Jason Eisener might be one of the luckiest people in the history of YouTube. When the producers of Grindhouse, the 2007 exploitation tribute by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, held a contest of amateur trailers for fake movies, Eisener submitted “Hobo With a Shotgun,” a grisly clip that needed no further explanation beyond its title. The view count was explosive, and Eisner’s clip wound up being shown with Grindhouse in his native Canada. Soon after, Eisner received offers to develop a feature around his very DIY YouTube hit. Eisener even landed his favorite actor, Rutger Hauer, in the title role.
Hobo With a Shotgun, which opens today at the West End Cinema, features stabbing, slashing, bludgeoning, incineration, and plenty of shotgun blasts. And we see all of it. Like his early Grindhouse benefactors, Eisener is a romantic for the low-budget, high-shock exploitation films of the 1970s. (Rodriguez and Tarantino were not involved in the production of Hobo With a Shotgun.) Eisener’s debut feature is sloppy, and at times not as fun as its gratuitousness demands, but Hobo With a Shotgun isn’t supposed to be high art—it’s about a hobo and his shotgun, after all. Given a budget, Eisener set out to make a movie he and his friends would want to watch. We spoke by phone last week.
Washington City Paper: My first thought after I finished watching the movie was, “Wow. They didn’t leave anything out.” But I guess it’s hard to be subtle when your movie is called Hobo With a Shotgun.
Jason Eisener: I think we knew from the get-go of the kind of film we wanted to make. It has a lot of influences from old exploitation films. For me to make a current exploitation movie I wanted to exploit a YouTube-generation. Did you and your friends every spend one of those nights just watching a bunch of YouTube videos in a row?
WCP: Back when YouTube first launched I did.
JE: I find those nights really fun. You watch all these viral videos and leave with a high-concept idea.
WCP: How much of a creative jump was it from the Grindhouse trailer to the feature?
JE: We put the trailer up online and it went viral. We wanted the movie to be designed every scene to be its own viral thing. We developed the arcs then we put the craziness in there.
WCP: I read you shot the trailer for less than $200.
JE: It was like 120 bucks. During the contest our trailer went viral. After the Grindhouse premiere we got a call from Alliance, our producer in Canada. They wanted us to turn it into a feature film. We also made a short film called Treevenge. That did really well on the festival circuit and that really helped us get the feature budget.
WCP: And then you landed Rutger Hauer.
JE: He was my favorite actor growing up and the first to catch my attention. When they asked me my top five actors to play the role—to me, that’s the hobo right there. I thought there was no way it could happen though. We sent his agent the script. The agent said to Hauer, “There’s a bunch of crazy kids up in Canada.” When Rutger is told he won’t like something, that piques his interest. We spoke on Skype.
WCP: What made you a Rutger Hauer fan? Was it more Blade Runner or The Hitcher?
JE: For me it was The Hitcher and Blood of Heroes. I thought whoa, this guy is amazing.
WCP: With horror or exploitation movies, is there a kind of unspoken competition to out-do each other on the violence?
JE: For us it doesn’t come from a place like that. We grew up watching a lot of horror and exploitation films. When you’re dreaming the chance to make your own film, you know you have to put your heart and soul into it. That moment with the manhole cover, our influence is Western movies. I wanted to reintroduce the idea of burying something up to their neck but in concrete. They’re hard to do on set it’s fun to come up with them.
WCP: I guess I meant it seems like these kinds of movies are always trying to come up with new ways to kill characters. There was a Korean movie a few months ago, I Saw the Devil, that was very, shall we say, creative.
JE: I loved I Saw the Devil.
WCP: But you don’t spare anyone from the batshit craziness. Even a school bus full of kids gets torched.
JE: The idea of the world was to make it a zoo and a circus that the Drake Show took over the town. The moment with the school bus is very crazy, and that’s a scene that definitely breaks an audience. If you’re not into it, but for the world it is it was necessary to be there. We were thinking of a terrorist act that could completely flip a community and make them think rationally. That scene comes up. I don’t have problems with people’s concern.
WCP: Drake’s sons look a lot like Tom Cruise circa Risky Business.
JE: I get that all the time. I had never even seen the film until three weeks ago.
JE: Yeah. I saw the cover and I said, “Holy shit!” The sons were like my evil Marty McFly.