Interview: Jason Eisener, Writer/Director of HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN

In the build-up to today's release of Hobo With A Shotgun in UK cinemas, co-writer/director Jason Eisener is being swamped with the kind of publicity that a couple of years ago would have been unimaginable for him...

In the build-up to today's release of Hobo With A Shotgun in UK cinemas , co-writer/director Jason Eisener is being swamped with the kind of publicity that a couple of years ago would have been unimaginable for him. I managed to catch up with him a few weeks back to talk about the film which started life as a low-budget fake trailer for Grindhouse in 2007, and is now a full-length splatterhouse feature that boasts the legendary Rutger Hauer in the starring role! How did it come to this? I found out. WC: Hobo with a Shotgun started life as a fake trailer. Did you ever expect it to become a full-length feature film?
JE: At the time no. We just did it for the contest. There was no prize other than hopefully getting some recognition from Robert Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino and having them see something that we made, but when we put it online we started seeing it kicking off and going viral, people demanding that we make the movie. Critics were saying that they'd really love to see the movie, so me and some friends thought we should just go out and try to shoot something. We were invited to the Grindhouse premiere in L.A. While we were there, we got a call from Alliance €“ Canadian distributor €“ who said they loved the trailer and wanted to attach it to the Canadian release of Grindhouse so they blew up 200 film prints of our mini DV-shot trailer that we made for $120. They were really interested in trying to make it into a feature film. They introduced us to a producer by the name of Niv Fichman who we just hit it off with. Then over the next couple of years we worked on scripts and raised the money to make the film.
WC: Hobo is very much a fan's film. You made the trailer as a fan of exploitation films.. It gained recognition as a viral internet sensation. Even the poster was drawn up by a fan. Hobo With A Shotgun was effectively a cult classic before the film itself was even released. Did you feel pressure for the film to live up to the cult status that the trailer had already gained?
JE: I was before we started screening it, but it's been doing so well. It's had its Canadian and American releases and audiences really grabbed hold it. I remember making the movie, I was stressed out about meeting the expectations people set. What I was worried about was that the 'fake' trailer already tells you the basic plot €“ a hobo taking to the streets to fight crime with a shotgun. Because of that, thousands of fans started coming up with their own stories as to what the whole grand picture was going to be, so I was really worried, thinking 'How am I going to meet all these imaginations?' but I feel we have so we're really happy about that.
WC: Seeing as the fake Hobo trailer was part of Tarantino and Rodriguez's Grindhouse feature, did they have any involvement in the film? Or was there it just the obligatory phone call wishing you luck?
JE: Not really. I met Tarantino at the Inglourious Basterds premiere in Toronto and our distributor introduced us to him. We told him that we were making the movie and he was super-stoked. I guess he just gave us his blessing.
WC: No hands-on stuff then?
JE: Honestly, I didn't really want it. The distributors tried to see if they would attach their names to it but I said 'No, let's just do this on our own.' I didn't want to piggyback off them at all.
WC: Hobo with a Shotgun is part of a recent resurgence of exploitation flicks, but the genre neve really fades. What do you think draw people to these kinds of films. What makes these films, with their comical excesses of violence, so special?
JE: The way exploitation films were made back in the day was to compete with studio films. Studio films had huge budgets. They had a star cast. What exploitation filmmakers would do was come up with crazy ideas to get people to the cinemas. They would come up with crazy plots and crazy scenes and exploitate things so they could get people into the seats, and we felt the same way making a modern-day exploitation movie. We're competing with something like Machete, which had a bigger budget, huge cast and I remember thinking in pre-production 'Oh God, how are we even going to compete with that?' In the spirit of old exploitation films, we had to work really hard and come up with new ideas that people will talk about.
WC: The rise of viral videos on the internet helps with getting these films out there.
JE: Particularly now with the Youtube generation, there is always an audience for exploitation. Things that go viral on the internet are very high-concept or show things that you can't get from TV or the movies. So there's an audience that's feeding off each other trying to find crazy things. I tried to make Hobo like a Youtube movie in some ways. We tried to make it so that if someone would upload any scene from the film, hopefully it could go viral. Back home, we have tons of nights where we're having a few drinks and someone starts playing a Youtube clip that they found and it spirals into this thing where everyone's showing these crazy, disgusting clips. You go home from one of these nights and you're filled with these amazing images, ideas, cool music, and I wanted that same feeling for people who watch Hobo.
WC: So Hobo is kind of an amalgamation of all these brilliant, crazy clips into one big feature. Yet for all its low-budget, Youtube-clip appeal, you've bagged yourself a screen icon in Rutger Hauer, who plays the Hobo. How did you get him involved?
JE: I was trying to come up with a cast for the film and I was trying to go for something realistic for our budget. I wanted this Canadian actor who did the trailer for 150 bucks. The distributor thought he wasn't a big enough name and asked me to come up with a list with who I'd love for the role. I didn't see how we were going to get a big star for the movie, but the distributor said 'Let's just see what happens.' I put Rutger Hauer at the top of the list thinking that there's no way this is going to happen, but wouldn't it be amazing if it did? Sure enough, they got hold of his agent, who read the script and he didn't like it, telling Rutger 'This is not a movie for you.' But for Rutger when someone tells him he's not gonna like something, that intrigues him. He wants to know why someone would think he wouldn't like something. After reading the script, he wanted to get on Skype with me. I remember getting on Skype that day €“ I'd never even been on Skype before €“ and I couldn't even eat my lunch I was so nervous. He was my favourite actor...
WC: And there you would have him facing you on a webcam...
JE: It was unbelievable, but we just hit it off. It was really weird how well we connected. We talked about the movie for maybe 10 minutes, and then we talked about our lives and the things we were into for the next 45 minutes. After the call though, he hadn't even said yes or anything, so I was kind of like, 'Wait a minute, what just happened.'
WC: Sounds like you just had a casual conversation with THE Rutger Hauer!
JE: Yeah exactly. Thankfully he called the production and said he was totally in. He was amazing to work with. I'm a movie fan before a filmmaker and just imagine having to direct your idol, with him having to listen to you. I remember being a nervous wreck, but when he came he just took away all those fears. He wasn't the kind of actor who would come on set, do his thing, then go back to his trailer. He was helping us make the movie.
WC: So he was kind of like a 'daddy' figure for the production?
JE: He was a real mentor. Always giving us inspiration. Being really patient with us. We all learned so much from him. It could've been a really bad experience. Another actor could've come on and just been like 'frigging kids'. Rutger was one of us. He said it was a great opportunity for him to come and act like a naughty kid again, and we just had a lot of fun. He made the atmosphere so loose where it could've been tense. It was a first-time film with loads of stunts and gags, which is all pretty stressful. He was just such an enjoyable experience.
WC: I watched and loved both your short film Treevenge and Hobo. Something I noticed in both films is that you don't restrain from getting kids caught up in the carnage. By doing that, you're breaking a bit of a taboo when it comes to what you can do with kids onscreen. Did you have that in mind when making these films? Did you think, 'How can I do something different that'll really shock people'?
JE: It's not so much about shocking people. I have this thing about why you can kill anyone in a movie, but for some reason it's wrong to kill a kid. I think it's a weird moral thing that people have. Why should a kid dying be worse than anyone else? Also, I like having a kid's perspective. When we're making our movies, we're making it from the child perspective in us. The 13-year-old in us back in the day would dig this. I like having kids in the film, because in a lot of ways we're kids when we're making the movie. The origins of coming up with the schoolbus scene was 'What kind of terrorist act could we do that would flip the community upside down.' I thought of Batman where the Joker blows up a hospital. We couldn't afford that, but we could afford a broken-down bus for 500 bucks and a bunch of friends to bring their kids along...
WC:€ and burn them!
JE: Yeah, and I totally understand why people can't take something like that but it's also exciting to see that kind of stuff.
WC: Hobo doesn't hold back on the violence. Have you had any backlash on the film's content?
JE: You know, I was kind of disappointed that there hasn't been. I was pretty prepared for more of a backlash after the bus scene. I see a couple of comments on the internet here and there, but surprisingly little.
WC: It's not so easy to shock people these days...
JE: I think people kind of just get it. If there's a film called 'Hobo with a Shotgun', then sensitive old people aren't going to be flocking to see it.
WC: Some people tend to compare splatterhouse films like Hobo to so-called torture-porn films like Saw and Hostel due to the extreme violence. Do you think that there are similarities between these genres?
JE: I don't like the term 'torture-porn.' Torture porn should be porn where there's torture, which I'm sure does exist, but this isn't it. Saw and Hostel definitely come out of what's been going on in the world over the last 10 years, with governments jetting terrorist suspects around the world to torture them. I think they're part of the current psyche. I think it's just another round of filmmaking that is subconsciously connecting with audiences and speaking for them. With Hobo we were just trying to make the most of our budget to make a film that the audience would dig and I'm sure the guys that made Saw and Hostel went through the same thought processes. I met James Wan (director of Saw) who is one of the nicest guys I've ever met. I think the intentions behind it were great. He wanted to get people rattled up and excited about something and it's an amazing first film. I know a lot of people are not into Hostel, but I just love seeing the audience reaction. And that's what we're trying to do here.
WC: What's next?
JE: I'm working on a project called 'ABCs of Death' which is being produced by the Alamo Drafthouse €“ probably the best movie theatre in the world. They've given 26 directors a letter from the alphabet and each one has to make a short corresponding with the letter. We're also writing our next feature, which is a martial arts exploitation film. You'll see some of the same world from Hobo with a Shotgun but it takes place in a high school. All the worst students are kicked out of their high schools and they're all brought to one really bad high school.
WC: Sounds a bit 'Battle Royale'
JE: Oh yeah. There's definitely some inspiration there.
WC: Virtually overnight, you turned from a fan of exploitation flicks to a world-renowned maker of them. How does the spotlight feel?
JE: I'm blind to it all to be honest. I'm a film fan and don't really pay attention to that stuff. I love making movies and can't wait to get home and watch more movies. I'm just stoked that people are into what we're making and hopefully they'll continue to be into what we're making. When I made Treevenge it got a lot of attention. Filmmakers would write me and ask me questions, and now I can't even go on Facebook. I feel bad because I get a lot of people who want to talk about filmmaking. If I had to write everyone back, I'd never be able to have a life.
WC: Well, with Hobo making a lot of noise in the film world, I'm sure you'll soon have a group of hired scrubs to sift through your fan mail for you. Thanks for your time Jason, and good luck. Hobo With A Shotgun is released in the U.K. today. Our review HERE. Additionally, we reviewed the film at the Sydney Film Festival and spoke to co-writer/director Jason Eisener in May.
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Gamer, Researcher of strange things. I'm a writer-editor hybrid whose writings on video games, technology and movies can be found across the internet. I've even ventured into the realm of current affairs on occasion but, unable to face reality, have retreated into expatiating on things on screens instead.