Repo: The Genetic Opera - The Movie




"REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA - THE MOVIE" is the brainchild of Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich.  The two began performing what they calledten-minute operasat coffee shops and rock clubs inLos Angelesin 2000. One of those short pieces, The Necromerchant’s Debt, a futuristic tale involving a graverobber, was the seed that grew into REPO! Zdunich says that "the original GraveRobber was a character very similar to the one I’m playing now in that he was this rogue who lived on the outskirts of society. He was making a social commentary about what he’d see in the graveyard. One of the things that he saw was a repo man who would repossess body organs that were bought on credit – that ten-minute story ended up evolving to where the GraveRobber became indebted to the Repo Man. When we performed it the audience reception to that story was the strongest of all the ten-minute operas we had done, so we thought ‘Let’s make it bigger!’"

From there, Smith and Zdunich expanded their story into a forty-five minute set of vignettes called REPO, which introduced most of the characters that would eventually inhabit the movie incarnation. They continued performing the show at rock clubs in L.A., and it later grew into a fully staged two-hour theatrical production, which was first performed in 2002. The show wasmounted at the John Raitt Theater in Hollywood, the Split ID Theater in West Hollywood, and then went on to Off-Broadway at the Wings Theater in New York’s West Village. It was during the process of staging and performing the show inNew YorkandL.A. that Smith and Zdunich were able to develop the story, characters and songs that would later become the film REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA.

During this time, they also met music video director Darren Lynn Bousman when he came in to audition as a director for one of the stage productions. Recalls Bousman, "I’d just moved to Los Angeles to do musicals. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve responded to musicals like JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and TOMMY. Until I get out here, and of course there’s no musicals to be done.  So I started shopping my own script called THE DESPERATE, meeting with a bunch of people, who’d ask, ‘What’s your ultimate goal?’ And I said, ‘I want to do a musical.’"

"One day a script came across my desk," continues Bousman, "but it’s not a script per se, it’s a stage play called ‘Repo.’ And I was like, "I don’t want to do a stage play." And my reps said, "Just read it." They didn’t have any of the music, but I read it anyway and flipped. Immediately I found the writers and called them, begging, ‘Let me direct this, let me direct this.’ And this was without even hearing the music, it’s just reading the words on the page."

Smith and Zdunich admired Darren Lynn Bousman’s passion and love for the rock opera genre and immediately hired him to direct the first full-length stage production of REPO!

Darren Lynn Bousman went on from there to direct SAW II, which became the number one movie at theAmerican box office its opening weekand then SAW III, another number one film at the American box office week of opening, but he always felt connected to REPO! and wanted to see it made into a film. Bousman tried repeatedly to use his newfound connections and influence to get a REPO! movie financed, but a musical horror rock opera was a hard concept for producers to visualize.

It was going back to their ten-minute roots that finally got the movie made. Bousman reached out to Zdunich and Smith, flying them up to Torontoto make a ten-minute short film to pitch Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures Producers Carl Mazzocone, Mark Burg and Oren Koules on the REPO! concept. Bousman then approached SAW Producer Daniel Jason Heffner as they were finishing editing on SAW III, explaining that REPO! was his dream project and asked for help to get the short made. Heffner agreed and gathered the entire SAW crew together over a weekend to make the short. It was a true labor of love, with everyone volunteering their services, and vendors offering free equipment and post-production services.

The short, which featured two numbers from REPO! - "Zydrate Anatomy" and "21st Century Cure" - showed producers and financiers what the full-length movie could be, and pre-production got under way in 2006.

When casting the film, the filmmakers had to find actors who were not only perfect for the roles and willing to take a risk on an unconventional movie, but who could also sing. So they took an unconventional approach - they put together a packet, which they sent out to managers and agents, including the short film, a booklet of design sketches and a CD of some of the rough tracks of songs.

The first actor cast was Alexa Vega asShilo, who was performing on Broadway in Hairspray at the time. She actually found out about the project when Darren Lynn Bousman contacted her through a MySpace fan page.   "I was in New York working on the Broadway show, HAIRSPRAY, and, okay, literally, on a fan MySpace page that somebody made for me, I just happened to be on the inbox of it, and this director Darren Bousman sent me a message saying,  "I really want you to be in my movie," blah blah blah blah blah.  I'm thinking "Ay-yi-yi, it's one of those people again, you know."  So I just skipped past it.  And then I got another one, and I'm like, all right.  So finally I checked out his MySpace and he said that he directed SAW. I called my agency saying, "Hey, is this legit?" And they said, "Oh yeah, we turned it down."  I'm like, "You what?"  They’re like, "We turned it down."  So I messaged him back right away, I'm like, "Okay, um, I'd love to read it," 'cause he kind of gave me like a little synopsis of what it was about.  

While skeptical at first, Alexa was quickly sold on the project once he explained it to her. They then secured Paul Sorvino, a trained opera singer, as Rotti Largo. According to Zdunich, "Rotti was written as kind of a mixture of Pavarotti and a typical Italian mob boss that’s portrayed in film and TV. Paul obviously has played the Italian mob bosses before - and he sings opera. So what more can you say? He’s the perfect Rotti."

Anthony Stewart Head, best known in theU.S.for his role in BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER but also a popular theater actor in theU.K., took on the role of Nathan/Repo Man.  Says Head, "While in Los Angeles on another project, my agent set up a meeting for me with Darren and Terrance and the other Darren.  It was largely Darren Bousman's enthusiasm that just completely won me over.  He said, you know, he'd been wanting to make this ever since he left college, and you know, and this was his dream and he'd managed to persuade the people at Lionsgate by eventually making a trailer, which he then proceeded to show me.  And that they'd finally consented to making this movie.  From that moment on, I was like, "Okay, what, show me where I sign up." 

International recording artist/performer Sarah Brightman, in her feature film debut, was cast as Blind Mag.   Says Brightman, "Mag was a girl with a gift, and that gift of song and musicality.  She was blind, and the empire of GeneCo gave Mag her eyes.  As a result, she was able to far more easily give her gift to the world because she could see again and function in a more sort of positive way. Unfortunately for Mag, and for everybody who's been under the spell of GeneCo and needed their help, she sold her soul to the devil. It’s been a great part to play and I wish I had years to live with the part because she is so deeply textured."

There was a lot of interest from young actresses to play the part of Amber Sweet, but Paris Hilton so impressed the filmmakers when she auditioned she was offered the part immediately. Says Darren Bousman, "Paris Hilton’s character, Amber Sweet, was a hard one because I needed someone who could sing, be sexual, very sexy, and yet be able to change her identity a lot.  We met with a lot of actresses but we ended up going with Paris because she was the most prepared for the role, she was the most eager for the role, and I think there was a, there was a challenge for me as a director to take people away from Paris Hilton and put her for something else.  I’ve showed the trailer to a bunch of people and everyone asks, "Why didn’t you put Paris in the trailer?" And I’m like, "Paris is in the trailer in twenty-two shots." They’re like, "No, she’s not."  So I play it back and I’m like, "There." And their jaw just drops. No one expects that. It’s exciting for me as well is to show people a different light on her."

Says Hilton, "Darren is an incredible director. I’ve been a huge fan of his since the SAW movies. So it’s an honor to just be a part of this film. Seeing the footage has been so exciting.  I’ve never seen a movie with this much color, this much great music and such an eclectic cast.  It’s very unique and I think it’s something that people will be watching for years to come, you know.  Something like my grandkids are going to watch.  It will still be like around just like THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW."

Horror icon Bill Moseley agreed to take on the part of Luigi Largo; Kevin Ogilvie, better known as "Ohgr", the frontman for the band Skinny Puppy, had an aesthetic that matched perfectly with that of the industrial sound of the film and easily stepped in to the role of Pavi Largo; and Terrance Zdunich of course claimed the role of GraveRobber, which he originated on the stage.

Many members of the SAW crew continued on with the team to make REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA the movie, including Costume Designer Alex Kavanagh and Production Designer David Hackl. The film began production in both Los Angeles, where the actors pre-recorded the music with renowned Music Producers Yoshiki and Joseph Bishara, and in Toronto, where the designers began creating the futuristic GeneCo dominated world of REPO!

Production Designer David Hackl worked closely with Darren Lynn Bousman to achieve the not-so-distant futurism of the film. According to Hackl, one of the most challenging sets to create was GeneCo’s Sanitarium Square, where the Genetic Opera is performed. He explains, "this is a set that is supposed to feel quite large almost like an Italian piazza – something that is Rotti's dream of a beautiful world, where opera is the favorite music, where people wear beautiful costumes and are elegant and have wonderful lives. While everything outside the square is crumbling and pretty much falling away. The further you go out from the square, the more the communities are disintegrating, and it's closing in on him rather quickly. We wanted to have the square that was elegant, but also had a feel of falling apart. So, one of the references we used were the photographs of a great photographer Robert Polidori, who did a lot of photographs inCuba. In them, you can see howHavanastill remains somewhat beautiful and elegant, even though the buildings are falling apart.GeneCo Squareis very much like that."

Sketches that Zdunich made during the many incarnations of the opera provided a great reference for Costume Designer Alex Kavanagh in creating the fantastical world of the film. From there she worked to create a world in the not-too-distant future. In her words, "we took a lot of interesting clothes from contemporary fashion and just how we styled them is what gives them a very different vibe from contemporary fashion."

One of the most interesting characters in the film in terms of wardrobe is the outrageous Amber Sweet. According to Kavanagh, "Amber Sweet is our most dynamic character because she is a chameleon by nature. Her obsession with her appearance is part of her character; she’s unfulfilled on the inside so she’s constantly trying to create this entire new Amber on the outside. We have about eight different costume changes for her and each time it’s a completely separate look: costume, hair, makeup, contact lenses, everything changes. Now Paris Hilton is playing Amber Sweet and, because we were working with a somewhat limited budget I talked to her on the phone before she came, and she said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll bring stuff.’ She brought six suitcases full of stuff, and she’s got amazing clothes. She brought all her accessories and amazing jewelry. And she’s definitely a very stylish person. She knows what looks good on her and, and is willing to take some chances. A lot of the stuff she’s wearing in this film is stuff she wouldn’t be caught dead wearing in the street, but she went for it."

At the core of this entire project, however, is the music, which is born of many influences.  This rock opera boasts an entirely original soundtrack that blends equal parts Goth and punk rock to form an eerie and powerful musical narrative.  Creator Darren Smith explains, "The through line is kind of a Nine Inch Nails, industrial sound. It goes through jazz. It goes through classical, especially opera, because we really wanted to have a legitimate opera sound with the industrial NIN sound, butted together. You'll hear hip-hop, a lot of rock. What’s been fantastic about this movie experience is, in the recorded music created for the stage productions I play most, if not all of the instruments. But now, when we've brought it to the film, we’ve got all these amazing new musicians on board."

The musicians that formed this all-star line-up includes performances from Richard Patrick (Filter), Stephen Perkins (Jane's Addiction), Clown (Slipknot), Ray Luzier (Army of Anyone), Brian Young (David Lee Roth's band), Richard Fortus (Guns & Roses), Sonny Moore (From First to Last), David J (Bauhaus/Love & Rockets), Daniel Ash (Love & Rockets), Blasko (Ozzy Osborne), Tommy Clefetus (Rob Zombie's band), Melora Creager (Rasputina).  Also lending her voice to the soundtrack is the edgy pop star Poe.

Japanese musician and composer Yoshiki Haysahi (of the legendary rock band X-Japan) co-produced the music with Joe Bishara to create one of the most diverse soundtracks in movie history.

Says Smith, "At first I was thinking, ‘This is my thing. I don't know if I want to do that,’ but we have a great producer, Joe Bishara; we've got people who play with Guns and Roses, with Bauhaus, with Filter, Skinny Puppy, Nine Inch Nails. Plus, we've got Sarah Brightman, who plays Blind Mag the supposed great opera diva, and of course she is in real life. Paul Sorvino has a phenomenal voice too.  Even Paris Hilton who everyone will be blown away by.    All of the actors performed their own songs. The music is just phenomenal.  The whole production was a great experience."

Director Bousman invites fans to come experience REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA. "Forget the genre," implores Bousman. "Forget the music, forget the horror.  It’s an experience that you should have in a movie theatre with a group full of people. This is nothing like you’ve ever seen before. That’s the most exciting thing for me.  It’s brand new. It’s catchy, it’s cool, it’s hip, it’s edgy, it’s dark, it’s sexy. It’s everything and I think that there’s something in it for everyone."