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Director Jason Eisener Talks 'Hobo With A Shotgun'

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Yes! I just found out that "Hobo With a Shotgun" has been held over, and you will have at least one more shot at this grindhouse homage.

Interview Jason Eisener
Phoner April 2011

SO tell me how this film came about?

Jason Eisener: (0130) Basically, SXSW teamed up with Robert Rodriguez to put on a competition in conjunction with the release of "Grindhouse," and what they did was they made, they created a fake trailer contest and they asked filmmakers from all around the world to create a fake trailer for a fake movie in the style of like exploitation movies from like the 1970s and 80s. And they had like over 300 entries and they paired it down to three of the top trailers, and they gave those trailers to Robert Rodriguez and he picked his top favorite trailer and basically when we found out about that competition, I remember my writer John Davies who's also my best friend he called me up the day they announced it, which it was announced on, and basically we went out and starting shooting that night that we heard about the contest and we created that trailer for like $120 and we out on the streets of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia with a real shotgun and we shot for maybe 5 days and we submitted the trailer and ended up winning that contest, the trailer really took off online and became kind of like a viral hit and people were demanding that we make a feature film and our Canadian distributor Alliance they called us up and told us they wanted to put our trailer on the Canadian release of Grindhouse so they struck like 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 and 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: (0340) at the time no. 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 actor that really caught my attention. He was, when I first developed my love for cinema, I was tracking down my favorite directors' films and Rutger was the first actor that I tracked down every movie, every one of his films and 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 it would give people an idea of the kind of actor I was going for and 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.

You're young and you're Canadian so how did you get your first taste of American 70s grindhouse filmmaking?

Jason Eisener: (0441) Growing up genre films were the first, it was the first genre that definitely piqued my interest and back home we had quite a few pawn shops and growing up in junior high and high school I would go to those pawn shops every day after school and just raid their VHS collection and I don't know what kind of taste people had back home in Dartmouth but there would be a lot of crazy exploitation films from the 70s and 80s and we basically just we watched like hundreds of them we basically set up a little screening room in my parents' shed in the backyard and we would basically spend our summers in the shed and we built bunks and had a VHS player and a TV and we would just we would try to watch maybe 4-5 movies a day.

And what about those films appealed to you?

Jason Eisener: (0543) 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 TMNT, Ghostbusters, Bravestar, Transformers, those were the first shows that I was watching and they were just filled with high concept ideas and so the natural transition for someone who loves high concepts is exploitation films because they are so outrageous and have amazing high concept ideas.

So do you feel that "Treevenge" was also influenced by those films?

Jason Eisener: (0624) Oh yeah absolutely. And with "Treevenge" after we made the "Hobo" trailer we got to go to Austin, Texas and I got to go to the Alamo Drafthouse which is the most amazing movie theater in the world and we went to a buttnumbathon screening and they showed a bunch of exploitation films that I had never seen before and when I came home I was just filled with inspiration and we just basically went right at writing the script for "Treevenge" and basically spent a couple weekends shooting that film.

Now there's a moment in "Treevenge" and a moment also in "Hobo" not to give anything away but in both films there's a moment where children are not only in danger but also become victimized, and I'm interested to find out because for horror fans and people who are grindhouse fans there's that moment there's like a pause and you can almost feel like the whole audience is holding its breath for a second going, "Are they going to cross the line? Or not?" And when you do it makes those fans very happy but I'm wondering are you making it for those fans and what other kinds of responses are you getting?

Jason Eisener: (0735) Well for me when I make my films I'm definitely making them from like the child's perspective in me, it's like the 10 or 12-year-old in me that gets excited about ideas and so I like putting that perspective is always in my films. I feel that I don't like putting limitations on.. I mean bad things can happen to adults but also bad things can happen to kids too. I don't know I'm a huge fan of kids' films as well too and I love it when you see kids in real danger and being a kid and watching those movies you can kind of like connect to that as a kid and I love respecting that audience as well too so I don't like to shy away from that and 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?

Have you heard anything about "Dead Hooker in a Trunk" and the censorship issues it's run into? Have you run into problems like that.

Jason Eisener: (0910) I've heard about the film but haven't seen it. But we haven't run into any problems like that and I think it's because... like I thought we would have more problems with those scenes like 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 and 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 scene in "Hobo." It's there because it drives the rest of the film and we were trying to create an idea that would be so, 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 and I think critics and audiences see that and know that it definitely serves the purpose of the story. I'm actually quite surprised that we haven't run into any problems with that.

Are you also making a satire in the same way George Romero was working in horror and satire?

Jason Eisener: (1038) Yeah absolutely.

What do you feel you are targeting?

Jason Eisener: (1044) Well for us it's like when we were writing the script there were definitely a lot of things that were going on in the world that were leaking into our script and in the first cut of the film there's a bit more of it 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 or even the media helping to control a community and what we were seeing on the news was definitely a part of our minds and definitely an influence on the scriptwriting process.

Describe the visual look of the film and the style of the effects you use.

Jason Eisener: (1144) Back to basically 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 and I just love that. And also like the genre films, I love Dario Argento's movies, they are so full of color and a lot of the 80s action movies like "Savage Streets," and "Vice Squad" and "Deadend Drive-In" and "The Warriors." I just love the color palate 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 in the sense that 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 kind of fun and I think people can kind of watch the movie and laugh and have fun with those moments because it's kind of comic book and cartoony in a way and 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.

Where do you get the ideas for these kin d of set pieces?

Jason Eisener: (1342) It usually just comes from the story. We are usually just writing the story and when we come to one of those moments just because we've watched so many genre films when it comes time for you when you are making you're own genre film and have the opportunity to do some kill scenes, I don't know,. I like the challenge of trying to step it up and be creative. I mean you have the limitations of your budget and when you have those limitations you try to come up with cool creative ways to make up for not being able to afford big special effects but you can come up with a crazy idea and something cheap that could have just as much effect as that big special effect so that was always our mindset like we don't have the budget to do something completely insane so how can we get creative and make something that can be just as effective. So it really just comes from, we don't necessarily come up with the ideas of the kills and then work them into the story it just comes along when we get to those moments in the story.

Most of the effects look to be practicals?

Jason Eisener: (1446) 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: (1505) Yeah, I've never seen any gore effects in a film that look real, every time I see a bad CGI effect it just completely takes me out of the movie and the story and the characters. And there's just something off even 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 kind of like a heart and soul behind it and it's really hard to do those effects like they never happen on your first take. And they always take 45 seconds to reset it. And a lot of times on genre films you'll see filmmakers just leave it for the post and they'll just move on and say we'll just leave it for post we'll figure it out then. It's definitely a struggle to make those effects happen and I don't know I just think it's kinmd 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 and it has at that point it just feels fake and there's no heart and soul behind it.

What appeals to you about making grindhouse films?

Jason Eisener: (1632) For me I just love outrageous cinema. I love seeing things happen and usually in exploitation movies is where you go to find outrageous cinema, like things where you go I can't believe they made that, I can't believe they made that. Like where did they even get the money to put this on the screen. I just love that. I just love seeing high concept, outrageous ideas and movies that's just what makes me excited. And the exploitation genre 8world really lends itself to that because especially back in the 70s and 80s when filmmakers were making exploitation films they 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 like 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.

What did Rutger Hauer bring to the role?

Jason Eisener: (1741) Well for me making "Hobo" it 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 loves that. Like I grew up, a couple films that really caught my attention for performances were an Australian film called "Blood of Heroes," and his movie with Robert Harmon called "The Hitcher." There's such mystery behind those characters and they might not necessarily be westerns but Rutger really brings this kind of I don't know even with those movies it's almost like A Man With No Name sort of feel to it. And I wanted to bring that to "Hobo." With Rutger he really understood and what he liked about the movie was that I wanted to keep that character grounded and true. And not play him so over the top, and let the world that he's entering be over the top and outrageous but have that main character be grounded and true to everything he's doing. And he really got that. He brings a lot of heart and soul to the movie.

There is an over the top quality to the feel but it does have an emotional core.

Jason Eisener: (1917) Yeah that was so important and him and Molly Dunsworth who plays Abby, they just got that and spent a lot of time working together to make, there's not too many moments when it quiets down and you get to spend some time with the characters and see how they are and how they interact with each other and when we go to those moments like they really worked hard on those moments together and it really brings heart to the film.

Why put yourself through the grinder?

Jason Eisener: (2005) Well "Hobno" is definitely not the kind of movie for everyone. But there's definitely a large audience out there who I think could get really excited and have a lot of fun with it. Like the way we made the movie in the back of our minds while making it we wanted to create like a rock show for an audience and it's definitely a movie that you gotta get in a theater with a bunch of rowdy people and get with a group of friends and have fun with. Maybe get a couple drinks into before you go and the movie borderline 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 like anything goes in that cinema. And I've seen audiences reatc so positively and crazy to movie and how the audience interacts with the film it's almost like they are participating with the movie and that's a lot of fun and that's something that you don't often can get from a movie theater so I don't know it's a movie that's kind of like an experience.

Tingler experience

Jason Eisener: (2157) I've seen people Twittering "Yeah I'm laying in bed watching 'Hobo With a Shotgun,' and I'm thinking like how the hell can you do that. Like when I lay in bed and wanna watch a movie I like to fall asleep to the film there's n o way anyone is ever gonna fall asleep to 'Hobo with a Shotgun." It's way too loud and in your face.

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Cinema Junkie

Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place