Sundance ’11 Interview: Jason Eisener on His Grindhouse-Inspired ‘Hobo With a Shotgun’!

For those who enjoyed director Jason Eisener’s award-winning faux-trailer Hobo with a Shotgun, not to mention his later blood-drenched short film “Treevenge”, you can thank your lucky stars because the feature-length version of Hobo – starring Rutger Hauer, no less! – will be coming soon to a theater or cable box near you, courtesy of genre distributor Magnet Releasing. B-D reporter Chris Eggertsen recently got on the phone with the Nova Scotia-based director to get his thoughts on the Sundance-premiering project’s unlikely rise, including what it was like to work with screen legend Rutger Hauer, how much gore we can expect in the film (answer: tons), and his ’70s and ’80s filmmaking inspirations. See inside for the full interview.
One could be forgiven for believing we’d heard the last of Jason Eisener following the young filmmaker’s big win for faux-trailer “Hobo with a Shotgun” at the 2007 SXSW Robert Rodriguez Trailer Competition, but one would of course be wrong. Because not only did the director garner quite a bit more attention at Sundance a year later for his 15-minute short film entitled Treevenge, but now he’s back at the prestigious festival with a feature-length version of “Hobo”, starring legendary actor Rutger Hauer in the title role. It’s an unlikely road to success that the super-friendly Eisener himself still seemed in awe of when I recently spoke with him on the phone from Park City, but one that he’ll likely have to adjust to quickly given the growing buzz coming out of the film’s first well-received Sundance screening. Not only that, but Hobo already has a distribution deal through Magnolia genre arm Magnet Releasing, meaning Eisener’s pet project is already guaranteed exposure beyond the film festival circuit. Check out the full interview below for his thoughts on all the madness!

Bloody-Disgusting: I’m curious whether you had a feature-length script already written when you won the SXSW contest.

Jason Eisener: [Laughs] No, we did not have a script then. But we did have a trailer script. What we did is we outlined…we all kind of made a treatment for a feature film. So we knew the whole story, the big picture of the movie. And then we just went in and thought of which were the highlight parts that we wanted to show in the trailer. So we had a pretty rough idea of what the movie was about…

BD: Did you incorporate anything from the original trailer into the feature film?

JE: It’s almost all in there, except for the submarine. [Laughs]

BD: It’s been about four years since your trailer won the SXSW contest. I’m sure aspiring filmmakers would be interested to know what that process of going from the trailer to the feature was like.

JE: Well, what happened was is when we first put that trailer online, before we even won the contest, it started to get a huge buzz on the internet. We were starting to just rack up hits on YouTube. And then the contest came and we ended up winning, and it gave us a little bit more exposure…well actually, a lot more exposure.

After that contest we were sent off to L.A. to go to the ‘Grindhouse’ premiere. While we were there, we got a phone call from Alliance, which is a distribution company in Canada, and they wanted film prints of our trailer and attach it to ‘Grindhouse’ and fly us up to Toronto to talk about the idea of making a feature film. So we flew up to Toronto, we met a producer named Niv Fichman from Rhombus Media and we just hit it off. We had a great night. And he basically sent us home to bang out a treatment.

As soon as we got home we went right to work at it, and we wrote a script, we wrote several drafts. And in the meantime, when we were trying to get the feature film off the ground we made a short film called ‘Treevenge’. And ‘Treevenge’ did so much more than we expected. It did really well on the festival circuit – it ended up playing at Sundance and winning an honorable mention.

That kind of helped us to get more financial backing and proved to people that we weren’t just a one-trick pony. When you watch the original trailer, it’s just two minutes of insaneness and it doesn’t really show that we can handle a narrative story. But ‘Treevenge’ was a good example of…it was like 15 minutes long and so it kinda showed what we could possibly do with a feature film. And that was a huge help in getting financial support. And we just busted our asses off for three years, working every single day and just never giving up and pushing ourselves and making sure the script was right. And eventually it just happened! [Laughs]…we just jumped into making the feature film, and I guess the rest is history.

BD: Bagging Rutger Hauer as the lead was a really big coup for you. How did his involvement come about?

Well, the distributors wanted to get a name in the film. Originally we were planning for two years to have Dave Brunt, the guy who played the hobo in the original trailer, to be the hobo. But the thing is, he’s not an actor. And he lives off disability…he has a really bad hip problem. And filming with him can be really tough on him, just physically. The hobo role is a physical role. We came to realize that it just didn’t work with him and that it would just be too hard on him.

So I sat down with him – the distributors asked us who we thought could play the role, they asked us to write our dream list – and I sat down with Dave Brunt, and Rob Cotterill, our other producer, and my writer John Davis. And we came up with our dream list, and at the top of the list was Rutger Hauer. Especially for me and John, the writer, we grew up watching genre films together. And Rutger Hauer was like the first actor that really caught our attention. We’d just been huge fans of his. So we thought he’d be perfect, but we never would’ve thought that we would ever get him. We thought it was a good starting point to kind of show, ‘this is the direction we wanna go’.

We sent off the list and the next thing I know they call back and they’re like, ‘yeah, Rutger’s read the script, he wants to talk to you on Skype’. [Laughs] So I had my first Skype call with Rutger Hauer, and you can imagine how nervous you would be if you were talking to one of your actor idols. And I sat down with him for an hour on Skype. We just talked about our…we didn’t necessarily talk too much about the film, we talked about our own inspirations…he’s an ocean conservationist, and I grew up wanting to be a marine biologist when I was a kid before I wanted to be a filmmaker. So we just have a lot in common…we didn’t really talk about the film too much, [so] I didn’t really know how it went. I was all nervous, I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s gonna happen!’ The next thing I know, a half an hour later I get a call and they say he’s down, he wants to do it. [Laughs]

BD: That’s pretty awesome. So the trailer for the feature is pretty gory – I love the decapitation. I guess your effects artists must have had their work cut out for them on this.

JE: Oh man, you wouldn’t believe it. There are so many insane effects in this film! [Laughs] The trailer doesn’t give anything away. A lot of people were saying, ‘oh, I think they blew their load on this trailer, they showed everything!’ But people haven’t seen anything yet. [Laughs]

BD: Those old grindhouse trailers did show a lot of the money shots though, so it does make sense that you showed at least some of that stuff.

JE: Yeah, no absolutely. I totally agree. [Laughs]

BD: So I was reading the blog for the film and I saw that for the shot in the trailer where the cardboard box gets crushed by the tractor and all the blood flies out you used all the leftover blood from the rest of the film which was like 60 gallons. So I was like ‘holy shit, how much blood did you go through before that?’

JE: I don’t know the exact number, but one of my best friends Henry Townsend was in charge of blood. And he had his own truck that we called the ‘blood truck’. And the whole thing [had] just…barrels of blood filled inside of it. And I’d walk on set every day and there’d just be like I don’t know, 15 buckets of blood! [Laughs] I just lost count.

BD: I’m intrigued by ‘The Plague’, the bounty hunting team that are hunting down the hobo. They look pretty bad-ass. How many of them are there?

JE: There’s just two…for me they come out of like growing up in the ’80s and being exposed to crazy high-concept ideas. You know, things like…I grew up loving ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’, ‘He-Man’, ‘Transformers’, ‘Thundercats’. You know, it was just a crazy time for a kid to grow up. ‘Ghostbusters’, ‘M.A.S.K.’…it was just like filled with crazy high-concept ideas. And for me I wanted to bring in this element to the film that just totally captured the imagination of people who grew up in the ’80s. So I don’t know, I hope that people get it, and that they recognize the inspirations that we had with those guys. There’s also a bounty hunter in ‘The Muppet Movie’…that was a huge inspiration, was the bounty hunter in ‘The Muppet Movie’.

BD: Talk about the Magnet deal. What kind of a release are they planning for this and when can we expect this to come out?

JE: Yeah, it’s kind of like what they do with a lot of their films. There’s a…VOD run and then right after that they do a small theatrical [release].

BD: When are they planning on releasing it?

JE: I think in April…so it’s coming up pretty soon…there’s been so much buzz about this movie right now, that it’s beyond any of our expectations. So I think we wanna ride off the buzz right now! [Laughs]

BD: The original trailer had the scratchy look as if the print had been damaged. And I noticed in the new trailer, that’s not really present. Did you ever flirt with the idea of having the print for the feature look “damaged”?

JE: No, not at all. [Laughs] That look was fun at the time. Now it’s just so overused, like friggin’ ‘Jersey Shore’ even uses the grindhouse look! But for me, I don’t know…I didn’t want ‘Hobo’ to have any gags in it that are just referencing the exploitation movement. Like it was fun when we did the contest, but if I could go back I’d probably take off those scratch effects. This movie doesn’t really play off it being a throwback to the exploitation movies in the sense of…something like ‘Black Dynamite’. I don’t know if you’ve seen that film.

BD: No, I haven’t, but I remember that was at Sundance a few years ago.

JE: Yeah, yeah. It’s a great film. But they were really self-aware that it was a throwback, so they would have times where they would purposely have the boom pop into the shot. And like ‘Planet Terror’, there’s like a missing reel in the film. And I didn’t want to do anything like that…you know, if it gets those scratches over time, that’ll be cool if the film print plays and it gathers its own scratches, I think that would be rad. I’d love to see the film get worn in a little bit.

BD: So did you shoot on film?

JE: No, we didn’t. But we will have film prints. We shot it on the RED camera. I have a lot of people ask me too, they’re like, ‘well, those old ’70s and ’80s exploitation movies are all shot on film, you should shoot your movie on film!’ And I thought about it for awhile, and then reality kicked in. If these RED cameras or these digital cameras were around in the ’70s and ’80s, hell yeah those filmmakers would’ve used them! It’s definitely a cheaper way to make a film. The ‘Hobo’ movie is a fairly low-budget feature film, and we needed to save money wherever we could. And those RED cameras…have an amazing ability to take in light in low-light situations, a great sensor that allowed us to have a smaller lighting package.

BD: Who are some of your filmmaker inspirations?

JE: My inspirations would be Brian Trenchard-Smith…[he's] a huge inspiration. I’m a big fan of his work. ‘Dead End Drive In’ was a film that I was showing my crew to get them pumped up for the movie. Walter Hill – ‘The Warriors’ is my favorite film of all time…’Streets of Fire’. John Carpenter is a huge inspiration as well. Jack Hill…Paul Schrader…’Rolling Thunder’ is a huge inspiration as well.

BD: That’s a pretty good list.

JE: Yeah! [Laughs]…I was also gonna say Robert Harmon is a huge inspiration. He directed ‘The Hitcher’. He even called me up…like a week before we were going to shoot, and we talked on the phone for like two hours. He worked with Rutger on ‘The Hitcher’ and he was giving me advice…’The Hitcher’ was his first feature film. And he called me up and he just gave me two hours of amazing advice, which was pretty amazing of him.

BD: Wow! Well, ‘The Hitcher’ was the film that made me deeply terrified of Rutger Hauer.

JE: [Laughs] Yeah, he’s amazing in that film.

BD: What’s he like in person?

JE: Oh, he’s amazing. He’s so fun to be around! And what was so great too is that like he also runs a program out of the Netherlands called Film Factory, where he works with a bunch of young filmmakers and helps them get their short films off the ground. So he’s very experienced with working with first-time directors, and he loves the energy, he feeds off of it. So he’s just a pleasure to work with in that sense. He was just so giving and so easy to work with. He worked his ass off on this film! He told me, he was like, ‘J, I’ve gotta tell you, I’ve never worked this hard on a film before!’ [Laughs]

BD: Well, that’s something of a compliment I guess. So what’s up next after this for you?

JE: Well, we’re working on a couple of ideas. We have hopefully a martial arts film that will hopefully go into production later on this year. And you can expect it to kinda be in…the same world [as 'Hobo']. There’ll be lots of blood and guts in that as well too…I gotta do a film that’s like a new version of ‘Riki-Oh’ maybe. [Laughs]

BD: A new version of what?

JE: Have you ever seen ‘Riki-Oh’?

BD: No.

JE: You’ve never seen ‘Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky’? [Laughs]

BD: No, I haven’t seen it!

JE: Oh man, just look it up on YouTube…it’s an amazing film. Just look it up. You’re gonna want to track it down when you see it.

BD: So is the martial arts film the next one?

JE: Yeah, hopefully.

BD: Is there a title for that?

JE: We just have working titles right now…I don’t want to say it yet, because yeah, I want it to be special.

BD: Well I know you have a busy night, so I don’t want to take up any more of your time. Thanks so much for getting on the phone with me.

JE: Oh, thank you man. I really appreciate it. I’ve been reading your guys’ site for years. Man, I can’t remember…I don’t know if you remember when ‘Diabolical Dominion’ used to be online…then you guys came around and I remember, I think I checked out your guys’ site the first day it was online, and I’ve been following it ever since…no man, when I saw that you guys first…when they first posted the ‘Hobo’ trailer on Bloody-Disgusting I was so fucking excited!