By Paul Hunter
For film director Jason Eisener, $150 and a case of beer was all it took to mark the beginning of career that is nothing short of living the dream. What started as a fake trailer submitted in a contest for the double feature film Grindhouse wound up taking Eisener all the way to Austin, Texas, where he met filmmaker Robert Rodriguez who selected his trailer -- Hobo With a Shotgun -- as the best entry. That fake trailer proved to be so popular it eventually got feature film funding, an international theatrical release, and the attention of the legendary Rutger Hauer who signed on to become the Hobo. Eisener's story is as inspiring as it is spectacular and that's why I got really excited when I was offered a chance to sit down with him to discuss how this all happened, and what Hobo With a Shotgun has meant for his career.
Paul Hunter: Most people remember Hobo With a Shotgun as one of those fake movie trailers in Grindhouse that was put on my Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Where did you get the idea for the trailer from?
Jason Eisener: It all started in this pizza shop that me and my best friend John Davies, the writer of the film, hangout called Ronnie's Pizza and it's where we would go to to pitch ideas back and forth. One day I was sitting in there and my buddy Mojo came in, and at the time he had really long hair, a shaggy shirt on and had just bought an Airsoft Shotgun that shoots little plastic pellets. As me and John were pitching ideas back and forth, Mojo speaks up and says "well guys, why don't you make a movie about me?" and John looks him up and down and says "what, a Hobo with a shotgun?" It just clicked, a lightbulb went off. We thought that was a really cool movie title, but what would that movie be about?
PH: You eventually went on to Austin, Texas, and you won the Grindhouse trailer competition. What was that experience like?
JE: It was amazing. We didn't know at the time they were going to pick one winner, we were told they were going to pick the top three and play them at Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse panel that he was putting on. When we got there they told us they were only going to pick one. I was already super excited that we were picked as one of the top three and when they told us they were going to pick the top one I thought there's no way in hell we're going to win. They played the three trailers, and Rodriguez picked Hobo With a Shotgun as his top trailer. He put me up on a panel with Harry Knowles and we talked about the trailer. It was awesome, such an amazing experience. What's so cool too is a lot of the other teams who made trailers came to Austin to be a part of the whole thing. We made so many amazing new friends there.
PH: It's crazy too because I understand that you're a big fan of Robert Rodriguez growing up, and his book was a big influence on you. What was it like meeting one of your boyhood idols?
JE: It was so incredible. I read his book Rebel Without a Crew in college and it really inspired me to continue making movies. I got to meet Quentin Tarantino twice as well. It was hard not to act like a fanboy when you meet guys like that (laughs).
PH: The internet viewers really rallied behind Hobo With Shotgun and it got hundreds of thousands of views. What do you think the fans gravitated towards?
JE: I think they were just excited to see something they wouldn't normally get from a studio picture, or something that would be on television. You think that something like Hobo With a Shotgun could only be made and put on the internet, and that would be it. I think people just loved the Hobo character, his lines and how he carried himself. He's the underdog hero, but at the same time he's so angry and teed off, so it's really funny to watch. It's such a high concept, crazy idea that people dug because it's something that nobody would think could be put in a movie theatre.
PH: I heard that the original trailer was made without permits and for only a couple hundred bucks. Was it challenging to secure funding for the feature length film and gain support from the City of Halifax where the filming took place?
JE: Making the trailer only required a few people at a time, maybe three people, and we shot it for about $150. That was just to buy tape, and pizza and cigarettes for Dave Brunt who played the Hobo. We ran around the city with a real shotgun and stealing locations (laughs). I love that spirit, and there was that same spirit when making the feature film too. They were time when I'd grab Rutger Hauer and tell him we're going to steal a location and would get all excited. It was important to me that we shot our first feature film back at home with all of our friends so we could have that support that they give us. It's that heart and soul that you put in the film and that's what shows on the screen. The biggest change was going from three people on set at a time to a team of forty or more when making the feature film. Definitely a completely different experience directing such a large crew.
PH: Some people are obviously going to look at this film and view it as a blood and gore fest, but I found there was a lot of subtext in the film that talks about corruption and exploitation. What were some of the messages that you wanted to convey?
JE: It reflects a lot of what was going on in the world and it leaked its way into the movie. Like you said with corporations and corruption. Mostly for me what I connected with was the idea that there's crime or something horrible happening and people just stand by watching it happen. Although I don't think violence is the answer to solving problems like that. You're right though, some people watch the movie and just see the blood and guts, but some people also see there's a heart there as well. That was always important especially when working with Rutger Hauer because I think I sold him on the heart of the story and character.
PH: Let's talk specifically about the Hobo character, how did you manage to get Rutger Hauer in the film?
JE: For me, Rutger is my favourite actor since I was a kid. When I first saw him in The Blood of Heroes and The Hitcher he totally captured my attention and I tried to track down everything he was involved with. Alliance Films, our distributor in Canada, ask me to write down on a list my top five favourite actors who I'd love to play the role and I thought this was ridiculous for a low budget Canadian film in Nova Scotia, we're not going to get anyone I put on this list. They were really adamant that I do it so I was like all right, fine, and I wrote Rutger Hauer at the top of the list thinking there's no way we'll ever get him, but it'll give them an idea of the kind of actor I want for the role. Within a couple of days they got a hold of his agent and the agent didn't understand the script and told Rutger it wouldn't really be a good film for him. For Rutger when somebody tells him that he's probably not going to like something he finds it really interesting and wants to know why. So he took it upon himself to read the script and he thought it was interesting so he said let me talk to the director and see what he has to say, so I had to get on Skype with him. It was the first Skype call I had ever done and I was so nervous talking to someone who was an idol of mine as a kid, but once we started the conversation it felt so comfortable because he's so down-to-earth. I pitched him the heart of the story, and how I wanted the character to be grounded, and the western theme of the film. He loved it and thought it would be a lot of fun so he wanted to be involved and help us out. Weeks later he was in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia with us making a movie.
PH: With all the success you've had with Sundance, winning the Grindhouse trailer competition, and getting Rutger for the film, do you feel like you're living the dream? Or do you feel this is the first step in the evolution of your career?
JE: I guess both. It was definitely a dream come true. It's not too long ago I was a kid in high school dreaming one day of making my own feature film, but I never thought my first feature film would star someone like Rutger Hauer, or be a movie like Hobo With a Shotgun. We got to do what we wanted to do, we got to make the movie we wanted to make. That's so rare and amazing, there's definitely some times when I have to pinch myself. It sinks in a bit now, but then there's pressure to do something else that's even more fun than Hobo With a Shotgun.
PH: Some of the scenes in the movie are obviously over-the-top and meant to be outrageous, such as the torching of the bus full of kids. Where do you draw the line?
JE: For that scene in particular we wanted to come up with a terrorist act that could flip the community upside down and make them turn on each other, but had to fit the limitation of our budget. I was thinking about other movies that had grand terrorist acts such as the Batman movie where Joker blows up a hospital. We couldn't really do something like that, but we could buy a broken down bus for probably $500, then get a bunch of our friends to bring down their kids and do something crazy. It's such a crazy, outrageous idea but at the same time is does keep with the story and the motivation of the characters. Crazy ideas are fine so long as they support the narrative. Outrageous ideas that we thought could take away from the narrative, or distract people from the characters or the story, we felt wouldn't be necessary.
PH: One thing I couldn't believe is that you beheaded Rob Wells and you slashed George Strombolopolous. How did you manage to convince them to do these scenes?
JE: Rob was awesome. We wanted to work with him for quite some time and we gave him that little role. He's such an amazing guy because he had to sit in that hole for almost two days with sun just beaming down on his head while wearing that manhole thing around his neck. It was so uncomfortable that after we shot that scene he had to walk around for the next week with a neck brace on, but he never complained about it when we were shooting. He was awesome to work with and that death was just so fun. The best story I have about that death is there was this background performer and he had been blind his whole life. We're doing that scene and Rob Wells head pops off and the blood starts shooting out, and this hot chick comes up and starts dancing in the blood. The guy had corrective surgery done on his eyes two weeks prior to filming this scene, and his vision came back to him as this scene was unfolding, so the very first thing he had ever saw is this girl in a bikini dancing in the blood. One of the executive directors overheard him say wow, red is so beautiful (laughs). George was such a pleasure to work with too. My producer sat beside him on a plane ride to LA one day and he showed him one of my short films called Treevenge and he loved it. While we were in LA he gave his phone number to my producer and said hit me up sometime while you're here. So we're out for dinner one night and we thought well why don't we text George and see if he wants to come out thinking he probably won't, but he took a cab and was over within five minutes. We hung out all night and we hit it off and asked him if he wanted to be involved with Hobo, he was totally game. He flew down on his own dime and stayed for a couple of days. On set he wanted to get his hands dirty, help out with the blood rig, so he was really cool and it was fun to shoot that scene with him.
PH: Do you have any idea how much blood was split on set?
JE: I don't, know. Every day I showed up at the set I saw buckets and buckets of blood. We had a guy whose job was pretty much to make blood the whole time. We had a truck that we called the Blood Truck. There should be an extra feature about that on the DVD.
PH: So what's next -- any more exploitation films coming out soon?
JE: Yeah, I'm writing a martial arts film right now that's definitely in that crazy exploitation world. I'm also involved with this anthology project called The ABCs of Death which is being done through the Alamo Drafthouse and Magnet Releasing. Basically what they're doing is giving a letter of the alphabet to a director, so there are 26 filmmakers involved each with a letter, and we each have to create a tale of horror and gore. I think it'll be done around the new year.
PH: Thanks so much for your time Jason.