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Repo! The Genetic Madness Dissected

Repo! The Genetic Opera on DVD and Blu-ray (click for larger image)Usually when you talk about a David and Goliath story in Hollywood, it’s about a small independent movie getting its big break or an up-and-coming director getting hired for a huge project.

However, Repo! The Genetic Opera is a very different tale which pit the creators and the director of the film versus the studio that refused to get behind the movie they greenlit and financed.

Repo! The Genetic Opera is based on the ten-minute, two-man opera originally created by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich almost ten years ago called The Necromerchant’s Debt. Since then it has evolved into a stage production that played in LA and NY, and once Darren Lynn Bousman caught wind of the project, he set his sights on following up his work in the Saw franchise with a motion picture adaptation of Repo!.

Bousman said, “I’ve always loved rock operas like Tommy or Jesus Christ Superstar so I knew the first time I saw Repo! I wanted to do something with it. So we decided to shoot a ten-minute short film to show distributors what we could do with the story, and Lionsgate picked up the project.

Bousman, Zdunich (who stars as the Graverobber), and Smith (who has a brief cameo as the Conductor) started working on Repo! the movie and fleshing out the score since there are over 60 pieces of music featured in the film.

With the cast that we had, we believed we were making a mainstream project even though it certainly wasn’t a cookie-cutter story,” Zdunich explained. “We all honestly thought that making the movie would be the hardest part. We had no idea what was in store for us down the road.”

What happened was that Repo! initially screened for a general audience without being complete, and the film totally bombed out with the audience, who had no idea what type of movie they were in store for. From that one screening Lionsgate made up its mind on what its plans were for the movie.

Repo! The Genetic Madness Dissected (click for larger image)

Zdunich said, “Lionsgate thought that there was no way to market the project, and when they said it was going straight to DVD, we all felt like maybe we were wrong about it and that there was no appeal. It was such a horrible feeling.

From day one of filming we didn’t have a whole lot of support from Lionsgate,” said Repo! director Darren Lynn Bousman. “When the movie was finished and we started getting played during festivals or at events, no one from the studio would bother showing up. There wasn’t even an executive from Lionsgate at our premiere, if you can believe that.

However, those who worked on and starred in Repo! were not ready to throw in the towel on what they considered a quality project. Bousman went to Lionsgate and asked if he could take Repo! out on the road himself and screen it for audiences. From there the Repo! Movement was born.

Repo! The Genetic Madness Dissected (click for larger image)

Zdunich explained, “Nothing about Repo! is traditional so in some ways it makes sense that our approach in showing the film shouldn’t be traditional either. Darren [Bousman] put together the first road tour, which was not financed by the studio at all, and we set out to deliver the movie to the die-hard fans out there that wanted to see it in a theater and not just on DVD.

The response to the first road tour was overwhelming – it was a sell out every night and spawned two more US road tours after. “I think that in the end the best thing Lionsgate could have done was to walk away like they did so that we could get Repo! to audiences and then they can’t stand in the way of the fans who do ‘get’ it” said Bousman.

The fan frenzy towards Repo! isn’t that surprising to me just because of the over-the-top nature of our movie,” said Smith. “We set out from day one to be ridiculous and to create a story that no one has ever seen before.”

In an unprecedented move Bousman and Zdunich took Repo! overseas for a UK road tour through England.

Repo! The Genetic Madness Dissected (click for larger image)

I’ve never been overseas to begin with so getting to see the UK because of Repo! was something really special,” said Zdunich. “It was interesting to see the crowds there because they were far more reserved than our US audiences but still rabid in their own ways.

With its status as a cult film becoming more solidified as the months passed since its debut in November 2008, a new chapter started in the world of Repo! – the shadow casts.

Bousman said, “In the last couple of years there’s been a developing attitude of moviegoers that think, ‘Why should I leave my house to see a movie when I can do it in the comfort of my own home?’ So as entertainers we have to make movie-going an event and transcend the normal theater-going experience with something that feels special.

Repo! The Genetic Madness Dissected (click for larger image)

For those who have never experienced a shadow cast experience at a midnight movie, what it involves is a dedicated group of fans that create their own costumes, assume the roles of their favorite movie characters, and act out a film in a theater while the movie plays behind them.

One of the first Repo! shadow cast groups to start performing is ATTacK (Addicted to the Knife), which is based in the LA area. According to Bernie Bregman (who is a long-time shadow caster and portrays Graverobber), their performances are a labor of love.

Most of us see working in a shadow cast as an opportunity to live out the movie you love,” explained Bregman. “The types of fans that come to midnight movies are obsessive in nature so it only makes sense that people would want to dress up and encompass different characters.

Repo! The Genetic Madness Dissected (click for larger image)

We always strive to put on a high quality show, especially since people are paying money for a movie they either probably own or have seen already. There is a pressure of performing alongside the film just because if you screw up, it will be obvious,” Bregman added.

ATTacK has been performing shadow casts since March, and every time they have sold out the theater. In April fans had to be turned away at the door due to the rising popularity of Repo!.

We always had faith that there was an audience for this film so it was important that we did everything we could to get it out there. It’s a gratifying feeling to know that the film came out in November, and it’s now playing in more theaters after it got released on DVD this past January,” Smith said.

Of course I would want to work on a project that makes tons of money, but I would rather make a film that has legs. Undoubtedly, Repo! has shown that it has the legs to be around for a long time. We couldn’t ask for a better response from fans,” Smith added.

Keep it right here for updates on when there will be a screening and a shadow cast near you!

Heather Wixson

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One Comment

  1. I sympathize with the filmmakers for their trials and tribulations, and I applaud their efforts in getting the film out there to an audience, but I think the elephant in the room is that REPO! just isn’t that good. It’s pretty, but the songs are uniformly unmemorable, and some of the performances are downright irritating. I saw it, I wasn’t bored, but when I left the theatre, the movie left my head.

    I wish these guys the best of luck in the future, though.

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