Interview with Hobo With A Shotgun director Jason Eisener
Fans who have been missing that authentic feel of the gritty side of eighties cinema will embrace the 2011 exploitation movie Hobo With a Shotgun. What started as the winner in a fake trailer contest in 2007 ended up as a full feature exploitation film in the style of those dark but yet colourful eighties movies. It stars B-flick legend Rutger Hauer as the hobo with a shotgun, whom we got to meet briefly at the Imagine Film Festival in The Netherlands. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and the coming months it will open in different countries all over the world. Sarcastic Assault writer Pim Wijers had a chat with director Jason Eisener to find out how this film came to be, where Eisener’s evident love for the seventies and eighties comes from, what it was like working with his childhood hero Hauer and about the use of the classical gore effects that take the viewer back twenty years down memory lane!
JE: Before the release of the two Grindhouse films by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, Rodriguez put a competition together with the SXSW film festival. The assignment was to make a fake trailer to a fake exploitation style movie that could go out with the release of the films. We immediately started shooting the day we heard about the contest, but we had already come up with the idea about a year or two before that. I grew up together with my best friend John Davies, the writer of the movie. There is this spot where we would go to sometimes, to pitch ideas back and forth for movies. It’s called Ronnie’s Pizza, a pizza joint not too far away from our homes. One day we were sitting there just like any other day, together with my buddy Mojo. At that time he had really long and shaggy hair, a stained up shirt and he had just bought an Airsoft Shotgun that shoots plastic pellets. While we were sitting there Mojo speaks up and says: “Why don’t you guys make a movie about me?” So John looks him up and down and says: “What, a hobo with a shotgun?” And that just clicked, like a light bulb went off. We started to come up with ideas right then and there. Outside the pizza place were a couple of strip joints, a sex toy store, a triple X video store and a couple of pawn shops. There was graffiti all around, so we simply started envisioning a hobo taking justice on the streets in an environment like that.
PW: Did you get a lot of inspiration from watching trailers for the making of your own trailer?
JE: Oh yeah, absolutely. When we started making the Hobo trailer, the first thing we did was hit up Youtube to find lots of old exploitation trailers. When in preproduction for the movie I wanted to come up with a way to quickly get our crew up to speed. To make sure everybody would understand the world that they were diving into I put together this twelve minute reel that had clips from all the exploitation movies that were inspiring Hobo. The rest just came from our youth, from growing up watching exploitation movies. Like I said, me and John grew up together, I’ve known him since he was six years old. We used to sit in my parent’s backyard shed where they kept all kinds of boat stuff, because we lived at a lake. Me and him transformed that shed into a little theatre. We put in a TV and VCR and there was a wicked video store down the street. We cleaned out their whole horror, sci-fi and action section in one summer [laughs]. Hobo takes place in the world of the films that we always wanted to make when we were growing up.
PW: Can you name some titles of the films from your youth that inspired you to make Hobo?
JE: One of them was Dead-End Drive In. This film and other Brian Trenchard-Smith films from Australia were a huge inspiration to the movie. Then there is Vice Squad, Death Wish 3, Rolling Thunder, The Hitcher, Exterminator, Vigilante and The Warriors, which is my favorite movie of all time.
PW: The Warriors is a great movie indeed and while we are on that topic: I noticed that the colors in Hobo With a Shotgun compare very good to the colors in a film like that. Can you tell me something about the deep reds, blues and purples in Hobo With a Shotgun?
JE: Because we were brought up in the eighties we were watching all kinds of high concept cartoons like He-Man, Ghostbusters, Transformers, BraveStarr or Voltron. Those TV-shows were made with crazy prime colors to help attract kids’ attention. Just like eighties wrestling: the costumes of Hulk Hogan, Macho Man, The Ultimate Warrior or Jake ‘The Snake’ Robert were all designed to attract attention by using prime colors. Then of course there are a lot of colorful eighties movies like Savage Streets, Dead-End Drive In, Vice Squad and the work of Dario Argento. We had the same kind of mentality with making Hobo, taking a lot of inspiration from the colors that made us feel attracted to the material when we were kids.
PW: Today it is supposed to be a bit harder for a kid to get hold of a film like this, but when we were younger it wasn’t all that hard to see the types of film you’ve mentioned before. Would you recommend Hobo With a Shotgun to kids?
JE: It’s a weird topic because I wouldn’t show Hobo With a Shotgun to a kid, although I do think there are children that could definitely handle it. Since the movie has leaked online there are all these Youtube clips of kids who look like they’re twelve or thirteen, reviewing Hobo. They seem to have a good grasp of it and in some ways I find that they almost get it better than a lot of the older folks who have seen it. I was making the movie from the perspective of the thirteen year old inside me, but the film has a lot of adult themes and material. I was making it for adults who could recognize this stuff so they could be brought back to that fun in their childhood. But I have seen it leaked to children as well and I can’t deny that I used to track down crazy stuff when I was younger. I can remember lunch breaks at school, when the older kids came to school telling me that they saw RoboCop or Terminator 2 and I was thinking: “aw man, there is no way my parents would let me see that stuff!” It really intrigued my imagination.
PW: You said that the movie leaked online after its release. Of course you want to make money of your efforts, but it does give you a lot of free publicity on the other hand. How do you feel about people downloading your film?
I am learning a lot about it. For one it’s a great thing that it is spreading around. It’s in such demand that people from all around the world are wanting to see it and it’s helping to build name for me and the other artists involved. I love that aspect of it, but it definitely does hurt sales quite a bit. When Hobo got leaked we took a big hurting on it, but I can’t really say anything about it until the movie comes out on DVD and BluRay. I see a lot of people that downloaded it saying that they’re going to buy it, which I hope they do. Film can’t keep being made without distribution and if you are not making money for the distributor then why would they invest into your movie? So I think that there has to be figured out a new way of distribution that can work for the online downloaders too. It’s weird to see that there are people who think that they are completely entitled to downloading the movie for free. But a lot of people say they want to download it before they decide to pick it up. They want to see if they like it and I can totally understand that too.
PW: The car that Slick and Ivan drive in the movie, I have never seen one like that. Those gull wing doors are great! What kind of car is it and how did you get it in the film?
JE: It’s a 1976 Bricklin. The car was manufactured in New Brunswick, which is the province above Nova Scotia in Canada. I believe it was build even before the DeLorean, which was the car in Back to the Future. I believe that DeLorean bought the rights for the gull wing doors, the side doors that open up like wings. There are only 2800 of them made. The company went out of business so now there are only a couple of hundred of those car left in the world. We found one in New Brunswick and the very first day we shot with that we fucking ruined it [laughs]! We came around the corner really hard and the stunt driver ended up slamming the back two tires into the curbs. The back wheels, the hubcap and the back axle got destroyed. We could have bought the car with the amount of damage we put on it!
PW: Did you get to fix it quickly, or did it put a hold on the shooting?
JE: It put a hold on a couple of things, but it wasn’t too bad. We were able to kind of fix it up a little bit, but it was the reason why any time you see the car after that it just slowly finds its way into the scene. We pretty much had to push the car into the shot [laughs]. But it works for the character. Slick is so bad that he doesn’t have to drive it fast, he can just drive as slow as he wants [laughs].
JE: [Laughs] The Plague basically sprang from our imagination that comes from the eighties too. For me The Plague are like walking action figures. They could have stepped out of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, BraveStarr or any of those crazy high concept cartoons. But they’ve been something that we have been playing around with for a while, even before Hobo. They have appeared in of some of our short films that we grew up making. I think our very first inspiration came from the Muppet Movie. That had a bounty hunter with a harpoon gun in it [laughs]. Other inspiration came from stuff we grew up with, like The Road Warrior. That movie was definitely an influence on the armor of The Plague. We have a whole mythology behind them and we also wrote a treatment for a feature film called “The Plague” that we hopefully get to do at some point.
PW: The music in Hobo, especially that song where The Plague enters the hospital, reminds me a lot of the music from a Carpenter movie. Did you get inspiration from his films and music?
JE: Of course, Carpenter is in my top five of favorite filmmakers of all time. I love his scoring, all his soundtracks are amazing. When I was making a test soundtrack to Hobo, there was a lot of Carpenter in there. Then I had one of my roommates out of Burke make a lot of that music for me. We grew up watching those movies, so he got that style completely.
PW: Did he do that piece of music in the hospital scene with The Plague as well?
JE: All the other stuff was made by him, except for that one piece of music. That is made by a band called Power Glove, they’re from Australia. I’ve been a huge fan of their work for the last couple of years. I wrote them out of the blue and said: “I am making this movie, it stars Rutger Hauer, I would love to send you a scene because it would be awesome for you guys to do a song for it.” Within a week I got a reply, they were very excited too. I sent them the clip and within two weeks they got me that song. They did it for free, that was amazing.
PW: What I find really interesting is that you gave the film an authentic look by using little to none CGI. Do you prefer actual special effects over CGI?
JE: Yeah absolutely. I’ll take a really crappy classical effect over an awesome CGI effect any day. It has more soul to it, just knowing that it was done on the day, just like the prosthetics and the makeup. It is always an amazing thing to see, even if it’s cheesy and even if the filmmakers didn’t have a lot of money to do it. You can see the heart. When you see that a filmmaker does a CG gore effect it’s just such a cheap and easy route out of it. We had to do a gore effect or stunt every day of the shoot. In most cases today filmmakers have the mentality to leave it for post. We didn’t want that at all. We had to make our schedules work and we had to fight our asses off to make all those effects work. Most of the time those effects don’t happen on the first take and usually it takes half an hour to forty-five minutes to set it all up again, so you have to think really quick on your feet and that makes it a war for a filmmaker. But still it’s awesome and I think an audience can see that heart and soul that went into making the effect.
PW: A lot of the things happening in Hobo With a Shotgun, including the special effects, made me think of Troma films. Your movie is less humoristic than Troma, but were you inspired by the films from that studio?
JE: Yeah absolutely. I didn’t have much Troma stuff on my real that I made before shooting the movie, but for me Lloyd Kaufman was like Santa Claus when I was growing up. I just loved getting a Troma movie for Christmas. Lloyd Kaufman’s humor is awesome and I love the spirit of his movies. I actually got to meet him at Sundance once. I had my short film Treevenge playing there and across the street from Sundance he had put up this event called Tromadance. I invited him and his wife to come see Treevenge, and they actually showed up. He looked at me and he said: “You know what, I’ve done Tromadance across the street from Sundance every year for the past ten years and I have not once been into a Sundance screening.” The first time he went there was to see my short film and he loved it, I was so happy about it. He is definitely an inspiration.
PW: The Lloyd Kaufman films are very humoristic and over the top in every way, but personally I find them a bit childish at times. Was it the intention to stay more down to earth with Hobo?
JE: Yeah absolutely, that was always the plan. I appreciate that you got that. For me I find humor in developing a character that is played so straight that you believe them. When they’re true to what they do you can get the audience sucked into the character. Then you start drawing some crazy lines and some crazy bits of action and if the actor plays that true then that’s comedy for me. I find that really funny and entertaining.
PW: What does the future look like right now, are you working on a new title?
JE: Yeah, we are working on a high school martial arts film right now, we’re writing it. There hasn’t been really any martial arts film made in Canada, although this will not be full on fantastical martial arts work. It’s more like the recent movie I Saw The Devil. The action in there is so awesome, it’s fast and hard-hitting. I love that kind of violence. Our movie will be as if there was a high school in the world of Hobo With a Shotgun, the kind of high school where Slick and Ivan would pull up in their car to. It’s inspired by films as Class of 1984, The Wanderers, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and The Karate Kid. I don’t know if it will be the exact same town as Hobo, but it all takes place at that school.
PW: Will it feature as much gore and violence as Hobo With a Shotgun?
JE: Yeah it will be violent, but I got a feeling we might be steering in a different direction with this film, the violence might not be as over the top. Like I said it might be a bit more like I Saw The Devil in the sense that it is a bit more realistic, but it will still be over the top.
JE: Rutger Hauer was my favorite actor growing up, he was the first actor that really caught me and John Davies’ attention. We tracked down every one of his films. He has this presence that he gives to his character unlike anyone else. On the screen he can just give you a look through is eyes that creates so much mystery behind his character. For me Hobo is very much a western and Rutger really liked that, he called it a “graffiti western”. I loved that! Graffiti is against the law, it has no rules. I love that aspect about it, it’s what Hobo is like. Hobo too has no rules and it’s kind of dangerous in some way [laughs].
PW: If Rutger Hauer was your favorite actor when you were growing up, what was it like to meet him in person after seeing all his films?
JE: It was nerve wrecking at first, but as soon as he got to Halifax, where we shot the film, we started hanging out. It felt like I was spending time with an old friend, we just really hit it off. He was more than just an actor that came to work on our movie. He was an inspiration and he worked his ass off, he taught us so much. Rutger is very much a filmmaker in his own right too. It was awesome to be able to work with someone like him, he has so much experience and he was so giving and generous. He loves working with young people and he can keep up. He may be 67 years old but man, he’s a hard guy to keep up with!
PW: I had the chance to speak with Rutger at the Imagine Film Festival in The Netherlands, so I asked him if he would like to do a prequel or perhaps even a sequel to Hobo. He was very enthusiastic. Would you like to do another film about the Hobo?
JE: Yeah I would love to. We were talking about westerns and we have ideas about a Hobo western trilogy. If the opportunity ever came up I would jump on it because we have so many ideas for a Hobo story. We wrote like 27 drafts of the movie and almost every single one of them was completely different. Now we have this huge pile of amazing ideas that we’re so excited about. Some versions we couldn’t do because we didn’t have the time for them and other versions we couldn’t afford to do so we have so many ideas that I would still love to get on the screen. I remember we were talking with Rutger about the ideas and I just smiled and said to him: “You know how fun it would be to do this all over again?” And he just said: “Yeah I would love to do it again!”