The gifted cinematographer takes us behind the scenes of this amazing cult masterpiece and its DVD debut.
Darren Lynn Bousman's latest project Repo! the Genetic Opera! is an amazing spectacle to behold. It is one of the most beautifully shot musical's ever produced, and it completely sucks you into its own visceral world from the word go. Following its successful theatrical run last November, this epic cult masterpiece is now gearing up for its DVD debut on January 20th. We recently caught up with the man responsible for the film's lush and exciting cinematography, Mr. Joseph White, for a chat about the film and its astonishingly classic sheen. Here is our conversation:
How did you get involved with this film? And, more importantly, how did you get hooked up with Darren?
Bold|Joseph White: Darren and I became friends through my good friend and camera assistant Rich Pereksta. They went to Full Sail together. We met initially to discuss a film he was putting together called The Desperate, which eventually became Saw II. We hit it off right away, and ended up working on several commercials and short films together. And when Repo! the Genetic Opera! came around, it was finally the right opportunity to collaborate together on a feature.
Darren has described this film as a dream project. Does that stand true for you as well?
Bold|Joseph White: Absolutely. It was amazing to do a film that incorporated so many genres and stylistic elements, where there were literally no rules or constraints to bind our creativity. It was also inspiring to work with Darren on a project that he was so passionate about and had such a specific vision for. There's nothing like working with someone on something that has been germinating within them for years. You get an entirely different level of commitment and direction. It truly was a dream to work on.
Did you frequent the stage play to get a feel for the look of this particular project?
Bold|Joseph White: I actually never saw the stage play, except for videos online that were low-quality excerpts. The short film that Darren made to pitch "Repo!" gave me an idea of what he wanted. But ultimately the look came from our influences and our imaginations.
How on your toes do you have to be when working with and keep up with Darren Bousman's manic energy?
Bold|Joseph White: Very much so. But again, when working on someone's passion project, there's a real tangible energy that you draw from. I found Darren's energy to be inspiring rather than frustrating, and even though it might not always appear to some, there is a definite method to his madness. And there's something to be said for passionate artists who know what they want and demand the best out of the people who are working with them.
It certainly takes a long time to set up certain shots. With Darren's frantic pacing and energy on set, did you find yourself having to set up shots very quickly and on the fly?
Bold|Joseph White: Absolutely, but the pace wasn't so much a reflection of Darren's whims, but more of our crazy schedule. We shot the entire film, dozens of songs, in about 33 days. So thinking on your feet was the order of the day, every day. That being said, that style of working has always appealed to me. From when I was a kid, I wrote my best papers for school the night before they were due. I think being able to figure things out quickly on the fly is such an important part of the job as a whole; you never have enough time, enough gear, enough money, so you learn to erase the word "enough" from your head, roll up your sleeves, and light the hell out of the scene as fast as you can and with as many setups as you can so that your director can put together something amazing.
The music in the film was recorded before the actual scenes were shot. Did the music start to drive you nuts on set? Are these songs something that you just couldn't get out of your head?
Bold|Joseph White: Haha! Since we never had more than several hours to shoot any one song, this was never an issue! The music was fantastic and working to track was similar to the way one shoots a music video, except we were doing it for 7 weeks.
The one scene that stands out from the rest of the movie is the 17 number. How did you balance the look of that one set piece to the look of the rest of the film?
Bold|Joseph White: 17 is essentially a subjective fantasy piece. Something that never happens at any other point in the film. Even though we were striving throughout the film to create new and distinct worlds and looks, we knew 17 had to be different since it was a dream inside Shilo's head that exploded onto the screen. It also didn't hurt having someone like Joan Jett there to make you step up your game!
The color of the blood in this film is quite unique. How did you come about creating the look of the colors for Repo?
Bold|Joseph White: From the beginning we were influenced by many films. But Dick Tracy's cartoonish world was incredibly important to us. And we embraced this exaggerated hyper-real look and tried to make the colors pop and scream in places. And lay down in others. The great thing about shooting on the Panavision Genesis system is that we were able to dial looks in on-set and experiment with saturation and contrast while shooting. We knew when we had gone too far and when we needed to push even further. We did 90% of the color work in front of the camera, though, gelling lights and mixing color temperatures as much as possible. I'm a huge proponent of doing as much as possible in front of the lens, because even though we did a DI on "Repo!", we knew we wouldn't have the luxury of going in and tweaking every tiny little thing. It makes more sense to do it on set, every time.
Why did you choose to shoot the film in 1.85:1? Is it because you think the film will live more on home video?
Bold|Joseph White: No, the video aspect never really impacted our decision. The main factors were that we had a lot of really tall sets, which generally photograph better with a taller frame. We had no exteriors or opportunities for sweeping vistas, so shooting in 2.35:1 was never really much of a temptation. Plus, with all of the comic panels in the film, we felt that the 1.85:1 frame was more pleasing to fill with these animated images. Again, for the world we had created, the aspect ratio we chose always seemed right.
What sort of cult future do you think this film has?
Bold|Joseph White: I think the fact that it's such a unique film, with music that crosses over almost every genre, and an eclectic cast that can appeal to pretty much anyone, has lead everyone to suspect that it will have a long life after it's theatrical run, road tour, and initial dvd/Blu-ray release. At every screening of the film I've been to, from the premiere in Las Vegas, to opening night in Hollywood, to seeing pictures from around the country, you see hordes of fans showing up in costume, make-up, everything. For a film they haven't even seen yet! And they keep going back again and again! We even saw several people with Repo tattoos! So I think it's fairly safe to say that it will be a cult favorite for years to come.
What do you know about a sequel? Do you think there will be a second Repo?
Bold|Joseph White: I know that Darren, as well as the writers Terrence Zdunich and Darren Smith, have talked about a pre-quel, explaining the rise to power of the Largo family but nothing has officially moved forward. I do think there are more stories to tell within this sick, amazing, funny, and fantastic world, and hopefully we'll get the chance to tell them.
Repo! the Genetic Opera! hits store shelves on DVD and Blu-Ray starting January 20th, 2009.