Q&A With Repo Writer Terrance Zdunich

Last month’s Wicked Faire was the usual hodgepodge of fun, a faire plus a con plus a healthy dose of the downright weird. I spent a lot of time running around with craziness related to my band, so I missed the screening of Repo! The Genetic Opera, performed with a shadow-cast a la Rocky Horror, but I did catch writer Terrance Zdunich’s Q&A session the next day. People asked about his favorite movies and music, his inspirations for Repo, the movie biz, and showering.

How did you end up with such a great cast? Was it harder because you had this weird movie?

We only got people that were completely interested, completely committed to the idea. You would think someone like Sarah Brightman would be difficult, right? But we put it to her and the next day she said “yes.” There was no, “Well, let me see,” there was no—it was just, “You got it.” Especially if you look at Repo, you get that, man, this is out there.

And then Paul Sorvino, you know? It was weird, like, I’m a huge fan of Goodfellas, so it was always kind of weird to be sitting there with Paulie! But, you know, he came in and in a very touching way, was like, “You know, my conflict in my life,” this is what he said, he said, “was that I always I wanted to be an opera singer. I want to be actually a successful singer,” and it’s like, the grass is always greener, right? I mean, you’re a legendary American actor. You’ve made millions of dollars, right, you’ve done that whole thing. You have a daughter that won an Academy Award. And it’s like, well, he wanted to be an opera singer. And his mother told him he couldn’t. So that’s part of his thing, right, and he’s honestly trying to work it out. So he comes to me, with almost tears in his eyes, and says, “I know I don’t have a lot of time left, I’ve got more days behind me than ahead of me, and this is something that now people can go and look at me and recognize that I’m a singer.” So it wasn’t a hard sell at all, it was more like, please!

Do you have a favorite movie of all time? Or album?

First of all, what’s your name?


Ah. Rob is part of the reason for last night’s delinquencies. Um, favorite album. Jesus. You know, I don’t know. There are so many. Movies? This is probably going to sound very non-Repo, but there were movies that were, like, pivotal to me, like The Exorcist, for example. That rocked my world. But I wouldn’t necessarily watch it over and over and over again, but there are movies that I do. They don’t necessarily rock my world so hard, but I enjoy them over and over and over again. I think Repo is one of those type of movies, I hope at least, but I have to say The Big Lebowski. I can watch that—that’s one of the few things I can have on while I working. You know, it’s like, I just think it’s funny as hell and it just tickles me. It’s so well done in many ways.

Music? I don’t know. I go through phases. When I’m listening to music, I tend to—my playlist is like, I cue up an album on a rotation of one for a while, and I do that and then I switch over. Right now I’m really, really into Tom Waits. In terms of favorite album of his, I don’t know. New Tom, probably Alice, old Tom, probably Small Change. But then I like things like Ol’ Dirty Bastard, so…!

Do you ever think yo
u’ll be able to release a
director’s cut of all the stuff you couldn’t fit in the movie? A lot of back story couldn’t fit in, but I listened to the commentary and there’s a lot things that you’re like, “Aw, I would love to see that!” and then…you couldn’t.

Anything is possible, but I would probably say no. We were running out of money the whole way, you know, and it was like, literally, there were days where the producers would come to me and say, “Which of these two scenes do you want to film? You make the decision or I’ll make it for you.” And that’s kinda like, okay, shit! Also, really, I think the move is the best it could be, based on everything we were working with, so I don’t really miss the scenes that were cut. Some of them exist as audio experiences, outside the move. “Needle Through A Bug,” I’m so glad that got recorded. But, because we were making those choices as we were doing it, there were scenes that were just never fully completed, some parts didn’t get shot. So I think it would require, to release the whole director’s cut and have it feel cohesive, it would probably require more money, probably going back in and re-shooting a couple things that we missed.

I mean, who knows, if this thing continues to grow, maybe down the road we’ll want to do that, or there’ll be enough interest to do that. I personally, I’d be more interested—and I hope that you’d all agree—in having all the music released as a full opera, like a three-disc thing with a libretto inside, and that’s far more doable than the movie. But, you know, I don’t know—I’m new to Hollywood, so maybe there’s some magic buttons. Maybe they’ll say, “Hey, do we know anyone that can draw to fill in the holes?” And this time I’ll have it in writing.

I know you just mentioned that you didn’t have a lot of money for the movie and I know you’ve been doing a lot of promoting, like with the road tours, giveaways, internet stuff, basically crowdsourcing your marketing to fans. Did you have a plan for that? Did it just kind of develop?

No, and I’ve said this before, so not to sound repetitive, but we thought we were making a mainstream movie, as weird as that is. I don’t mean that we were like, “Hey, we’re selling out,” but rather, we were just making something we liked. And then when somebody said, “We’re going to write a check for several million dollars to make it happen, and then Sarah Brightman’s going to be in it, and Paul Sorvino’s going to be in it,” to me that feels like, shit, we made it! We’re mainstream! And we’re going to be in, whatever, in three thousand theaters and we’re going to be on billboards and all of that, and that’s what I thought. And, in fact, through the filming process we all thought we were making something everyone would love.

I think, thankfully, we were wrong, because if we were right, and Repo was released that way, the way we originally wanted, I think it would have come and gone very quickly. It would have been ridiculed and it would have been marketed completely inappropriately, because how do you market something like Repo? It’s like, how do you write up a two-paragraph thing that sums it up? How does one image on a poster sum up Repo? I mean, you can do that with a romantic comedy. You’re like, “Oh, I’ve seen that movie before. I’ve seen that one. Have you seen this one?”

 I think the failure in the mainstream way is ultimately what made us work harder and made us discover, in many ways, how Repo should be marketed and really what it’s about, and I think we always—it started out as a stage play, it started out as a concert, you know, and that’s what I like. That’s one of the reasons I did it. I like the audience-participatory nature of it. There was nothing in my mind that was saying, “Yeah, make a movie where people quietly sit and watch and are thoughtful,” and I think the fact that it’s exclusive, even, it helps people to get it. It really helps to come together at one time, as opposed to being kind of dispersed. It’s like, “Oh, Repo‘s here for only one night at this time? Everybody get your fuckin’ costumes on and go!” So I think it’s helped to foster this community. I feel so honored that it’s worked as well as it has. It’s been very difficult to make it happen, you know, but I wouldn’t have it any other way in the final analysis.

And by the way, this has been so successful that I’m just waiting for someone to copy that, and poorly, by the way. Some major movie is going to be like, “Let’s get the boy from Twilight and let’s take him around!” And then once you have the security detail, you just miss the point. But I’ve found this has been so cool and so real, and really getting to meet people who enjoy my art and to have people share their art with me in return.

For my graphic novel, I don’t know how to do it yet, but I really thinking I’m going to treat it similar to this. I’m not even going to try to get a publisher. I don’t want to deal with jumping and asking permission and then having my work pay for someone else. I think I want to take it and make a limited exclusive thing and tour it. Kind of like a book tour, but more rock star.

I know on Repo you worked with the director of the Saw movies, but if you could have your choice of any director, either in Hollywood or in the indie scene, who would you want to work with?

Not Repo, right? Here’s the thing. I have a feeling that some of the people whose work I respect the most are probably the most difficult to be around. And it’s kind of like, you know, who doesn’t love the Beatles, right? But really, the only one I’d probably want to be in a room with is Ringo. The rest of them are fucking maniacs! And so I want to say someone like David Lynch or Terry Gilliam, or the Coen brothers—I mean, Christ, I want to quote Big Lebowski lines to them. Maybe Tim Burton? It seems like an obvious choice, but hell, he likes animation and so do I, so… Those are probably some of my favorites. I also like Wes Anderson. Napoleon Dynamic ripped him off big-time, it actually made him more popular, but I think his sensibility is really cool, smart. I like outlandish tales with a human core.

Donnie Darko?

Donnie Darko, yeah. Did you see Southland Tales? I did, too. I think it’s kind of like Repo in the sense that a lot of people hear about it because people are like, “You’ve got to see this fucked-up thing.” And don’t even know, at the end of it, what I felt. I was just kind of stupefied, but I appreciate that they were going for something different. I’m always going to support that, even if it’s not for me. If someone just went out there and displayed courage, I’d like to think that we would all support it, but unfortunately, that is not really the way human nature works.

I know that sometimes with a stage show, like, Rocky Horror was a stage show and then a movie and now the show keeps coming back. Do you think Repo the stage show could ever go to Broadway?

It’s a good question, and I’ll say that I get asked that question, or questions about “How do I get Repo back on the stage?” or “I’m a student at Such-and-Such University, and we want to do Repo here” or “I’m just So-and-So and I want to get all my friends together and act out Repo.” And it’s awesome that so many people are asking that, because I’d love to see it happen. It’s a hard thing, because I’ve made myself so available that I get all these questions, and the reality is, I’m not in control of that at all. So I’m going to be building a facts page on my website soon that answers a lot of questions. That said, I’d love to see Repo on stage, although ultimately, for me, the movie is the, the banner.

That’s not to say that I don’t want to see it happen. It could be done successfully. It adapted so much—like, if you read the first stage play, the fully-mounted one, versus the second one, versus the third one, even versus the screenplay and then what’s on the screen, they’re all very different. There’s a similar premise, but so much is different that it would require quite a bit of work by somebody to adapt it back into a workable stage play now that the movie exists. And I’d be open to doing it, but that would be a huge undertaking and at this particular moment I kind of want to move forward. Plus, I don’t own the property, so I don’t know. Maybe down the road, Lion’s Gate come to me and says, “Terrence, adapt the movie back into a stage play, we’re going to license it.” But right now, I’d say if you want to do your own Repo stuff, do it until someone tells you you can’t. [laughing]

I know you’re here, but this is a con, so it’s a little different—are you still doing touring where there are screenings playing?

Well, yeah, there’s some good news, a couple of things. One, we’re going to the UK the second week of March. So that’s exciting. I’ve never been to Europe, so I’m looking forward to that. And then following that, I’m looking forward to doing nothing. I’m going to lock myself in a room and work on my graphic novel. But the good news is that I think because of our efforts with the road tour, and just kind of the general deal about Repo, we put it in the hands of fans to start promoting the project, and it’s probably going to go so much better than what’s been done, and probably better than us. We don’t know which theaters are appropriate in Tennessee or wherever, England, but we have now the PR team to promote the movie. They are now—they basically—Lion’s Gate gave them permission to take the movie—not take it like, own it, but literally be in charge of promoting it in theaters and such from now on.

L.A. just got confirmed for a regular midnight showing, once a week, ongoing. Several more theaters are very close to that happening. We’re hoping by next month to announce on the board that Repo is playing now in, whatever, twelve major cities on an ongoing basis, for as long as people show up. So the point is, it’s happening. And if you’re in a city where you have a theater and you have Repo fans who want to see that happen, I can’t personally go and grab the print and take it to you, but Adrenaline PR can now, they have permission from Lion’s Gate. They’re getting a commission of the door, so they’re covered financially, and I’m sure it’ll be all over the board on how you can make that happen if it’s a serious enough offer, meaning, like, you can see the longevity of that working.

What we don’t want to have happen is to take the movie somewhere and two people who up and it’s like, well, that didn’t work, we’re not releasing it anymore. We want to have it as a mainstay in several cities for a while, and then maybe switch it up, and now, with the fact that you can project digitally, there’s no limit. A few years ago you had to have the actual print of the movie—I think there’s about 500 of Rocky Horror in existence—but now, people project off of DVDs and it’s not bad-looking. Hell, at the New Jersey stop, that was off a DVD and I thought it looked great, it looked better than a lot of the prints. So the fact is that it’s almost limitless, we could get this going and hopefully have it go on for years and years and have people, that’ll be their Friday night now, you know, dressing up and going to Repo.

You have this dystopian world where murder is legal in some cases—how did that originate?

Well, I wish I could say that was my idea. I could, but I’d be a liar. The whole story of Repo began as—Daren Smith and I were doing these ten-minute operas, ten-minute short stories put to music, we were performing them out. It was much more performance art than it was opera, or theater, and we would basically do sets based around a theme, and we’d use whatever that theme was to help inspire us to write stories. So you could throw a word out, I don’t know, in this case it was “eosophobia,” which meant “fear of the dawn.” [laughing] Uh. I know. So I had several ideas, one was a man being released from prison, one was a guy waking up and finding his roommate dead in the room, and then the other one was this tale of a graverobber, who naturally would fear the dawn because he works at night. And I liked this idea of a character that was sort of Shakespearian, he was an observer of the underbelly of society.

I was thinking something like a Victorian melodrama, and Daren Smith kind of wisely said—my writing partner, Daren Smith—said, “We’ve seen that done a million times. Let’s put it in the future, make it different.” So I said, “Okay, if he’s not stealing gold rings and fillings and such, what is he stealing in the future? Well, he’s stealing DNA, you know, he’s stealing genetic coding.” And Daren Smith actually had a friend at the time that was doing through a bankruptcy, his possessisons were going, and so he was like, “Maybe in the future, body parts can be leased and collected on.” So that was kind of how it grew, and it was really one small part of the ten-minute opera, the Repo Man part, and everyone responded so well to it, everyone was like, “That’s a great idea, that could be a movie. Let’s get Universal to make it!” So anyway, that’s kind of how it grew, and the, ironically, the Graverobber character, who changed a lot over the various adaptations of it, ended up back as this disenfranchised narrator, commenting on society, which is how it started.

Any chance you might make an appearance at Dragon Con any time soon?

This is another one of those things that’s going to be on the facts page. It’s pretty awesome to suddenly be like, people want you to show up, and I get a lot of requests now, come to this con, come to that con. This is my first one, and it’s been a blast. But that said, I’ve been really travelling, basically managing Repo as a project for over a year, and I know me, I’m happiest when I’m creating. And I know my process, which is one of, lock the doors and don’t answer your phone. I’m really looking forward to getting back to it. That said, you know, I’ll put how we can make this happen on the page, but I’d be happy to go, I’d certainly want to go and support Repo, but things would have to be right. It would have to make enough sense for me to go, “Okay, I’m going to put my creative brain on hold and go out.” Because I feel like I could do this forever, and it’s awesome, but at some point you need to draw a line and say, “You know what, what’s next?” And who knows? Maybe next year, maybe my graphic novel is ready, maybe if I lock the door, I can be going and doing that. And talk about Repo, too.

In exchange for the movie getting made, you had to give up your creative property. How do you feel about that?

You know…it doesn’t bother me, at all, actually. The harder part is realizing that you gave it up and the new caretakers don’t necessarily get it, but the actual concept of holding onto your art and never sharing it, seems to be contrary to why we make art. And in the case of Repo—and it may not be the case of the graphic novel—but in the case of something like Repo, you need hundreds if not thousands of people. And honestly, I’d to think, as an artist, that my best work is still to come. I’d hate to think that that was it. I’m not holding onto the idea of, “Fuck, if I hadn’t sold it! Now what am I going to do?” Whatever conflict was my life that made me like this in the first place, it’s far from resolved! I like to think that there’s still plenty of stories, so I don’t feel like—well, it is mine, and it’s hard to see people, like, stealing from it or maybe not giving you credit for it, for the work you put in, but ultimately, that hasn’t changed. And I don’t feel like I sold out, I feel like we were true to our vision, in the end.

There’s obviously quite a bit of Victorian influence in the movie, in the clothing and everything, not just the futuristic stuff. When did you decide to do that?

The Victorian element? You know, it’s funny, because this movie’s been dubbed sort of the goth community’s Goth Opera, and I certainly didn’t set out to make that. In fact, much in the same way I thought I was making a mainstream movie, I had no idea that this would be so goth! I was just making what I like, and I don’t identify myself really with any culture, you know, I look at a magazine stand and I feel lost. I’m like, which one’s for me? I don’t really know. But the Victorian thing I guess more specifically, aside from me just really liking this stuff, I think goth chicks are fuckin’ hot. [laughing] But ultimately I think it’s because with Repo we tried to mix old and new. Old opera, new industrial, right? And I think the visual aesthetic is that way as well, it’s kind of like, there’s a lot of futuristic elements, but there’s also the old. And also, Nathan is a classic repressed Victorian gentleman. Maybe if he actually, like, got to be with a couple of goth chicks, he would have been okay, but instead he’s grieving over this portrait and fucking his poor daughter up. [laughing] But, yeah, it’s part of my aesthetic and you always have to like what you’re doing.

Do you have any sort of funny fan stories? Or have you met any crazy fans doing the Road Tour?

I’ll say this. I get a lot of stuff that makes me blush. But that said, I’ve met maybe one person that scared me. I’ve met scarier people going to the grocery store. It’s kind of cool, because I guess what I’m saying is that – it shouldn’t be a coincidence that if you’re an artist and you’re true to what you feel and what you like, that you’re going to attract like-minded people. And as such, I love Repo fans. The Road Tour’s been great, I never feel like it’s a chore or that it’s getting awkward, or like, wow, that crossed some sort of line. And the only person who was sort of…strange to me was in the lobby, he wasn’t even in the theater, and I thought, this guy might blow this fucking place up. That was the first time I thought, maybe I shouldn’t make myself so accessible. But he was crazy, he was crazy when he got up this morning, he’ll be crazy when he goes back to bed. But in general, the Repo community, it’s a film, it’s a work, and I’m very proud of the fact that it seems to appeal to very smart people, very creative people, who are very supportive of each other and us, and, ultimately, think just a little bit left of center.

What was the worst thing you ever heard someone say, like a critic say, about Repo?

We’ve had a lot of hate. I actually don’t read a lot of it, but Darren does, Darren the director. It drives him mad. Well, he’s already mad, we’re all mad here. I don’t know. To me, what upsets me more is not even so much the hate – I think someone called us the worst movie of the year, if not the worst movie of all time, something like that – what bothers me more is just uninformed people. There’s something about the pulpit of anonymity that is the internet, where it’s like, you can’t even spell, and you’re going to be talking shit about somebody’s story? It’s more the errors that bother me. And as far as criticism, I’m critical. There’s stuff I hate. I loathe it. I find things that are middle of the road really uncomfortable and offensive, and I’m not quiet about it, so if somebody finds something like a goth rock opera offensive, that’s their prerogative.

Earlier you said we could ask personal questions, so we might as well end with one. You mentioned that you were going to take a shower. How did that go, and what order do you wash in?

Well, first off, I’m very, very dirty. [laughing] Um, I don’t really know how to answer that except that the strange thing now that kind of dovetails into what you’re asking, which is a little bit of something personal, right? I’m so not usually concerned about my appearance at all. I’m very much a sit-in-a-room-and-draw kind of guy. Two pairs of pants and a razor sometimes is really all I need. But it’s weird not to be in a position now where there’s probably going to be a hundred plus photos just from this right now that are going to be posted, and then circulated, and people will make funny comments about it. Shower comments. So it’s a weird thing now to suddenly be self-conscious.

It’s so strange, because you realize now it’s like, you’re actually being looked at, instead of just sort of lurking in the shadows, and I think I’m more comfortable that way, even though you imaging the Graverobber being so not that. He’s an exhibitionist. I think that’s probably why the character appealed to me, because he’s kind of the antithesis of who I am in real life. I’m not flashy. I feel like I’m more productive when I’m sort of left alone. But so, the idea of showering, and feeling like, you know, if I step out here and I smell, someone’s going to write about it. If my hair is greasy, it’s going to be in a bunch of photos, but I feel like, God, did I suddenly become a fucking princess? [laughing] I blow-dried my hair! It’s like, what the fuck, what’s become of me? I’ve never done that, but I thought, well, you know, people will be taking photos, so, yeah. Showering is typically optional. This is just forcing me to have better hygiene, and I resent it.

Check out Terrance’s website (not for the cockroach-phobic) and his blog about Wicked Faire (including the neat stuff he got from fans).

[All photos capped from my video of the Q&A.]


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