Director Darren Bousman ("Saw II-IV," "Repo: The Genetic Opera") is saying goodbye to Hollywood studios -- for his new flick "The Devil's Carnival," anyway. After he and writer Terrance Zdunich poured their hearts and souls into cult classic "Repo: The Genetic Opera" only to have the studios give it a paltry two-theater release, they decided to take things into their own hands with "The Devil's Carnival," a macabre rock musical eagerly anticipated by "Repo"'s devoted fanbase.
Of course, no studio means no money, no distribution and a heck of a lot of work for Bousman and company. "It's all us. It's four dudes in a house updating the website, putting the merch out there, booking the theaters. There is no conglomerate behind us," Bousman explains.
This isn't the first time he's taken things into his own hands. After Lionsgate relegated "Repo" to just two theaters, Bousman begged them for the rights to run his own screenings for a month, and concocted a fun road show that attracted a loyal fanbase and ultimately transformed "Repo" into a cult classic.
This time around, Bousman self-financed "The Devil's Carnival," which meant the impressive cast he scored (including "Goodfellas" legend Paul Sorvino, "Deadwood"'s Dayton Callie, "Boondock Saints" star Sean Patrick Flanery, "90210"'s Jessica Lowndes, Clown from Slipknot and international singing star Emilie Autumn) weren't in it for the money. "Nobody made shit on this, so you're dealing with people who're there because they want to be there, not because of the paycheck," says Bousman.
With no studio behind them to secure a wide release, Bousman, Zdunich and members of the cast and crew are taking "The Devil's Carnival" on a rock 'n' roll-style road show beginning April 5, with screenings and Q&As in theaters across the US and Canada. Cheering, singing, screaming, yelling and even booing at the screen are all encouraged. "We want to make it fun to go to the movies again -- to create an experience that can't be downloaded," says Bousman. "I think that part of filmmaking has kind of been lost. People now go to a theater in a strip mall in a multiplex with 30 other screens, sit silently in a packed room and then go home. Where's the fun in that?"
We chatted more with Bousman to get all the gory details about the deliciously dark "Devil's Carnival." For details about how to get tickets to a screening in your 'hood, check out The Devil's Carnival site.
What's it like doing everything on your own?
It's liberating because there's nobody to blame outside of yourself. I can't say "Oh, it's because it was held for two years," or "Oh, the studio didn't get it and marketed it wrong." That's extremely liberating as well as it is stressful. I'm doing the job as a director, a PR person, a merchandise person, a tour booker. But there's no more rewarding feeling. I can't explain how it feels to show up at a theater and have lines wrapping around the block.
What was it like working with people like Clown and Emilie Autumn? Was this their first acting experience?
It was. These guys are rock stars. What's crazy about it is you never expect someone from Slipknot to come in and be nervous or anxious. They have such huge personas on stage. But they were. As a director it's the most liberating experience because you're dealing with true artists. And getting to see them doing something that they're not used to doing was pretty awesome.
What about people like Dayton Callie and Sean Patrick Flanery? Do they sing in this?
Yeah, everyone sings in this. The other thing that's pretty amazing as a filmmaker, when I'm doing other movies like "Saw" or "The Barrens," you make a list of 30 names for every character and hope for the best, and hope you get who you want, but you never know ... what's great about this movie is that I got every single person we went to immediately. Dayton is a perfect example. I think it's because we're offering them a chance to do something they don't normally do. Here's a chance to say to Dayton Callie, "Hey, come sing a song, come dance around with these 18 other people, that's something completely different." I think that was kind of cool. Everyone knows Sean Patrick Flanery from toting guns and jumping off buildings or whatever, and then all of a sudden here's Sean Patrick Flanery singing, which is pretty badass.
Will Anthony Stewart Head ("Repo," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") be in this?
Sadly, no. We actually called Anthony to be in this. He was overseas at the time, and given the fact that I'm financing this thing, I couldn't afford to fly him over for that amount of time.
How did Jessica Lowndes get involved?
I've known Jessica for about five years, before she did "90210." I knew she was a singer. I had been out of touch with her, then I saw one of her videos online and thought not only is she extremely beautiful and a good actress, but she's got a set of pipes on her. So we called her up and she agreed to do this thing. She's a really cool character. In fact, it's her voice in the trailer.
Can you tell me a bit more about the concept?
"The Devil's Carnival" is the first episode in what will hopefully be many episodes. It is about three characters that have been sent to Hell. The characters don't realize at the beginning that they're each in hell, and they each embody a classic Aesop fable. So this whole thing in a microcosm is basically retelling and modernizing Aesop's fables. It's something Terrance and I have both always responded to because they're dark, macabre morality lessons. So basically these three characters sent to Hell -- Sean Patrick Flanery, Briana Evigan ("Step Up 2") and Jessica Lowndes -- embody a different Aesop fable. It's set against this weird crazy world that Lucifer oversees, being Hell, and the carnival. So weird interesting characters that are all damned interact with these three people that have been sent there. Each episode will be new tellings of Aesop's fables, told by the same people.
What will Paul Sorvino be playing this time?
Paul Sorvino plays God, which is pretty awesome. I've worked with Paul before, he's one of my favorite people in the world, and this role is meant for him.
Who plays Lucifer?
That's something I can't tell you at this exact second. That's kind of a surprise.
Did you consider using Paris Hilton ("Repo") again at any point?
We did. I love Paris. The thing is, you have to be careful when using Paris because for me, as a filmmaker, the part has to be right for her. I'm not just going to put Paris Hilton in a movie because she's Paris Hilton, because that invalidates everything we're trying to do. I need Paris to be right for the role. After we looked at the script there just wasn't anything in there that was perfect for her. However, you will be seeing her in future episodes because we have a killer role for her that we think she's going to love and people are going to love seeing her in.
Anything else you'd like people to know about "The Devil's Carnival"?
I hope this encourages other filmmakers to take things into their own hands and try it themselves. Because, you know, Hollywood is known for saying no. That's the answer you need to say in Hollywood or you lose your job. If a movie comes out and it's not successful, that's your ass. Because of that, a lot of filmmakers are met with that answer a lot more than they should be. I think just because you're told no doesn't mean you can't make something. You can if you're willing to put in the work and the hours and sacrifice a lot. All of us sacrificed for this.