A little over a week ago, Universal Pictures debuted the trailer for the studio’s upcoming film, Repo Men. The movie is set in the not-so-distant future where an evil corporation finances organ transplants, but when recipients can’t keep up with their organ payments…repo men are deployed to reclaim the company’s property. Sound familiar?
Since the trailer went live, I’ve been flooded with emails and messages from fans of REPO! The Genetic Opera—many of them outraged—asking if I have anything to do with this new film, wondering if Hollywood is really that unoriginal, wanting to know when I’m going to sue for copyright infringement, and how they can help.
I’m continually impressed by the supportiveness of REPO!’s fans and am touched by this outpour of solidarity—thank you, all! But rather than attempt to address individually your numerous inquiries, I’ll outline my take on the REPO! vs. Repo Men tango here.
Firstly: the creators of REPO!, Darren Smith and I, have nothing whatsoever to do with Repo Men. Nor does REPO!’s producers, or director.
Secondly: while the release of the Repo Men trailer has alerted many of you to the existence of this similarly-premised project, REPO!’s creators and producers have been aware of Repo Men for some time: shortly after the film version of REPO! was greenlit, we were informed that Universal was working on a suspiciously similar film. At the time, the project was titled Repossession Mambo.
Startled by this news and fearing a potential lawsuit, REPO!’s producers and legal team—small players compared to the industry behemoth that is Universal Pictures—asked Darren Smith and I to come forward with all of our copyright paperwork for REPO!. We did.
Our documentation included evidence of REPO!’s almost ten year journey from small black box theatre performances to an off-off Broadway production to a short film that led to the financing of the eventual 2008 movie. We presented flyers, play bills, photographs, and verification of a web presence that dated back to the late ‘90’s when Darren Smith and I formed our theatrical rock duo, The Gallery.
As The Gallery, Darren and I wrote and performed what we called ten-minute operas—short stories put to music—including the tale of The Necromerchant’s Debt about a grave robber living in a dystopian future. The middle song in this three-song operetta, “The Genetic Repo Man”, was about the organ snatching activities of the publicly dreaded Repo Man. The Necromerchant’s Debt became REPO! and the song—virtually unchanged—is now the opening number to our movie.
On the flipside, we were told that Universal’s ostensibly cloned concept was based on a book. At the time, we could find no record of the novel, which was later published in 2009 as The Repossession Mambo—one full year after REPO! the film was released.
Satisfied that Darren Smith and I came up with REPO! long before Repo Men (or Repossession Mambo) came into existence, our producers carried on with the production of our film, but at the time we asked the same question that is now being posed to me in a continuous outpour of letters from REPO!’s fans: can we sue these guys?
Several entertainment attorneys told us that while the script, characters, and music of REPO! are copyright protected, the ideas are not. In other words: unless exact lines of dialogue or identical lyrics were lifted from REPO! and placed into Repo Men—which would prove beyond a doubt that plagiarism had occurred—that we did not have a case. We were further told that attempting to litigate against Universal’s mammoth legal team would be, in effect, financial suicide.
So, in response to your many expressed concerns: no, we are not planning to sue Repo Men. Further: even if I wanted to bring legal action against Universal Pictures, it’s really not my battle to have; Twisted Pictures and Lions Gate Films now own the rights to REPO! Any potential legal action on behalf of the property would need to be initiated by these studios.
All that said, after watching the Repo Men trailer, I feel that while the two films share a premise, there appears to be little else in common. REPO! exists as a whacky art film, a sliver of cult cinema. Repo Men looks like a gigantically-budgeted Hollywood blockbuster. And Repo Men is NOT an opera.
Also: it seems unlikely that Repo Men, no matter how successful it may be at the box office, will ever garner the sort of intense fan support that REPO! has. I doubt we will see people dressing up as Jude Law (who stars in Repo Men) and acting out scenes from the film in the aisles of theatres over a year after the movie’s initial release. This is what is happening with REPO! All over the world.
As fans of REPO!, it seems that one of the things you love about our project is its uniqueness. Repo Men does not threaten this. It exists almost as the antithesis to what you love about REPO!: it’s mainstream. Because of this, Repo Men will undoubtedly have a huge marketing budget and a public presence that REPO! never did (and probably never will). As fans of REPO!, this gives you a unique opportunity to testify to those who bring up Repo Men, those who may be unaware of the existence of REPO! The very controversy over what looks like idea theft could rally a whole new viewership to REPO!’s fandom.
Emotions aside, I think the trailer to Repo Men looks pretty cool, and I wish the filmmakers nothing but luck with their project.
**UPDATED FEBRUARY 23, 2010: I received so many responses to this blog entry that I posted a follow-up article, “Idea Repossession? Part II”, which can be viewed here.