Interview: ‘Hobo with a Shotgun’ Director Jason Eisener
Canadian Director Turns Fake Trailer into Feature
Originally published May 20, 2011 at 6 a.m., updated June 23, 2011 at noon
If the Rapture or zombie apocalypse is coming, please spend your last film watching time with the wickedly inventive "Hobo With a Shotgun" rather than with some tired old formula film like "Pirates of the Caribbean 4." NOTE: "Hobo with a Shotgun" will play June 24 and 25 at midnight at the Ken Cinema.
Like "Machete," "Hobo With a Shotgun" (available on demand now and opening May 20 in LA and coming midnight June 24 and 25 at Landmark's Ken Cinema) began as a faux movie trailer.
Back in 2007, SXSW teamed up with Robert Rodriguez to put on a competition in conjunction with the release of "Grindhouse." The competition: create a fake trailer in the style of exploitation movies from the 1970s and 80s.
So Canadian filmmaker Jason Eisener immediately went out with a real shotgun on the streets of his hometown of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and starting shooting. Five days and $120 later he had a fake trailer for "Hobo with a Shotgun." Here's the trailer he submitted to the contest.
His film won and then took off virally and quickly had people demanding a feature film. Now, 3 years later, Eisener is on a promotional tour for the feature film inspired by his fake trailer and starring Rutger Hauer.
The film is a wild, over-the-top, jaw-dropping homage to 70s exploitation cinema. The colors pop like neon signs and the blood flows by the bucket loads as Hauer plays a homeless man who grabs a shotgun and starts making some changes in a corrupt town. Or as a headline reads: "Hobo stops begging, demands change." Hauer is perfect as the hobo who gets mad as hell and just can't take it any more.
Eisener still finds it a little hard to believe that Hauer is playing character Eisener made up for a fake trailer and that the fake trailer has become a real film getting distribution. Although Eisener is young and Canadian he reveals an affection for American grindhouse films of the 70s and 80s. He recalls growing up in Canada and picking up VHS tapes of "crazy exploitation films of the 70s and 80s" from the local pawn shop and then trying to watch 4 to 5 films a day. His immersion in American exploitation films shows in "Hobo" and in his delightfully twisted short "Treevenge," both of which bang their heads against the safe boundaries of mainstream cinema.
Eisener is refreshingly unwilling to obey any rules or conventions as a filmmaker. Audiences have been cheering on the excesses of "Hobo with a Shotgun" at festivals and limited run engagements. The film is currently available on Demand from Amazon, and is available on the big screen in LA this weekend. But San Diego audiences will have to wait until June 24 and 25 to see it in theaters. That's when it will have midnight screenings at Landmark's Ken Cinema.
Here is my interview with the delightful Jason Eisener.
Tell me how this fake trailer became a feature film?
Jason Eisener: Well we submitted the trailer and ended up winning that contest, then the trailer took off online and became a viral hit and people were demanding that we make a feature film so our Canadian distributor Alliance called us up and told us they wanted to put our trailer on the Canadian release of "Grindhouse." So they struck 186 film prints of our little mini-DV shot trailer and they released it with "Grindhouse." And they flew us up to Toronto to talk about the idea of making it into a feature film. We spent two or three years writing and raising money to make the feature.
Did you ever think you would be making a film based on your trailer with Rutger Hauer?
Jason Eisener: Not at all. At the time I thought maybe we might just go out and shoot it on weekends with our friends but we were able to get a decent budget together and I would never have thought that we would have someone like Rutger Hauer star in the film. Growing up he was the first actors that really caught my attention. When they asked me to make a list of my top five favorite actors who I thought could play the role I put Rutger Hauer at the top of the list thinking there was no way in hell that would ever happen. But within a couple days I got the script to his agent and the next thing I knew I had to get on Skype and have a conversation with him about the film.
What did Rutger Hauer bring to the role?
Jason Eisener: For me making "Hobo" was kind of like making a western, and Rutger just has this very cool, smooth style that I just always loved. He has this amazing ability to just give you a look to the camera, he doesn't have to say anything at all, and he could just give you a look, he creates such a mystery behind his performances and I've always loved that. Rutger really brings this kind of Man With No Name [the Clint Eastwood character created by Sergio Leone in a string of spaghetti westerns] sort of feel to it. I wanted to bring that to "Hobo." With Rutger he really understood that and what he liked about the movie was that I wanted to keep that character grounded and true, not play him so over the top, but rather let the world that he's entering be over the top and outrageous. He really got that. He brings a lot of heart and soul to the movie.
What is it about grindhouse and exploitation films that appeals to you?
Jason Eisener: I'm a kid of the 80s so I loved high concept ideas and when you're a kid growing up in the 80s you were subjected to so many crazy Saturday morning cartoons things like "Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles," "Ghostbusters," "Transformers" -- those were the first shows that I was watching and they were just filled with high concept ideas. So the natural transition for someone who loves high concepts is exploitation films because they are so outrageous and have amazing high concept ideas. Plus back in the 70s and 80s, filmmakers were making exploitation films and were trying to compete with big studio movies and they wouldn't have the budget to do big crazy special effects that a studio movie could do so they would use their imagination to come up with cool, crazy, outrageous, insane ideas that could bring an audience to the movie. And I love that spirit.
Describe the visual look of the film and the style of the effects you use.
Jason Eisener: It comes from growing up in the 80s, and watching lots of cartoons. And back then it was so full of color and prime colors to help attract a young audience. I just love that. And also genre films. I love Dario Argento's movies; they are so full of color. A lot of the 80s action movies like "Savage Streets," and "Vice Squad" and "Dead-end Drive-In" and "The Warriors." I just love the color palette in those films and it is always something that attracted my imagination. And so when it came time to shoot "Hobo" I wanted to create a surreal graffiti colorful world. And with the effects I'm definitely a fan of outrageous special effects in the sense that it's almost so crazy that it's absolutely unbelievable. You are watching it and someone gets shot and it's almost like a balloon of blood flying at the lens. Real life is nowhere near that but it's fun and I think people can watch the movie and laugh and have fun with those moments because it's comic book and cartoony. It's so over the top and even though some of the scenes might be very intense when you see those moments with such outrageous gore effects, it just kind of lightens up the mood and makes you have fun with it a little bit.
Would you call your film a satire in the same way George Romero was working in horror and satire?
Jason Eisener: Yeah absolutely.
What do you feel you are targeting?
Jason Eisener: When we were writing the script, there were definitely a lot of things that were going on in the world that were spilling into our script, just the idea of people losing their homes and not being able to afford to live in a home and being put on the street. And also the idea of terrorist acts being used to help control people or even the media helping to control a community. What we were seeing on the news was definitely in our minds and definitely had an influence on the scriptwriting process.
Most of the effects look to be practicals and not computer generated.
Jason Eisener: Everything is practical.
To me it seems like using practicals engages the audience and the actors more. And gives the film a much better feel than if you use CGI.
Jason Eisener: Yeah, I've never seen any gore effects in a film that look real, and every time I see a bad CGI effect it just completely takes me out of the movie and the story and the characters. There's just something off. But when an effect is done practically and even if it looks cheap or cheesy, it's still really fun because you know people worked really hard to do it and there's a heart and soul behind it because it's hard to do those effects. They never happen on the first take. They always take 45 minutes to reset. It's definitely a struggle to make those effects happen and I think it's kind of special when you see an effect on screen that's done practically. It's a better feeling knowing that it was done real rather than on a computer because CGI just feels fake and there's no heart and soul behind it.
Now there's a moment in "Treevenge" -- and a moment also in "Hobo" -- when young children are not only in danger but also become victimized. At the "Treevenge" screening I was at there was literally a pause and you could feel the whole audience holding its breath for a second and going, "Is the film really going to cross the line? Or not?" And when you do cross the line, it made those horror fans very happy. But I'm wondering what kinds of responses are you getting from non-horror fans?
Jason Eisener: I feel that I don't like putting limitations on myself. I mean bad things can happen to adults but also bad things can happen to kids too. I respect that [horror] audience as well so I don't like to shy away from things. There's definitely an audience that appreciates seeing the taboo broken. But there's obviously a lot of other people who could get offended by it and I've seen it, I've seen people walk out on those moments. And that's fine. But I do love it when cinema takes you to a place where it's so outrageous, where it's like "Man I can't believe they got away with doing that," and "How the hell did they get away with doing that," and "Who the hell let them do it?"
The Canadian film "Dead Hooker in a Trunk" has run into censorship problems just because of its title. Have you had any censorship problems?
Jason Eisener: I thought we would have more problems with those scenes. I thought there would be a bit more of an outrage about them but we really haven't experienced any of it at all it's been quite surprising. I think people know that those moments are not just there to shock people. They're created to serve the purpose of the story and help push the story forward. Like the moment with the school bus in "Hobo." It's there because it drives the rest of the film and we were trying to create an idea that would be such a terrorist act, that would be so horrible, that it could flip a community upside down and make a community turn against each other.
I want to be clear for viewers, "Hobo" is quite violent and is not for everyone. But there is an audience out there hungry for this kind of no holds barred exploitation cinema.
Jason Eisener: Yeah, "Hobo" is not the kind of movie for everyone. But there's definitely a large audience out there that I think could get really excited and have a lot of fun with it. In the back of our minds while making it, we kept thinking we wanted to create a rock show for an audience. It's definitely a movie that you have to go to a theater with a bunch of rowdy people and get with a group of friends and have fun. Maybe get a couple drinks into you before you go. The movie has no rules in it and I've always told my audience when they go to watch my movies that I expect them to watch the movie with no rules, anything goes in that cinema. I've seen audiences react so positively and crazily to movie; it's almost like they are participating with the movie and that's a lot of fun. That's something that you don't often can get from a movie theater. I've seen people Tweeting, "Yeah I'm laying in bed watching 'Hobo With a Shotgun,'" and I'm thinking, "How the hell can you do that?" When I lay in bed and watch a movie, I like to fall asleep to the film. There's no way anyone is ever gonna fall asleep to "Hobo with a Shotgun." It's way too loud and in your face.