Cardboard Robots, Supercreeps, and Killer Trees: An Interview w/ ‘Hobo with a Shotgun’ Director Jason Eisener
This is one interview that has been a long time coming, but let me just say that it has been well worth the wait. Jason Eisener and I first spoke online last year while he was in the midst of post-production of a little film called Hobo with a Shotgun (you might have heard of it). Like most fans I was familiar with the faux trailer that had emerged as the victor of Grindhouse’s SXSW contest, but it wasn’t until news of a feature film and its inclusion of film icon Rutger Hauer that I began to pay attention.
Lucky for me, Jason was familiar with the clubhouse and readily agreed to ride the crazy train into are neck of the woods. Heck, he was already there waiting for me to catch up. The result of our trip is what you see before you, a twisted tale of cardboard robots running wild on the streets (Dartmouth Warriors), super creepy monsters (The Teeth Beneath), killer trees (Treevenge) and (of course) one tough as nails Hobo on a mission. Enjoy the ride my friends.
Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat… Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan, or Roddy “Rowdy” Piper?
Growing up I was a Hulkamaniac. I had the Hulk Hogan work out set, I even ate the vitamins. He was a real life out of this world super hero for kids back then. As kids we thought wrestling was real, and Hogan was standing up against the bullies of the world. Kids today don’t have heros like we used to. This might sound silly, but when shooting Hobo we would always blast “Real American” (Hogans theme song) in the car on the way to set. It pumped us up, and also brought me back to my childhood for one good moment before work. I was also jamming a lot of SSQ, especially their track “Synthicide.” When coming up for ideas and getting into “cleaning the streets mode” I was always blasting the theme for Vigilante.
I put my Ultimate Warrior action figure through some messed up scenarios as a kid. I think those days of playing with action figures were probably some of the most important moments in terms of me becoming a film director. Sometimes I still feel like we are playing with action figures. Only I get to design them, and they can do lots of cool things. John Davies (the writer of the film) and I, while writing some of the action pieces, would pull out old action figures and act out the scenes with them.
Tell us about one of your early films, The Teeth Beneath. What is it about and how did it help prepare/influence you for Hobo with a Shotgun?
Most of my childhood films were playing around with high concept ideas. I made a zombie kung fu film called Fist of Death, which was very Road Warrior influenced. Teeth Beneath was a 45 minute film about a couple of employees who arrive to work at their skateboard shop only to find that the store has been robbed, and a pair of crooks have met their demise from a man-eating bunny monster in the basement, along with the cash till and skateboard decks.
When I first saw Walter Hill’s The Warriors, it changed my life. Seeing how cool a film like The Warriors could be, I knew I wanted to make films like it. So naturally after I first saw it, I made my first 16mm film for school, which was about a gang of cardboard robots fighting off gangs in the street. Its called Dartmouth Warriors.
Making that short film, we only had enough film to do 1 take, and I needed to use every shot. There were only 2 takes taken out of the edit. It taught me how important it is to rehearse and have a shot list, but also know how to throw the shot list out in case you need to wrap your scene up quickly. At 3:44 in that clip, you can see my fellow class mates walking away in the background. That’s because the police showed up and kicked us out, but I had to finish the scene, so you just have to learn to improvise and think fast and come up with quick solutions.
When I shot the Teeth Beneath, I had one of my best friends, Evan Elliot, helping me, and together we both camera operated, created special effects, recorded sound, made costumes, production designed, and created the lighting with 3 lights we bought at Canadian Tire for 60 bucks. We built barn doors for the lights with coat hangers. I also cut the film and composed the score with my friend Dan Freeman. That film forced me to learn everything. It also gave me a doorway to meeting my producing partner Rob Cotterill and my costume designer Sarah Dunsworth. I wouldn’t have made Hobo without those two.
I hear you’re a Sam Raimi fan, eh? What other directors do you admire?
Evil Dead 2 is the reason I’m making films today. When I saw that film in high school, it blew my world way. I think there are probably hundreds of filmmakers who would say this, but when we all saw how Sam moved his camera in Evil Dead 2, it was like a light bulb went off in all of our heads.
Brian Trenchard-Smith’s films are very high concept, and he fills his frames with colour. He also understands how to make a rock show. The Man From Hong Kong and Dead End Drive are so full of fun energy and great ideas. Both also have amazing soundtracks. I think if there is anyone who could make a film that could get kids to go outside and start building forts or ramps for their bikes again, its Brian. BMX Bandits is one of the best kids films from the 80s. Watching that film as a kid I can’t imagine not wanting to get up, go bike racing, and pretend to stop bad guys.
Another director who I think could get kids away from their damn computers is Joe Dante. He tells his films from the perspective of the kid inside him. Films like the Explorers, The Burbs, Gremlins, Small Soldiers, and Matinee all have this amazing kid’s perspective that just captures my heart. They are kids films, but sometimes they can be pretty intense. He treats the young audience seriously, which I have a lot of respect for.
George Miller created one of the craziest kids films of all time, Babe 2 Pig In The City. It features some of the most intense sequences for kids. Within the first 10 minutes of that film, the airport security suspects the grandmother of smuggling cocaine inside of Babe. George has created Mad Max and The Road Warrior, which have always been inspirational for me. Just watching this making of the Road Warrior just makes you want to get out and create some insaneness for the screen.
Fred Dekker has an imagination I admire. He also makes films from the perspective of the kid in him. Monster Squad is my favorite kids movie of all time. Whenever I have a kid, I hope we can bond over that film, build a tree fort in the back yard, and start our own “monster squad.”
Walter Hill make’s tough films. He has a similar theme in a lot of his films, which I love. Boys being put through a situation that forces them to become men. Not many people know what their favourite film is; it is a hard question to answer. Especially for filmmakers. For me, it’s the movie that had the most impact on my life, and confirmed my ambition to be a filmmaker, and that’s The Warriors. I also have a major soft spot for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Masters of The Universe. Whenever I would stay home sick from school, my mom or dad would rent both of those films, because they knew it would make me feel better.
My movie collection starts with all of John Carpenter’s films. He helped shape my imagination growing up. It’s so interesting to look at all of John Carpenter’s movies together in your collection. Each title is intriguing, and the plots and characters sound so cool. I look at it and dream that one day I could have a spot on some kid’s shelf that was half as cool as Carpenter’s. He’s also one of my favorite composers. His band, the Coup de Villes, have one of the weirdest/best music videos of all time!
Hobo seems to have an actual agenda in the film. Are there any moral undertones or is it full throttle exploitative entertainment?
Rutger calls the movie a “Graffiti Western”, which I really dig. We were very inspired by spaghetti westerns and street crime films like Vice Squad, Vigilante, Death Wish 3 and Cobra. I’m a fan of guns in films, but not in real life. And you can find that perspective in Hobo. I don’t want to give too much away, but that theme is there. We shot one scene where the Hobo buys his shotgun, in one take Rutger slammed the money on the desk and yelled “I Hate Guns!”. I loved it, and yelled back from over the monitor “I do too!”, and used it in the cut.
The film has a weird heart as well. Like Dante/Dekker, I try to tell my stories from the kid perspective in me- but I don’t think kids should watch my films, they are for the adults who can find the kid inside them.
I detected a Street Trash/Slime City kind of visual aesthetic to the trailer marketing materials. Would either of these films serve as a good primer for watching Hobo?
If you wanna get pumped up for Hobo, and have a pre-show before watching the film, this is what you do: First grab a bottle of J & B Scotch Whisky and share it with your friends. The bottle is featured in Hobo a bunch of times, its a long tradition with a lot of Horror/Giallo/Action films.
Then, any of these films would serve as a good primer for Hobo: Class of 1984, The Exterminator, Street Trash, Vice Squad.
Finally, do me a favor; piss off your neighbours by turning up your sub-woofer, slap your best friend in the back of the neck then press play on Hobo With a Shotgun, blastthat shit.
What happened to the original Hobo, Dave Brunt, and how did he help set the tone for the Hobo character for the feature film?
When Dave Brunt starred in our original Hobo With a Shotgun trailer, it was the first time he ever had a video camera pointed at him. He never acted a day before in his life. What you see in that trailer is Dave’s true frustrations with the world. He walks the streets a lot, and its not hard for him to muster up emotions on how he feels about life and the world.
When it came time to make the feature, we knew it would be too much to ask of Dave, as it would have been so hard on him. He was hit by an 18-wheeler when he was young, and it destroyed his hip. He lives with a lot of pain and the role of the hobo is very physical. I asked Dave to help me pick someone who we both thought could rock the role. When I brought up Rutger Hauer’s name his eyes lit up. He thought Rutger was perfect.
During filming, Dave was on set everyday, sitting right beside me at the monitor. He would always be giving moral support to our cast & crew; they were very inspired by him. Rutger worked with Dave very closely. If you meet Dave in person, you would see a lot of Dave in Rutger’s performance. When I was cutting the film, I was so surprised to see all these little Dave Brunt mannerisms in Rutger’s performance.
There is a speech about bears that the hobo gives to a young prostitute named Abby in the film. Its one of my favourite moments, and it always receives a great reaction from the audience. That speech is almost word for word from Dave. Dave loves bears, and if you go to his apartment, you’ll see stacks of books on bears and sharks. Dave studies them; he’s become an expert on bear behaviour. I recorded a conversation that Dave and I had over breakfast, and it was just amazing. I wanted the Hobo character to have a lot of Dave in him.
Making the feature we were able to realize one of Dave’s dreams, and that was to play a cop in a movie. So you’ll see Dave featured as a dirty cop in the film, and he looks pretty damn tough in a uniform.
Let’s get serious… what’s the main plot of the film?
It’s about a grizzly bear trapped in a zoo.
I see- very interesting. So what signature quality did Rutger Hauer bring to the role in the feature film?
His eyes. Looking into Rutger’s eyes on screen, you know exactly what is going on with his character. Or he can create intense mystery. We were very influenced by Clint Eastwood and Franco Nero. Rutger loves playing around with some John Wayne too.
It was very important for us that the Hobo stayed grounded through the film. The world of Hobo With a Shotgun is Fuck Town; its insane, and over the top. We knew in order for the film to work the Hobo couldn’t get too caught up in the circus of the world. Hobo is a western, and Rutger just brings that old school class with him.
Who are The Plague and how do they fit in?
The Plague are a product of growing up in the 80s. The Plague are characters that could have stepped out of the He-Man or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles universe. The Plague are a bounty hunting duo who live in a crypt, wear a lot of armour, and drive motorbikes towing a wooden coffin that they use to store their bounties. They have been around since the beginning of time, collecting bounties through the centuries. Their crypt is featured in the film and you get a good glimpse of pictures that display some of their past bounties.
We actually wrote a treatment for a film about them, titled “The Plague”. Its a road chance movie about two young ambulance drivers who have the unconscious bounty of the Plague in back of their ambulance. They have to use defibrillators and what ever else that can be turned into a weapon in the ambulance to defend against The Plague.
There’s numerous references to 80s pop culture (pro wrestling, cartoons, movies). What is it about this era of entertainment that most inspires you?
I make a point to stay in touch with my inspirations. I think it is the most important thing a filmmaker can do. Its important to research your youth and pinpoint what helped shape your tastes and perspectives of the world. I grew up in the 80’s, which meant I was subjected to a lot of high concept cartoons. Saturday morning cartoons such a BraveStarr, He-Man, ThunderCats, Mutant League, TMNT, The Real Ghostbusters, and M.A.S.K, helped create my taste in art. For example, the colour schemes and costume designs of BraveStarr were an inspiration to the films design.
80’s WWE was a major influence in terms of costume designs. Sarah Dunsworth (costume designer) was a big fan of wrestling as well. We both appreciated how WWE was able to design characters in such a way that they seemed larger than life. When the costume designers were designing wrestlers costumes, they were designing them in such a way that they would be pleasing to a child’s eye. They were essentially designing action figures. I love that, and tried to apply that idea with Hobo. WWE used prime colour combinations that were just so pleasing to the eye. Every time I see the colour combination of Red and Yellow, my mind instantly thinks back to Hulk Hogan from my child hood. That’s the kind of effect something like 80’s wrestling can have on helping to shape an artist’s vision. Whenever I feel uninspired, I just visit my childhood and do some research. That usually means cracking open the old toy box, blowing off the dust from my Nintendo, or pulling out a box of comics.
If Hobo was a wrestler, what would his finished move be?
After spitting blood into the face of the opponent, he pulls out a sock full of quarters and smashes it over their face. Putting the opponent to bed, its called “The Hobo’s Lullaby.”
Any plans for a Hobo animated series (hey, if the Toxic Avenger could do it…)?
I used to love that show; the action figures were amazing too. Probably not a cartoon, but we would love to make a live action series. We have lots of Hobo stories to tell.
We had written a script years ago called “Hobo X”. It was insane! It’s filled with amazing ideas that we had to cut for budget reasons. But there are enough ideas in that script for an insane first season. It would be like our own Littlest Hobo show, meets Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, meets Predator 2.
How much attention have you paid to reviews of the film post-Sundance?
I pay very close attention. I read everything that is posted. It has been inspiring to read reviews from critics I’ve been following since I was in college.
Even before Sundance, it was announced that Magnet Releasing would be picking the film up for distribution. What does that mean for the future of Hobo?
That means Hobo will have a release in the states. First it will be on VOD, then a small theatrical release. Then DVD/Blu Ray. We also have UK distribution through Momentum Pictures and Alliance Films in Canada.
You now have zombies, ancient demons, killer trees and homicidal hobos in your repertoire. Do you think you’ll continue to focus on the horror genre in the future?
Not necessarily. I love the genre, and hope to keep making films in it. My next film is more of a martial arts film. And I would love to make a kids film some day. Growing up I had films like Monster Squad, The Goonies, Sandlot, and The Dog Who Stopped The War to help fill my imagination. Kids today just don’t have it as cool as we did.
You mentioned on Bloody-Disgusting an interest in directing something along the lines of Riki-Oh. Quite honestly, if it’s true, that would freaking rock.
I love the style of that film, with all the over-the-top villains and characters. I find the violence to be very inspiring. How often do you see someone get their stomach punched off?
Not as often as you’d think. What are a few other cult/exploitation films you’d like to see re-made?
Honestly, I’m not really into the remake craze. I realize how lucky I am to be able to do something original in the genre these days, but I have dreamt up ideas of doing my own version of Psychomania. My dream project would be a respectful depiction of Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but I’m afraid I will never see a live action Leonardo slice a Foot Clan member in half. If anything, I’d love to make the Casey Jones film.
I would seriously kill to see a Casey Jones film directed by you… kill! I also think you’d be a prime candidate for a Lobo film. What’s the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?
Digging up random holes looking for Dinosaur bones.