Interview! We talk to Hobo with a Shotgun director Jason Eisener
If you don’t already know, Hobo with a Shotgun started life as a five minute grindhouse trailer for an imaginary movie. It won an online competition judged by Robert Rodriguez (Machete) and online fans demanded a feature film. Thanks to Momentum Pictures and the Canadian film industry, they got it…
How would you categorise Hobo?
That question stumps me the most, because the movie is such a mixed bag of the genres that inspired me. I think it’s an action exploitation comedy. It’s got a horror vibe, an eighties action vibe, it’s very influenced by blaxploitation films, by Italian giallos…
Those movies were done with no to low-budget zeal, weren’t they? If you look at Italian exploitation film New Barbarians, it was like, “let’s go cover a golf buggy with tin foil and go make a movie…”
Yeah, I love that film! That was kind of the same spirit we had making the movie. To compete with big studio movies and their big-name casts, those exploitation films had to had to come up with really crazy ideas, plots, and exploitative scenes that did everything they could to get audiences into the movie theatre. And that’s how we felt when making Hobo. We couldn’t compete with something like Robert Rodriguez’ Machete which had a huge A-list cast like Robert de Niro and Jessica Alba, so we kind of thought along the lines of the exploitation movies of the seventies and eighties. We thought: “If we haven’t got a huge cast, we’re going to have to come up with crazy ideas to get that audience into the cinemas”.
Hobo started off as a hugely popular 2 minute grindhouse trailer, but it’s no one trick pony. You extended that into a 90 mins script that’s strong, lean, eminently quotable and tight as a nut. How the hell?
Thanks! In a lot of ways we structured the movie to be like a YouTube movie. It might sound ridiculous, but because Hobo started life as a trailer that went on YouTube, and all the users of YouTube just grabbed hold of it and demanded we make a film, I wanted to make every scene like a movie in itself, so if someone were to upload any one of the scenes from the film onto the internet, hopefully it would go viral.
So every ten minutes is juicy?
Absolutely. Me and my friends back home like to hang out of an evening, having a couple of drinks and showing each other clips of things we’ve found on the internet. It’ll get to the point where we’re up all night, talking and laughing and seeing crazy things, and by the end of the night we’re stuffed with crazy things and amazing images and great music, and I wanted people to have that same experience when they watched Hobo.
Like that late night conversation where someone references popcorn and you butt in with “hey, have you checked out that scene in Troll 2…?”
We keep getting shifts in how people watch movies. Grindhouse, videos and now the internet, with networking online filmmakers and fans. It seems like garage film-making is on the rise…
I think so. As of this year, you can buy Canon SLR cameras that cost 800 bucks. We even use one on Hobo and it looks amazing; you can actually have a theatrical-looking movie for 800 dollars. So now anyone can make a big screen movie. One of the reasons why Hobo was popular and why things like Paranormal Activity are catching on is that things that go viral on the internet are things you can’t really grab hold of in a movie theatre or on television. People are bored with what’s coming out of the big studios. More exciting things are being made in people’s backyards.
Technicolor was credited really early on in the credits. Almost like it’s another character in the movie…
Light and colour is something that’s always been important for me, even in my earlier work. When I was in school I was always playing around with colour. It came from my love of Italion giallos – Dario Argentio’s Suspiria looks like candy on the screen. We wanted Hobo to feel like its own world, and our style is to create worlds full of crazy colours. A lot of Hobo‘s colour was created on the day, just using gels on the lights, and when we were working at Technicolor, an amazing colourist there helped us crank up the saturation so the film was very vibrant.
All that rich, vibrant seventies vision dripping off the big screen… adult content aside, it felt like our childhood up there.
Yeah, and I like how you said Technicolor was another character. It totally is; that’s why I had to give it a credit early in the film. It’s more than just a look, it’s something you feel. It’s a major part of the experience of watching the movie.
Have you developed any director quirks? Got to wear the baseball cap back to front? Need sushi on tap?
No! The only quirk I might have is… I love a fresh pair of socks. There’s just something about having a fresh pair of socks that makes me feel great about the day. We had an intern, and at the end of her internship she gave me a really nice present of a big bag of socks. Actually, I’ve got a nice pair of fresh white socks on now.
(Jason Eisener reveals his white, fresh socks. Though simple and comfortable in design they are so natty and bright that your humble interviewer whispers, in round-eyed amazement, “F***ing hell…”)
You and Hobo screenwriter John Davies grew up watching grindhouse movies together in a shed in your backyard. You made a grindhouse trailer. Then a feature movie. You like to keep things close, collaborate with people you know?
I love working with the people I’ve grown up working with. We’re all in it together. For my first movie, it was really important to shoot it in my home town. I knew that I would have support from my workmates and friends who’d give me their heart and soul, and Rutger saw all that, and loved it, and fed off that energy.
The work done on Hobo was no phoned-in performance for people’s champion Rutger Hauer – he gave what we believe to be one of the performances of his career. How did you draw this great performance out of him?
We really connected when he came to Novia Scotia to shoot the movie with us. We’d talked a little bit over Skype and really hit it off but Rutger had no idea what the crew was going to be like. He might have thought this was going to be a regular movie, but once he saw the energy from all of us on the crew he really got into the spirit of it. He got totally wrapped up in the energy of it all and was having so much fun, even though he’s over 65 and we worked him really hard. The role is very physical and he said he’d probably worked the hardest he’s ever worked on a movie.
I was worried, because it’s my first feature film, and I was going to get a chance to work with my favourite actor from my childhood… and he’s worked with some of my favourite directors, too. I didn’t want to feel like a chump, or some kind of amateur. I wanted to be a good director for him. As soon as Rutger came to Halifax, he took away all those fears. We have a pretty tight crew back home, and he just jumped right into that crew. He wasn’t the kind of actor who’d come out, do his lines and go back to the trailer. He was right out there on the frontline, helping us make the movie. He’d give us ideas on how to wrap up a scene… he was just very giving and inspirational.
I saw his TV show The Film Factory in the Netherlands before I came to Halifax. I saw how great he was with all these young film-makers, and I didn’t know if it was just a show, just television… but he was totally that guy.
The SFX and stunts must have been pretty gruelling for even those under 65. No CGI, is that right? Just stunts, props, latex?
Yeah. It was pretty intense to do, with only 24 days to shoot the film. Every single day we had a stunt and a gag, or a stunt and some crazy gore effect. I’m not really a fan of CGI. A horror effect done in CGI totally takes the magic away for me, because I’m taken out of the movie. I love the feeling of watching a gore gag and wondering “how do they do that”, but once you see that in CGI it’s just a case of “oh, it’s a computer”. We wanted all our effects to be real and true. It’s harder to do it that way, because those things take a lot of time, but we knew it was important do it for real.
Molly Dunsworth (Abby) was involved in some of the most visceral splatterfests in Hobo. She must have spent half her day in latex and gore…
She was amazing. She was covered in blood for 90% of the movie and she did it with a huge smile on her face. We were both working with Rutger, and it was her first feature film, same as it was for me, so we were both really nervous coming into the movie. She gave me a lot of confidence, because she’d be so confident herself, getting on set – as soon as I’d see that, I’d start getting confident about what I was doing, and she never once complained about the blood on her. I would see her shaking in the cold, just covered with blood, and she would always have a smile on her face…
There’s a huge bear motif in Hobo. Did it get introduced when you knew Rutger Hauer was on board? Or was the bear always part of the movie?
For me, the movie is about a bear stuck in a circus or a zoo, trying to get out. The guy who played the original Hobo trailer, Dave had never acted before in his life. He wasn’t homeless, but he was borderline, living off disability. What he does in his spare time is study bears and sharks. If you go to Dave’s apartment, it’s just covered with books on bears and sharks. While we were writing the character for the film, I was really inspired by Dave, the original Hobo. That bear speech that the hobo (Rutger Hauer) gives Abby (Molly Dunsworth) in the bedroom is, word for a word, a conversation I recorded on the phone with Dave over breakfast. It all came from Dave. I had Dave sit beside me every single day on the monitor while we were shooting the movie. Him and Rutger Hauer worked together. If you knew Dave as a person, you would look at Rutger’s performance and see all these little mannerisms that Dave has.
Watch Dave in the original Hobo with a Shotgun grindhouse trailer
Any projects in the pipeline?
Yeah! We’re working on a martial arts exploitation film!
(This raises a cheer at Best For Film. Martial arts? Exploitation? They were made for each other).
You wrote and shot the Hobo trailer in 6 days. Well done. Now you’ve got 30 seconds to pitch us 3 elements you’d happily turn into a feature-length grindhouse movie. Clock’s ticking! Go!
Um… Nunchucks, definitely. Toilet bowl. And… a door. I could make a good movie with those three elements.
We should have asked this first, really, but we got too enthused and forgot. Is Hobo a homage or do you see it as moving the genre forward?
I wanted it to stand on its own and be a new breed of exploitation film. It has hints of homage running through it, but I didn’t want the audience to feel it was constantly referencing other movies. Like I said before, it definitely caters to a new YouTube generational audience who process information really quickly. In many ways, that was the spirit of Hobo.
Perhaps you could take a Pulp Fiction route and build a film of 10 minute movies that thread together through plot?
That’s Rutger’s dream. He wants to make a movie like that.
He sounds like a forward-thinking gentleman. He’s a clever bear. As you once described him, he’s the people’s champion!
He is. He very much is. Oh yeah!
(A comfortable pause. We grin squintily at each other, suffused by a warm fuzzy love of film champions in general and Rutger Hauer in particular).
Don’t forget, kids – Hobo with a Shotgun gets its UK cinema release on July 15th. Read our Hobo With a Shotgun review to prepare yourself, then muster your troops and hit the cinemas. Viva la grindhouse.