Darren Lynn Bousman is an impulsive guy, a trait that usually bites him in the ass — never more so than the day he moved to Orlando.
"Sorry you moved out here but I can't see you."
That blunt statement awaited him at his new apartment, taped to his door and signed by the girl he had moved here to be with. Bousman had fallen hard. He left his fraternity at the University of Kansas, dropped out of school, sold everything he owned and said goodbye to his parents and friends to move in with a woman who lived half a country away.
It's the kind of rejection he'd grow accustomed to, a vicious cycle that, so far, has at least ended with some bittersweet victories.
"Right after that whole thing occurred," says Bousman, "she sent me an e-mail. Right after I got Saw II (his 2005 writing-directing debut), she sent me an e-mail that her fiance was a big Saw fan. I should be on Jerry Springer or something with that, right?"
Small triumphs have become Bousman's calling card. The Full Sail University grad managed to sell a screenplay called The Desperate shortly after he graduated that was considered too close in spirit to the just-released Saw. "The title wasn't kidding; I was desperate for anything to happen. I wondered how far someone would go to make something happen for them," says Bousman. It could've been shelved, but Bousman won again by converting it into Saw II and demanding to direct, despite having only made short films around Orlando before.
"Like I said, I had nothing to lose at that point," he says. The film opened No. 1 at the box office with a $31 million weekend, and Bousman would go on to direct two more Saw sequels. Even that torturous journey, however, couldn't prepare him for his next jaws-of-defeat victory.
Bousman's latest film, last year's Repo! The Genetic Opera, was released in limited markets and landed with a vitriolic thud. The campy goth-horror opera, in which a megacorporation of the future acts as a bank for organs, gruesomely repossessing them if the client can't pay, was one of the most panned movies of 2008 and made next to nothing at the box office. Ben Lyons of At the Movies named it the worst film of the year. "The best part of this movie was the credits, which meant I got to go home and pretend the whole thing never happened," said Lyons.
Repo isn't the worst movie of the year, but its low-budget effects, over-the-top cheesiness, and singing and dancing make it an easy target. The characters are entwined in a melodramatic arc in which everyone deceives everyone else, some out of compassion or genuine emotional confusion. Anthony Head (Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Alexa Vega (from the Spy Kids films) are captivating vocal powerhouses as a tragic father-daughter team who both lead double lives. (Bousman swears there was no digital manipulation of any of the actors' singing, even co-star Paris Hilton's.) Classically trained singers Paul Sorvino and Sarah Brightman lend credibility to the production, even as they ham it up.
That said, Bousman's right: It needs to be seen with a lively crowd.
Repo was a project close to Bousman's heart. He directed the fringe stage musical in Los Angeles less than a year after graduating from Full Sail and says he went to film school with the express goal of directing a rock opera, any rock opera. It was a personal obsession for him, and he says it was a complete coincidence that he came across Repo in L.A.
"It was just a series of songs `creators Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich` would perform at a coffee shop. It was two guys singing folk songs."
Bousman put whatever clout he had with Lionsgate from the successful Saw films he helmed on the line to secure financing (around $8.5 million, says Bousman) to bring it to the screen.
"It's kind of sad that the majority of the population will have to witness Repo on DVD, because that's not what Repo is," says Bousman. "I'm so glad the DVD will be out there, but that's not the way it was meant to be seen. Repo is a stage show. It's meant to be seen with a large group of people. It was absolutely panned by critics, and the same critics who saw the movie saw it in a conference room with one other person, not the people who saw it in theaters the way it should be seen."
The common perception, Bousman says, is that he set out to make a cult film. That idea alone can make moviegoers resistant; cult films are best discovered, rather than pushed on people. But he maintains the film was a serious work of passion and personal taste, and he's only pushing the grass-roots angle now because so few people had a chance to see it the first time.
"We had no marketing budget for the film," says Bousman. "So it fell on us to make fliers, hit the Internet message boards and try to get the word out any way we could, because we really love this film."
To that end, Bousman and some of his crew and stars have been working for months to get the film shown properly via midnight screenings in various cities. They call it the Repo Road Tour, and intentionally or not, they've found their cult.
"Basically we go to a theater — one city, one night — and it's an event. We don't just screen the movie, we have contests, pre-shows, giveaways and people screaming and dancing and dressing up like freaks and acting crazy. That is what Repo is. It's insanity. And it's inspired people to act a fool."[email protected]