Director Jason Eisener first captured the attention of film fans worldwide with his award-winning faux-trailer “Hobo with a Shotgun” at the 2007 SXSW Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino ‘Grindhouse’ Trailer Competition. A lifelong movie fan, it turned out that his win there was just the first stop on what would prove to be a whirlwind ride for this up-and-coming director! Fast forward to 2011 — Eisener has just unleashed the gritty, action-packed, no-holds-barred feature length version of ‘Hobo With A Shotgun’ on the world. The film features the iconic Rutger Hauer in the lead role and has developed a cult following that is growing larger with each passing day! Not to shabby for a laid back guy from Canada! Icon Vs. Icon‘s Jason Price recently caught up with Jason Eisener to discuss his past and cinematic influences, the influences that helped to shape the world of ‘Hobo With A Shotgun,’ the possibility of a sequel or spin-off, and his advice for aspiring filmmakers!
We always hear that the entertainment industry isn’t for the faint of heart. What helped you pursue a career as a filmmaker instead of going in a different direction?
Well, when I was a kid I wanted to be a marine biologist and I asked my Grade 5 schoolteacher, like, if I could make a living doing it, and he said that I would have a really hard time. So, I started thinking about other things and then someone didn’t tell me you don’t make that much money being a filmmaker either! [laughs]
But, basically what my passion just kind of came from, mostly, like at the end of junior high I was into skateboarding and that’s how I first picked up a video camera and just started filming skits with my friends in our down time, and then started really digging into films and discovering my love for cinema.
I think it was like Grade 9, we took over my parents’ backyard shed, and we just turned it in to, like, this screening clubhouse where we just had a VCR and a couple bunks. But we spent our whole summer in there swimming and watching movies, and we just cleaned out, like, our local video store — like horror, action, sci?fi section — within a span of a summer, and we then when it came time when we got to high school we just used every opportunity we could to film any project that a teacher would give us to try to make it into an opportunity to make a movie.
And they made a film and video class just because they saw, like, the interest for it, and so, there in high school, I had this amazing film teacher by the name of Brian O’Grady who just let our imaginations run wild. He basically didn’t put, like, a cap or a limit on anything, and that’s, I think, where I probably got to discover myself as an artist and the kinds of movies I wanted to make the most and then I saw ‘Evil Dead II,’ and I think it was playing 11 or something and that’s when I saw that movie that I just knew that I wanted to be a filmmaker for the rest of my life. When I saw how Sam Raimi moved with his camera I just I couldn’t believe it! I thought, “Wow if one can make a living doing that, that’s pretty awesome!”
And so I went into NFCC program like a community college and it’s a two-year program where they just — where they teach you how to use the gear and the lighting set ups and set etiquette and how every position works. So, we just took it as an opportunity to learn everything, and when we got out of school we could just do the lighting edit, shoot it, direct it, produce it, record the sound, mix it, compose music, and it just really gave us the tools to do neat films. So, that’s kind of sort of a really long answer to your question.
No, that’s great. You mentioned Sam Raimi. Is he or is there one person you would sight as your biggest professional influence?
That’s a really good question. I don’t know if I could just put it on one person. Shit, yeah, I don’t know, because there’s been so many films and filmmakers that have influenced me so much in my life. Like, he’s definitely one of them, and John Carpenter and when I saw Walter Hill’s ‘The Warriors’ when I was in college I was kind of going through a hard time, and I didn’t know if I was going to continue pursuing filmmaking and I saw ‘The Warriors’ and that just totally revitalized me and inspired me. And I knew, like, when I saw that movie I was just like man it just reminded me of when I saw ‘Evil Dead II.’ It was like if filmmaking can be this cool if it’s possible for a movie to be as cool as ‘The Warriors’ then that’s what I want to do. I got to do that. I got to figure out a way to make that happen.
That’s awesome. I’m a big fan of ‘The Warriors’ myself, and now that you say that, I can kind of see a little bit of ‘The Warriors’ in ‘Hobo with a Shotgun’ actually.
Yeah, absolutely. It’s my favorite film of all time. Like, I can say that honestly that is my favorite movie. Just I love that film and also how it inspired me in my life. It’s kind of leaking into my work, that’s for sure.
For people who may not be familiar with it, what initially sparked the idea for the ‘Hobo with a Shotgun’ trailer?
Well, there’s this place that me and John go to every once in a while to come up with ideas for movies and it’s called Ronny’s Pizza and it’s this pizza joint that’s, like, it’s kind of down the street from where we lived and grew up. And we were there one day just kind of pitching ideas back and forth and one of our best friends named Mojo was hanging with us. And he had really long hair and he had a shirt with a bunch of stains on it and he had just bought this air soft shotgun that shoots plastic pellets and John and I were just shooting ideas back and forth, just random pitches, and Mojo speaks up and says, “Well, why don’t you guys make a movie about me?” And John just kind of looks him up and down and says, “What a hobo with a shotgun?” And it just kind of clicked. Like, we knew right then and there when those words came out of his mouth we were like, “Whoa, that has a really cool meaning and a really cool idea.”
But we were kind of like, what can this movie be about? And we went outside on that street, it’s called Main Street, and there is, like, strip clubs. There’s pawnshops, there’s sex toy stores, it’s dirty and it’s kind of a greasy street, and we just started envisioning, outside the windows of that pizza shop, we started envisioning this hobo walking down the street and hanging outside the convenience store and there was a robbery and it took place and the guy who owned the convenience store was really good to this homeless guy, and he was giving him change or food when he could. So, this hobo was, like, standing in this line to buy a lawn mower, but he saw in that pawnshop window and he goes over and he trades in his nickel and dimes for a shotgun and just walks back over and takes care of the cops and saves this convenience store and that was the idea and then we left like that pawnshop ?? that pizza shop with, and when the contest came about we kind of pulled that idea out and started just elaborating on it.
Was it a difficult process like flushing out the trailer into a script for a feature length film?
It was and it wasn’t. We were just writing like we write in the future film scripts before but this was definitely our first real tackle at it in a sense. When we came up with the idea for the trailer, and the day we went to go shoot it, we just ?? the night before, we shot it the night we heard about the contest, and we basically just put that day and that afternoon running a treatment as what we thought the whole film was about. And so we came up with all the scenes, well, most of the scenes and then kind of picked out which moments we thought would be best for the feature and then we went over and we shot those moments. And then we went back to write the feature, it wasn’t long before we were able to bang out that first draft, but we wrote like 27 other drafts over the years. We would get bored with ideas or come up with new characters or just I don’t know. It seemed like almost every draft was almost kind of completely different in a way.
One of the things that really makes the film jump from the screen is Rutger Hauer’s performance. How did you get him to come aboard for the film?
Well, me and John, when we were spending the time in my parents’ back shed, the first actor I remember we popped in a copy of ‘The Hitcher’ and we were just blown away by Rutger’s screen presence. At first we were just tracking down our favorite directors and then Rutger was the first actor we sought after every one of his films, and then I remember seeing ‘The Blood of Hero,’ which I think is probably still my favorite Rutger Hauer movie. It just, like, that was always a huge inspiration in the back of my mind like when we were writing the hobo character and so when it came time ?? the distributor asked us to write or list a top of our top five favorite actors that we would love to play the role. And it was just obvious that Rutger would be at the top of that list, but I never thought that he would do it. Like, I didn’t even figure we would be able to reach him.
I didn’t think it would ever happen, but I thought it would give people a kind of class and style idea that I want to bring to the character, and so I wrote down and within a couple days they got a hold of his agent and his agent read the script and thought it was right for Rutger, but thought Rutger wouldn’t like it, and he basically sent him the script and he said, “It’s a bunch of kids and they’re making this movie. They don’t have much money, I don’t think you’re going to like the script,” and for Rutger, whenever someone tells him he doesn’t like something or that he won’t like something, it kind of piques his interest. He wants to know why people would think he doesn’t like something.
As a director, did having an experienced actor like him take away some of the burden of being a first time director?
Take away a burden, no. I felt more stress! [laughs] Especially during the prep just ’cause ?? I’m first and foremost a film fan, like, before I’m anything else. So, he was my favorite actor growing up and still is my favorite actor, and, so, I was really nervous in prep I can remember before that conversation I had with him I couldn’t even eat my lunch. I was really nervous for him having that week of knowing he was coming and I’m going to have to give direction to one of my favorite actors, and he’s worked with some of my favorite directors … I just thought, like, now I’m gonna look like a chump! [laughs]
But he was so awesome. We just hit it off. We went out for coffee and we just spent three days, like, hanging out at the office just jamming on movies and music and we’d crack open the script every once in a while and just talk about ideas. But, we mostly just spent our prep together just hanging out and talking about the character, talking about each others lives and inspirations and just really connected. It honestly felt, like, someone I had known my whole life. He felt like an old college buddy or an old best friend, like, I haven’t seen in a long time. And he just made that so comfortable onset. He was just super cool to everyone. He was so cool to all of my friends and crew.
He was more than just an actor; he came on as one of the filmmakers. Like one of the team, because as soon as he got there, you know I’m pretty close with my team, like my friends and my crew and my producers and my writer, and we were always jamming on stuff together, like, here just growing up together working together and stuff, and he just came and he jumped in on that team as soon as he got here. It was so cool to see. So, he was, like, even, like, things we would have problems with he would speak up and say, “Hey, boys I’ve seen this like done a hundred times. Here, like, let me show you.” And he would stand and help us figure it out.
What would you say was the biggest challenge for you on the shoot?
The biggest challenge, well the biggest challenge I guess was probably just the shooting schedule and the amount of stuff we got to do in just a short period of time. And doing a lot of the action and stunts and gags and me being a first time filmmaker, there’s definitely inexperience there. And so it was just we had, like, we were averaging over 45 setups per day and just going, going and going. And in order to make our day it was just, like, it was crazy.
But we just kept the energy alive and just kept everything moving. But, other than that, that was more of just, like, that was, like, the work but I guess some of the mental struggles were just being a first time filmmaker and having to direct a crew and be a team leader, it becomes a little nerve racking beforehand, but once I got into production I just felt I was meant to do it.
But, I remember in prep I wanted to be a good leader and it was all these emotions building up to shooting and, yeah, I just wanted to be super confident and everything in every decision I made and that’s, like, one of the most important things a filmmaker can be is confident. You have to show your team that you are confident about everything. Like, once you appear to have lost confidence in what you’re doing then your team is gonna lose confidence in what they’re doing, and when you’re working on a film you’re working with a bunch of amazing artists. It’s not like just a couple of artists on set. It’s like everyone working on the film is, like, a really good artist and your job as the director is to keep them inspired, and you’ve got to go around and make sure that all these artists are inspired and make art, and I feel that that’s one of the most important things a director can do on set, because if all the artists on the movie are inspired to make it work then hopefully that’s going to translate into the film.I really wanted to be a really good team leader for my crew and so that was probably the hardest part was just making sure and building up that confidence and being confident in myself.
You mentioned the time frame and the tensions being high for your first feature. What was your favorite memory from your time on the set with all that looking back on the whole process?
I think my favorite moment on set, the one I’ll probably take with me forever, is it was one of the last days of shooting we only had, like, eight people for the crew and it was a very small crew. We were shooting the opening train sequence for the opening credits, and it was a beautiful day and we had the whole day with this train basically, and we just had fun. Like, there was no stress. We only had to get a couple shots, and we had to shoot that opening sequence, like, for the one day. It was just great. So, I had a lot of time to do it, and it was just wicked. Like, we were just having a good time. Like, Rutger got to drive the train, and it was a beautiful sunset and I can remember just sitting in the boxcar and Rutger and it was the first time in, like, a year-and-a-half probably where things were so calm. We were done shooting the movie pretty much, and there was not a lot of crazy stress or anything and I got to just kind of sit back for once and actually just realize what had happened, like, over the past year-and-a-half. And I’m looking and I look above the monitor and just see all my crew and my friends hanging out in this boxcar and Rutger on the other side of the land and I just thought, “Holy shit, like, what happened? Like, we’re making a Rutger Hauer movie. This is crazy.” And it was just there was definitely tears. I just, like, had a moment to actually sit back and realize what had happened.
Fans are really started buzzing about the film pretty early. Were you expecting the film to generate the buzz that it has and has it been a bit of a double edged sword in a way with illegal downloading. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how it’s affected you as a filmmaker?
Yeah, sure. The first part of your question ?? I didn’t ?? I thought when we made the film, I would poll out of the audience a little bit more. I thought there’d be a lot more people ready to watch what we had done but it’s been like ?? it’s totally been, like, surpassed our expectations. I thought it would divide our audience like maybe 50/50 like 50 percent of the audience would hate it and 50 percent of the audience would dig it, but I’ve been surprised, like, at how well it’s been received and how the critics have taken to it, and how it’s been building up an audience. It’s awesome. I always hoped it would. It’s, like, the hope of filmmaker to have an audience or a movie ?? and I worked hard to make a film for an audience. Like, it’s not completely just, like, a personal ?? it wasn’t just for us. It’s for a huge audience out there for it, hopefully. It’s great to see they’re supporting the film.
Illegal pirating — I’m new to this, and so I’m learning a lot. Like, I know we’ve got to make back our budget on the movie. It’s sold to a couple territories and you know there’s like ?? we still have to pay everyone that invested their money into it. And so I hope it does. I’m glad, like, people are, like, there’s a demand for the movie and people really want to see it and they’re downloading it. I think that’s awesome, and I’m getting a lot of support from people that said they’ve downloaded and said they’re definitely gonna pick it up when it comes around in DVD and Blu-Ray.
So, I don’t know. I’m just learning from this right now, and I’m not too sure of what the outcome will be, but hopefully it’ll be positive and hopefully, I don’t know. Like, it’s definitely a different age with film distribution right now, and there’s no way stopping a movie from getting online. It’s just impossible. So, there’s nothing I can really do to fight it. I’m seeing that now, and hoping that the people that do dig the movie support it, because if the movie makes its budget back and does okay there’s a good chance we’ll get to work again and we’ll get to bring another movie back to Nova Scotia and everyone that has worked so hard on this movie will give them an opportunity to work again.
I did read that there’s a possibility for a possible spinoff. What could you tell us about that?
Well, I don’t know, we’ll see. There are two characters in the movie that people really seem to groove on, and they call it ”The Plague.“ There are these two bounty hunters that have to ?? they get called by The Drake to take down the hobo and we kind of made those like ?? we’ve had those characters kind of floating around in the back of our minds for quite some time.
And they’ve kind of leaked into some of our other short film work that we’ve done before, and we wrote a treatment for a future film about them called “The Plague” that I love and I’m super excited about the idea.
So, I don’t know. Maybe if there’s enough interest, maybe i’ll have an opportunity to make that film some day, but I’m also open to ?? I’d also love to make another hobo movie as well too. We have lots of other hobo stories. Like, I was saying before we had 27 drafts of the spread that were all pretty much different, and so we just have so many ideas of so many stories that I would love to tell more tales of the hobo. But right now we’re writing a marital arts film, that’s our concentration, but we’re always thinking about ideas in that same hobo world.
Can you tell us a little bit about the marital arts picture?
Yeah, I can’t say too much because we’re developing it now, and so I can say what it’s about now and then it could totally change in a week or two. It takes place in a high school. It’s very much in the world of hobo with a shotgun. It’s very influenced by ‘The Wanderers’ and ‘The Class of 1984’ and ‘Rock -n- Roll High School’ and ‘Riki-Oh’ and we’re gonna try and make a kick ass Canadian marital arts movie ’cause there haven’t really been any! Other than ‘Vampire Hunter’ and ‘Harry Knuckles.’
What would be your best advice to someone who wants to pursue a career in filmmaking?
I think you’ve got to spend a lot of time working for free, and I know it’s tough. It’s tough to pay the rent and, you know, work a hard job and then have to go to work in the film world which is really tough as well and work for free. But, you’ve got to spend a lot of time working for free and just making connections and usually when you’re helping out other people will return the favor when it comes time to make your own film, so you’ve got to spend a lot of time working really fast on other people’s short films and just giving them your time and your energy for free and then hang onto all of that when it comes time to manage your own film and bring out all those people that you helped out. And there’s a lot of that. You spend a lot of time working for free for a while just building connections and building relationships with people, so that when it comes time to make your own film you’ll have people who will give you their free time as well.
And, another thing too is I think is really important for filmmakers is to grab a hold of their inspirations and know how they perceive the world as artists and to track it down, track down things that really inspired you as a kid or really caught your attention or … let me give you an example of tracking down something that you know influences you and how you perceive the world. For me is growing up I spent a lot of time watching, like, ‘80’s television. Like, ‘80’s cartoons and ‘80’s wrestling. For me, whenever I see a certain color combination go together like yellow, a certain yellow, or red my mind instantly clicks to Hulk Hogan, like, from WWF back in the day. And, I think it’s important to recognize those things and track those things down, and then start applying those things to your own work. And so, like, with Hobo I don’t know if anyone will ever see it, but when I was designing characters for the movie I was going back to how ‘80’s wrestling was attracting my eye as a kid and what they did to attract my attention. And so I tried to design my characters in a kind of way that they did using crazy color pallets and maybe one day some kid, when they see a certain white or black together, they might think of either Ivan or Slick in the drake or maybe blue and the yellow and they’ll think of the hobo.
I think it’s important for artists to really know how they perceive the world and know if they can track down what they like about art and start applying it to their own work and being true to that. Then their work is gonna be cool, and I think people will connect to it and you’ll develop your own style.
And so, I just think its one thing I’ve preached to filmmakers. They kind of spend a lot of time doing that and stay inspired as well too. Like, being inspired is the most important thing. If you’re not inspired you have to stop everything and figure out what it is that’s either blocking you or that’s not inspiring you or finding something that is inspiring you. Whether it is you’ve got to go climb a mountain or whatever it is you’re gonna have to do it so you can be inspired and keep preying on it. It’s really important.
We really appreciate your time and I think it’s been a great interview. It’s really eye opening to see how you put it all together and everything. So, it’s really been great talking to you.
All right, wicked, man thank you so much!