I’m glad Repo Men is now available on Blu-ray. For one, it’ll surely be discovered and embraced by those who missed it in theaters. It’s a solid sci-fi satire that almost any hardcore genre fan should enjoy and appreciate for its lunacy. It’s a lot of fun, has a slick style to it and has a detestable man at the center of it. It’s not too often we see a protagonist this unlikable in a studio feature, and it’s refreshing. Repo Men rarely pulls its punches, especially when it comes to the bloody side of things.
I spoke with director Miguel Sapochnik when Repo Men initially came out, and he was kind enough to give another interview (via email) in accordance to the Blu-ray release. With Repo Men, Sapochnik has crafted a promising feature debut. The film has its problems, but it’s got two things going for it that most films don’t: ambition and a subversive, take-it-or-leave it quality.
Here’s what Miguel had to say about the referential nature of the film, the production/filming process, and his anti-hero:
(Note: Heavy Spoilers Discussed)
When the film came out people made a lot of comparisons to Paul Verhoven and Cronenberg, but does that irk you at all, or is that flattering? Seems a bit like a double-edged sword.
Well, on the one hand, I have no problem with people making comparisons. It’s flattering to be referenced alongside such great filmmakers. Everybody plagiarizes, copies, reinvents, reimagines ideas again and again. Avatar; Pocahontas, la Jette. Inception; la Jette again. Aliens; the Dirty Dozen. etc. etc. The list is endless. I did however feel that our film got singled out for something that everybody does -whether in story or execution- as if we had mistakenly used someone else ideas and forgotten to take off the label and that did irk me. I would like to point out that the third act of the film is purposefully meant to be referential. It was not a mistake. It’s his dream, a fantasy projection of himself as a hero he can never be (because of who is) and I am sure that the character Remy watched many classics like Oldboy, Robocop, Crash etc. just as I did, or you did. I think this went over a lot of people’s heads. They were too busy jumping on the band wagon of singling out the movie for a good trashing. I have no problem with the comparisons, but it did bother me the context in which our film was compared.
When you came on board I’m sure you made script changes, so what did you alter in Eric and Garret’s draft?
The script underwent many changes from when I came on to [it] when we set it up and then again went through a myriad of changes as the rest of team had their input. I changed the ending a lot, wanting to do something different to the normal brainless wham-bam-thank-you -am thing that gets done when people don’t have many ideas of how to end a movie. We were also pulling from the book and there is just so much in there to pull from, that often it was a case of trying to pair down what we had or find a more economic way telling the same story or beat.
You really stretched the budget you had, which was around 30 million. Was anything you couldn’t shoot, though?
Loads, but in the end very little of it mattered. There were some cuts during production and some flashbacks that were seriously simplified (like shooting only the interior of the tank rather than the Buzz Berkley synchronized tank fighting I wanted to do) but in the end it was fine. The only thing I would have liked to do is shot more scenes on the move and outdoors to increase the scope. I would also like to have had even one day of reshoots to fix the holes that were left by reconceiving the whole Beth backstory. We didn’t have a single day of reshoots which is rare by Hollywood standards.
What did you want to achieve with the scene between Remy and T-Bone? Was it a way of letting the audience know early on how insane Remy was — that he can have a heart to heart moment with someone he respects and then easily kill them?
Sort of. In the script T-bone is a character that returns later on in the story once Remy is in the Nurel net and symbolizes his change of heart but this was cut due to budget in the middle of the shoot. Yes, it was a way of giving a face to Remy’s loneliness. The original scene we shot was a fair bit longer and more about these two guys finding this unlikely common ground in music. The idea of making Remy accessible through his love for music was always a big theme in film throughout. In another cut scene Remy actually swaps this assignment with Jake. It turns out T-Bone is responsible for the song he used to make love to Carol (Carice van Houten) to back in the day so Remy has a special affinity to the man. Yeah, I guess its ultimate goal was to show just how disconnected from reality Remy is and yet allow us to see that he truly doesn’t think he’s doing any wrong. Job’s a job. He’s a perfect product of an inhumane society. Affable. Likable but also ignorant, remorseless and relentless.
I have to ask about the sex surgery scene. Is the idea that Remy finds violence as appetizing as sex?
The ‘love’ scene (which is how it was intended) is exactly that. The powers that be really wanted us to end the movie with a bang and we were looking at having them fight another hundred guys to get out of the Union HQ and then blow it up etc etc etc., sound boring and tedious? So, myself and the writers were trying really hard to find a way to take it to the next level, but at the same time not succumb to one of the things I hate the most about action movies ie; the third act. At a loss for any new or innovative ways to resolve the problem, we went to eat some thai food at thai elvis on sunset (?) and as eric was ordering more and more chili for his spicy thai beef salad and we had ben going round and round in circles trying to think how we would top the long corridor scene (and incidentally a huge fight in the factory floor that got cut last minute for budget reasons) I think I said the lines from the film, “The only way they can get out of the system is to repo themselves,” and that’s kind of what happened. The more we considered the possibility, the more it tickled us that a Hollywood action movie could actually end with a crazy love scene and so it was written as follows…
INT. RECLAMATION ROOM – NIGHT
As old love song plays, A SERIES OF SHOTS, as if Remy and Beth are making love. Faces close, panting, grunting —
Mixed with glimpses of scalpels, flesh, blood, and glints of metal, set off by the computer BEEPING in the background —
I think I really liked it as an idea because it was also the ultimate act of love between these two, the ultimate penetration so character and storywise it worked. Had she stayed his first wife I would have cut the love scene between them in the middle of the movie and had this be the first time they make love. As a final act to their story it was meant to both shock and arouse in a weird way because that is how Remy’s mind works (and funnily enough it touches on most people’s base fears; sex and death). So, idea done but then we just had to film it which was actually just like filming a love scene, and keep it in the cut. The latter being one of the biggest challenges…
Where did the idea come from for using ‘Sing it Back’ during the sex scene? That worked wonderfully.
It just fit incredibly well. I had originally intended to put a Nina Simone track on there, but when we arrived at that scene I decided to try something different. I have always been a huge fan of the original album version of Moloko’s Sing it Back which is surprisingly dark and quite unknown in comparison to the Boris DUGLOSH remix. We did try other songs over the course of the edit, but the first one tends to stick and luckily they let us have it.
As for the test screening process, were you worried going in knowing that it is such a divisive film?
Yes, I was, but that’s the process you have to go through if you’re making a studio film. Interestingly, the focus groups we had were extremely positive but the scores were [in the] mid sixties and the overall opinion was divided. No surprise there. People would talk for ages about the film after the fact and discuss their thoughts which I thought was great, but often their immediate reaction when you put a questionnaire in front of them right after the movie ended was a reaction to either their elation or disappointment at the dream ending. Ironically the same people who would initially be disappointed would often also become the strongest advocates of the film after about 24 hrs.
You mentioned last time that an hour was cut out. What was in all of that?
Mostly it was the backstory about Remy and Jake and the war and the Union and Beth. There were also a bunch of secondary character moments of which some are in the Unrated cut like John Leguizamo who played a black market repo man or one of my favorite scenes with Remy and his son. We put all this section together for the blu-ray but I’m not sure that they kept it in there. Maybe they are saving it for another release.
Why was the backstory between Remy and Beth taken out?
Time among other things.
Was there more of Remy and Carol?
Yes. Some of it is in the Unrated cut.
I really like the deleted scene involving Remy doing an odd job of driving a guy around. It fills in the blank as to what he’s been doing when it comes to trying get money for his payments. Was that also cut for pacing?
Time. There were a whole bunch of scenes around then that were cut. Some in the writing, some in production, some in editing. One of my favs was Remy trying to work as a waiter in TGI Fridays until some frat boys make a passing comment about his uniform….
As for the ending, why go that route? Was there any trepidation on anyone’s part that Remy loses instead of, say, saving the day like most protagonists?
Yes absolutely, but what’s the point in playing safe? The truth is as many last ditch attempts fail as succeed. You can’t beat the system. Everybody knows that. Ironically that’s often why we go to the movies to see movies that pretend we can. I wanted to give the audience the ending they wanted; Remy beats the system, gets the girl, runs off into the sunset with his best friend. But I also didn’t want to let them off the hook; actually it’s a dream. That said, I think it is a happy ending because he’s happy and reality is relative anyway.
There’s a lot of shots that really just pop. How calculated are you when it comes to planning a shot?
I used to be a storyboard artist and I guess it shows although I only storyboarded one scene in the film myself which was the love scene. I kind of do whatever is appropriate to the story, try not to repeat myself and hope that there is enough time to do it in. I had a great DOP and that helped.
Where’d you come up with the idea of a hacksaw POV shot?
Honestly, I have no idea. That scene was shot in three days. We were told we had exactly that shooting time from the moment Remy and Beth walk in one door to the moment they walk through the other door at the other end or they would pull the plug. We even had to build a side door halfway down the corridor in case we didn’t have time to kill all 21 Union men and needed to let a few slip out without it seeming weird that they just disappeared. So, we shot the whole thing in sequence. I had been so busy that I did not see the actual choreography in its entirety until the day of and had just been focusing on fighting for there to be as many stuntmen as I could possibly fit down one end of the corridor because once again, this is Remy’s fantasy of himself, his super ego and he needs to kick some arse and then some. So, we literally had this fifty-foot corridor that you could take one wall out of (it had marginally been 150 ft, but the budget forced us to keep making it shorter and shorter), 21 stunt men, Jude, Alice and a bag full of work tools and we slowly worked our way through the tools and through the stunt men. Getting to the end of those three days and killing everybody and it coming out like it did was one of the more exhilarating experiences of the film. I also knew the song I was doing it to and that helped. So, in answer to your question, I guess at some point in the middle of the mayhem, myself and Quique the DOP thought; How are we going to get this hacksaw to travel forty feet from there to here? And that’s what we came up with. Evil Dead-style.
What are you currently working on or doing next?
I am actually just finishing a script about a kind of visceral cop thriller set in London. It’s pretty full-on, but more straight genre than Repo. I’m hoping to shoot next spring in the UK. I’m also spending the next two weeks drawing a bunch of concept boards for a big pitch for a very big movie I have been wanting to make for a long time. I have been working with a company called Double Barrel Motion Labs developing motion comics for various vendors and also looking at how we can integrate the process of motion comics (which are essentially 2D animation panels) into the filmmaking process as a means to both pre-visualize larger projects for a fraction of the normal price and then sell as axillary product towards the movie marketing later down the line. I am also directing an episode of House MD this September which I am very excited about because Hugh Laurie rocks.
Repo Men is currently out on DVD and Blu-ray.