On July 18, the day of the world premiere of Repo! The Genetic Opera, I was fortunate enough to be able to interview the film’s director, Darren Lynn Bousman, best known for his Saw films, and star, Alexa Vega, of Spy Kids fame, at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. They had been doing interviews all morning and I was around for some of that time watching them be passed around from media to media, each time giving the most excited and passionate responses. Even though they had been probably answering the same questions hundreds of times, they never lacked enthusiasm or gave a hint of boredom.
Whereas most media present interviewed the director and star together, I got to talk to each of them individually for several minutes. Both Bousman and Vega are dedicated to their fans, each with their own myspace accounts, blogs, websites, and videos for fans to get better acquainted with the Repo! world of organ transplants, implants, and repossessions. It is important for them to be connected, as the film’s success is currently dependent on word of mouth and Internet buzz.
Repo!, I must add, should be an instant success as it is one of the most original features I’ve seen in a long time. The music and choreography, and the story and talent involved are just as impressive as the backdrop enveloping the film. There is no question as to why Bousman and Vega – who plays Shilo, a 17-year-old girl suffering from a rare blood disease – were so excited to share their stories and insights of the Repo! world.
Repo! The Genetic Opera is set to open in select markets on November 7.
Fantasia Festival Photos: © Keith Waterfield
On set image: Bloody-Disgusting.com
Keith: Your new movie Repo! is getting a lot of buzz online, and I recognize that you’re online a lot. You seem to be connecting with the fans: myspace, doing video blogs —
Alexa: I feel like this is the type of movie where you have to get people prepared for it. I tried to let them in on the Repo! world as much as I possible could without getting into trouble, and believe me, I got into trouble for a couple of videos.
K: What did you get in trouble for?
A: Just because it released some information that I guess they weren’t ready to release yet. So, oops! – but oh, well. It got the fans excited. I feel like it’s one of those films where if you go in blind you won’t get it necessarily. You have to have some background for it. It’s so different and so unique, and that’s what had drawn me into this film.
K: It is a lot different than anything you’ve done before.
A: Yeah, and that’s why I was ready to get out of that same routine that we were all in. As much as I was thankful for the Spy Kids films and the opportunities they presented, you can’t continue to ride that wave, you have to be able to jump off and shock your fans, and that will gain more fans. You might lose some fans, but that’s part of the risk that you take. And it’s so exciting and so different doing this film that hasn’t been done before. We’re not calling it a “film,” we’re calling it an event because it’s not like any other movie that I’ve ever seen. And when you watch it you get sucked in and so enamored by what’s going on; it’s like a concert.
K: I overheard you say that the second time around people are singing along. I just saw it a couple of days ago, so I when see it tonight it will be interesting to see if I catch myself singing along.
A: We’re trying to get the music released before the movie comes out. I think it’s set for September 30, that’s what I just found out; that will help a lot of people, too. If you go to a concert to [listen to a] band that you like, but they’re singing songs you don’t know, you might still enjoy it but it’s not the same. Whereas if they sing a song that you know then you sing along and you feel connected. I feel that if people know the music before they go in, they’ll feel a connection to the film and they’ll understand a little bit more of what it is about.
What was your favorite song in the film? When I was watching it, “Seventeen” stood out. You look like you’re having so much fun.
A: So much fun! That was actually the hardest song to record. It’s punk meets a little bit of rock meets teen angst. All of these things mixed into one. My favorite song was actually cut from the film. It’s called “Needle Through a Bug.”
K: The one that plays during the credits? That’s a great song.
A: Yes, yes. That was my favorite song. It got cut from the film, but hopefully it will appear on the DVD or director’s cut. It was so dark – it was Shilo’s turning point in the film. I was a little bummed, but there’s only so much room in that film before you get overblown with music. And the way it turned out, I’m just really proud of it.
K: There’s the scene where Shilo’s chasing the bug, and she carries around this book of insects – and I was wondering where does this interest come from?
A: Because Shilo is locked in her room, and her dad doesn’t know she sneaks out, she has to have hobbies. What are the hobbies of a girl who’s never seen the outside and never been a part of any groups or had friends? Her friends are bugs, her friends are books, her friends are the stuffed animals in her room. And in it, she mocks all of that when they come to life. Originally in one of the first cuts she throws one of the cases full of bugs, and they come to life. They don’t have that in this cut. They have the animals coming to life, and Joan Jett coming in [during “Seventeen”] —
K: Yes, Joan Jett!
A: Which was awesome! This movie, you can say that it’s colorful, or that everything looks beautiful and it’s just a cool world. But it’s not just visually awesome, and on the surface it’s cool but it has a lot of depth. Think about the relationship of Shilo and her father. It’s so deep and dark and twisted, but they both love each other so much. And then the relationship with Rotti Largo [the head of GeneCo, the company responsible for organ “leases” and repossessions] and his kids and how he’s disappointed in them and where did he go wrong with them? And the organ repossession and body issues in terms of plastic surgery … There’s so much going on, it’s not just a surface.
K: The film seems to be very true to what is happening, or what might happen in the future.
A: Exactly. And with what they have to offer with plastic surgery, it’s just the beginning now. People getting new hearts, new kidneys – that’s for sure a possibility. It’s scary and messed up, but I feel that this film has a lot of good morals in it, that it’s entertaining and a different learning experience, no matter how old you are.
K: Did you learn something during this? This was a jump for you in terms of the types of films you have been doing.
A: Yeah. I’ve never had to worry about a film three months before I shot it. We had to record everything before we shot and whatever we did in recording stuck and there was no changing it. So, if I sang a song and I was really angry when I sang it, I have to look really angry on that day. I can’ t say “Hey Darren, can I try this a little bit more sad?” because you’re done. You sang it one way and you’re done. So I had to do all of the homework. And we had to sit down and talk, say “How do you want to shoot this scene? Is it going to be angry, what’s the setup here? What sort of things can I do in my room, which might affect the song? And we’ll do it twenty different ways. And then not until a week before we’d shoot it did I actually hear the version that they chose. And that’s when I’d say, “Okay, so I’m going to be like this during the scene.”
There’s a lot of work that I’ve never had to do that early in a film, and you’re going in blind. Luckily, I got to meet a lot of the actors and record with some of the actors in the studio while we were doing it all, and that gave an idea of what it was going to be like on the day. It was different. It really tested a lot of things that I’ve never done before, and that’s what made it great and exciting.
Alexa and Darren switch places. Thanks yous, goodbyes, and greetings.
K: I saw the press screening of Repo! a few days ago and it’s fantastic.
Darren: Excellent. Thank you very much.
K: I was telling Bill and Terrance that almost right after I saw it, I called my mom and told her I had seen this really great film, that she would like it and that it’s this generation’s Rocky Horror – which was my mom’s era. And she said “No. There’s no way.” And I said, “Mom. This film speaks to today just as Rocky Horror spoke to your generation.” What do you think about that?
D: I hope it does. And the first thing is, I urge you to tell a lot people that. Here’s the situation we’re in: people right now don’t know about Repo! a lot because it is so out of the box, so weird, and so kind of avant garde that people don’t know what to make of it. I’ve come from doing three Saw movies back to back to back and Lionsgate has known me as doing horror films, and here I’ve done a rock opera trying to target the Rocky Horror Picture Show people because that’s the movie I grew up on. I love that movie. Love Rocky Horror.
K: I grew up on it too, I think I first saw it when I was four years old.
D: I love that movie. But the fact is people need to know the movie to be able to fall into it and have it become that cult following. Our hope for Fantasia is that people like you start spreading that word, whether it be through the Internet, or through magazines, or just word of mouth. Calling your mother, calling your friends and letting them know about it because the more people that know about Repo! the more chance it gets to become that type of movie, and that’s what I want it to be.
K: Well, I think it’s on its way to becoming that. While I was waiting and sitting next to you guys and I heard you mention some of my favorite directors – David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch, David Cronenberg – you seem to have this grasp and interest in avant garde and surrealist film. Where do those influences find their way into your work?
D: I think that the biggest thing with me is that I like to discover movies that not a lot of people know about. I remember when I saw a lot of Jim Jarmusch’ s movies, not a lot of people knew about those movies in the mainstream society. Same thing with David Lynch. David Lynch is more mainstream now, but I love to say that I found Blue Velvet, or I found this movie or that movie because it’s something that you’re not expecting. Terry Gilliam is a perfect example. His movies are just so out there and so weird, yet, people find them and then there becomes a huge following around them. Whether it be Brazil or any of his other movies.
Making this movie I wanted people to say, “What the hell is he doing?” And I did that with some of the quirky, weird things that happen in the movie. I love that kind of shocking the audiences. And it doesn’t have to be blood that shocks them, it could just be things someone says, or weird commercials that are playing in the background, and things like that. I want people to talk about it.
K: There are some fantastic elements in the background of the film. Everything just seems so well thought out and planned. How did you guys accomplish that?
D: It’s funny. I’ve been living with this movie now for years and years and years. Terrance even longer than I have, and Darren Smith, the co-writer, longer than that. I have been wanting to make this film for a long time and what the production designer David Hackl and myself did, is designed from the backboard. I wanted every frame to be a piece of art and I wanted everything to have a story.
So, behind, we would design the buildings in the background, design the extras in the background and then put the actors in front of that. So that the frame went on really far. It’s fun if you watch the movie again to look in the background because there are weird, weird characters. We have twin ballerinas that are doing ballerina moves in the background – what the hell is that? Why are the ballerinas back there? The posters that are in the background: if you read the posters, they tell pieces of clues in the story.
I want this movie to have a rewatch value. And the rewatch value to me, in my mind, is not only the music, but it’s the background. Look in the background and see what is happening there. And on top of that – this is a musical and at some points there are five people singing at the same time. But your ear can only really process what two people are saying. Next time listen to what the other people are saying. They’re all giving you things that you didn’t hear before. And that was a big thing trying to make this movie, to make it have a big rewatch.
K: The ending kind of leaves off with the impression that there might be more story —
D: I want to create a world. And that’s one of the big things being a film director is that I want to create worlds and I want to live in these worlds. I mean, to me, GeneCo and this society and time is a place that I would want to live in. It’s kind of this circus on acid and that was a big influence: that I want to create a world that I want to live in. And then by doing that, I want to do other stories in this world.
I’ve talked to Darren and Terrance about the idea of doing a sequel and a prequel, and it’s basically telling more stories that take place in this world. Repo! was one story in this world. But we have another story that we’re working on right now that takes place in this world that has nothing to do with repossessions, but it still takes place in the world, the same characters, the same craziness, but just a different story in there. But yes, there definitely is more to tell of this.
K: Is that going to be you telling the story?
D: Hopefully. I am very passionate about this movie and it’s something that I don’t know if I would trust with somebody else. It’s something I feel that I’ve helped create and birth and shepherd. It’s like a child. And that’s why tonight is like my child’s first day of school and I am the overprotective father that’s going to be there with my arms crossed in the back, and tackling anyone that’s not being respectful.
K: Like if someone goes to the washroom?
D: Yeah. I’ll tackle them and tell them to go back to their seat and finish watching. So, definitely this is something that is very passionate for me and that I want to stay involved with.
K: Are you nervous about tonight?
D: Very. I mean, like I said, it’s all about word of mouth at this point. We have a very limited release. Very limited release because no one knows what to make of this movie and tonight is kind of us showing everyone else that people will embrace this movie and that people will talk about this movie. And the best thing that we can hope for is that after this movie ends that people start talking about it online, go on blogs, and they start writing reviews of it and let Lionsgate and the other people see the kind of community this movie is reaching. And that’s what we hope.
Again, I’m nervous about tonight, but I’m also breathing a sigh of relief that this has come because I’m finally able to let go and let it go into the world, which is what I need to do.
K: And then after that happens, what will you do next as the over-protective father?
D: I sit and monitor the Internet every second. No, I sit back and I wait. It’s like waiting for that first report card. You send your kid off to school, and you have to wait and you have to hope he does well. You get that first report card back and you hope that he’s got A’s on there. That’s kind of what we’re doing, I’m letting him go off to school, and I just sit back and wait.
K: When I was talking with Alexa we touched on her favorite song that was cut and the possibility that it might be on the DVD or director’s cut. Is that something that you’ve processed already?
D: No. This thing happened so fast. We haven’t talked about a director’s cut, yet, but there definitely is material for one. There’s about seven or eight songs or sequences that were cut out. My favorite song was cut out too. I think we’re talking about the same song called “Needle Through a Bug.” The actual song itself was awesome and what’s happening is that a whole subplot has been cut from the movie.
The subplot was that Marni [Sarah Power], Nathan’s wife [and Shilo’s mother], was kept in his house in a glass case that he sings to. And she gets stolen and Shilo finds the mother in this room and “Needle Through a Bug” is sung. There are four songs in this area and that whole subplot is cut from the movie. Some great songs got lost. But hopefully down the road we can bring those back out.
© Keith Waterfield
For Darren’s Blog: http://www.bloody-disgusting.com/darrenbousman/
For Alexa’s website: http://www.foreveralexaonline.com/
Repo! The Genetic Opera website.