There's none of that. There was a one unified vision that wasn't just me, it was three of us. It was Darren Smith, Terrance Zdunich and myself to make what this became.
Is this movie for everyone? Absolutely not. Will there be people that hate it? Absolutely. But the fact is – what I can say is we didn't sell out. We stayed very true to the stage version of the play. And secondly, love it or hate the movie you've never seen anything like it. And you can't compare it's -- Rocky Horror Picture Show has 18 songs in it. Jesus Christ Superstar has 25 songs in it. We have 64 songs in it. It's all singing all the time. And I think that whether they hate the movie or love it, you have to admit that something completely different was done. There's not a lot of people out there now taking risks. And the ones that are taking risks aren't getting distributed. And we only got eight theaters and that was because I fought and I screamed and I yelled. I might have -- this movie was made triple fold not only because I love the story and I wanted to do a musical but to basically show people that you can make something different. You don't have to regurgitate the same ideas over and over again. There are original ideas out there. You just have to fight for them and get the audience out and hopefully the audience will come on November 7th.
I have a lot of respect for you for doing that. I've been promoting this a lot because when I write my articles, I say I don't care if you like it or not, just from what you've done and from what this is, give it a chance.
Bousman: Well I think that one of my favorite things about the movie that's in retrospect looking back at everything now is how polarizing the movie really is. I did an interview this morning with Dark Horizons and I read Dark Horizons a lot and they gave it an amazing review. And then you get something like Rolling Stone who gives it a half star out of ten. One half star out of ten. And he called the thing -- there was not one redeeming thing in the whole movie, it was shit from the beginning, middle to end and I love that. I would frame that and put it up on my mantle, because again, this is not a movie that's meant to be for everyone. But that being said would you rather go see another remake, would you rather go see Prom Night again? I saw it the first time when I rented it on video tape 15 years ago, do you really want to go see that movie again? Or do you want to see something that is completely different? And I'd rather go see something completely different.
That's a good way of explaining it and I hope people do see it and I think you're tour is actually a good way to do it too.
Bousman: I think the hardest -- well I think one of our hardest challenges right now is no one knows. People might know the name Repo. But I don't think anyone realizes that we're in theaters next week and next week will determine the fate of this movie and other movies like it. I've been on a three-man crusade for the last year to get this thing out there. And I think that when we come out November 7th, we're in two theaters. Are you based in Los Angeles? Where are you based in?
Yeah, I'm based in Los Angeles.
Bousman: We come out in the Sunset Five and Pasadena Seven in Los Angeles. Those theaters have to sell out all the night time shows. And it's not a hard thing to do because it's only in one theater. But we're also in Minneapolis. No one knows in Minneapolis we're opening there. There's not one dollar spent on the ads. There's not a trailer anywhere. There's nothing. There's nothing in Minneapolis. So the only way people are going to know about it is people like you say it or blog and write about it. You know the thing that I would encourage your readers to do is, like you said, give it a chance. If you hate the movie after you've seen it, go write about how bad it is. Go online and bash it, write about it, kill it. I don't care. But give it a shot. Go into the theater and just see what it is.
I'm sure you've been asked this a lot, but do you consider it an honor to have it be called a cult classic?
Bousman: Yeah. I mean we never set out to make -– I think this is a big misconception and I wouldn't have used that quote on the poster only because no one can make themselves a cult classic. You have to earn that title. That being said, I think we've earned it right now because of what's happened around the movie. I just happen to have -- let me show you something crazy. We've shown the movie all across the United States and Europe even and every single screening that we've done, people have shown up. People have shown up in costume, singing the songs at the top of their lungs.
Let me show you. These are fans that dressed up. These are people that came in their homemade costumes. These are people that are dressing up singing the songs. Let me show you one other thing that just came in yesterday. You can check this out, Toronto After Dark. Here's one in Toronto that just came in. These are fans. That's not us hiring them. These are girls that came dressed like this. Look what this girl has done to her face, Shiloh. Again these are all things that people are doing coming to this movie. This movie is not even out yet. This movie is not out for public consumption. These are people who have found something that they believe in and that they respond to and are coming dressed up. And they're singing the songs.
Let's go back to NYU two days ago. We had a showing at the college at NYU. And what was insane was as I walked in the theater and looked around people were wearing the Repo t-shirts. And when the movie began everyone started singing along with it. And I'm like, this is the first time you guys have seen this and it's all because they bought the soundtrack, they learned the songs. And so that is what a cult is. A cult is a group of people that find something and believe in it and go after it and believe in it. And so to say -- an instant cult classic, we're not out yet, and we have a legion of fans that are behind us. So it's amazing. Did I ever think that it was going to happen? Yeah, but not this soon. To have it happen immediately is insanity.
Yeah. I think it's fantastic.
Darren Bousman: The big thing that I'd ask you to do when you talk about the movie is let people know that it comes out November 7th. Here's what I think is a soap box speech. I wasn't going to give you the soap box speech before. There is an important election coming up. But I'm not talking about the one next Tuesday. I'm talking about the one that Friday. That Friday it's a movie going on and we get to vote every single Friday. Every single Friday our dollars are what the studio looks at. You buy a ticket, you're casting a vote. And so as a film going audience are you going to cast your vote on Prom Night? Are you going to go and say I want to see Prom Night or I want to go and see this remake or this sequel? Or are you going to say, you know what, I want to see something new, something original.
As a filmgoer, I drive out of the distance to go see a David Lynch movie. Whether it be Mulholland Drive or whatever his last movie was, I will drive, I'd rather go see that and show my support there. What I don't think people realize is that they have the ability to vote. And everyone thinks what can I do when I'm one person. We're in eight theaters. One seat in eight theaters is a vote. It is a huge vote. So if enough people will take the incentive to say, I'm sick of seeing the remakes, I'm sick of seeing the sequels and take that vote to Minneapolis, if they live in Minneapolis, or if they live in Glendale, actually driving to Pasadena to see this movie is a huge statement as a film going audience. And I'm encouraging people, go vote on Tuesday and then vote again on Friday because that's what we need for this little movie to survive.
Thanks to Darren Lynn Bousman and his reps as well as everyone at Lionsgate and BWR for putting together this interview. As Darren said above, everyone needs to take a gamble and see Repo! The Genetic Opera no matter what. Even if you think it looks terrible, go see it anyway! More info on when and where you can see the film can be found here.