By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire May 6, 2011 at 5:12AM
"Hobo with a Shotgun," the splatterfest grindhouse homage with a title that keeps on giving, did things backward. In 2007, aspiring Canadian director Jason Eisener saw an announcement on Ain't It Cool News advertising a "Grindhouse" Trailer Contest, sponsored by the SXSW Film Festival and Robert Rodriguez. Eisener, along with his collaborator and friend Rob Cotterill, wrote a script, picked up a camera and shot a trailer titled "Hobo with a Shotgun" in six days for $150. A month after the clip went viral on YouTube, it won the contest.
With a fan base already in check, plans to create a feature were fast tracked. The result stars Rutger Hauer in a insanely committed turn, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and opens today in the U.S. It can currently be viewed on VOD through Magnet Releasing.
Did you envision a full narrative when you wrote the initial trailer that inspired the film?
Basically, when we sat down to write out the trailer we came up with a treatment as to what we thought the whole film would be about. Then we just picked out the best moments for the trailer. When it came time to make the feature film, we went back to that treatment and started building off from there. We probably wrote 27 drafts of the script, each one being different. It has key moments from the trailer, but it’s a whole other beast.
What inspired the trailer?
It all came about from a pizza shop back home, called Ronnie’s Pizza. It’s a place that me and John Davies, the other writer on the film, would go to to pitch ideas for films. One day we were pitching ideas, and one of my buddies, Mojo, was with me. He had really long hair and this scruffy shirt on. He had also just bought this Airsoft Shotgun that shoots plastic pellets. And while me and John were pitching ideas, Mojo spoke up and said, “Why don’t you make a film about me?” And John kind of looked him up and down and said, “What, a hobo with a shotgun?” It kind of just clicked from there really.
Outside of that pizza joint there’s a strip club, a couple of XXX video stores, pawnshops…It’s kind of a seedy area. So we just started envisioning this idea of a hobo hanging outside of a pawnshop and getting confronted by a violent act.
People would probably be surprised to learn that you had a Catholic upbringing, given the guts and boobs on display in "Hobo." Your earlier short films also fall in line with the grindhouse genre. How did you come across exploitation cinema?
The very first time I saw a horror movie was the original "King Kong" with my Grandfather, and I was terrified watching that film. That experience is what inspired me to watch more horror films. But growing up I wasn’t allowed to watch that genre. The only way I was able to was to go to my best friend’s house. When I got to the age where it was totally cool to watch anything, I blew up on that stuff and watched as many as I could.
Another thing that kind of attracts myself to those kind of things, is that I love '80s cartoons. Like growing up on “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and “Transformers"...All those shows have crazy high concept ideas. For someone that’s growing up and maybe moving away from kid’s cartoon shows, another place to go to for high concepts is in exploitation films.
Going back to the '80s. The trailer hinted at a '70s style grindhouse film in the vein of what Tarantino and Rodriguez did, but the film reminded me more of the '80s era John Carpenter flick, especially given the saturated look of the film.
I feel like “Hobo” kind of starts off in the '70s, then really quickly dives into the '80s. Making your first feature, to make a strong one, it really has to represent how you see the world in art. I’m always attracted to anything that comes out of the '80s.
So do you perceive the world in really violent terms?
No, not really. Not at all. More the aesthetic, the color palette, the music. Those things leak into my everyday life.
How did you get manage to snag Rutger Hauer (who didn't appear in the trailer) for the lead?
The original trailer stars a man by the name of David Brunt. David’s not an actor at all. What you see in that trailer is for real...Pure anger on the screen. So when it came time to casting the feature, there was a year or two where we thought we would use Dave. But the physical wear a film can have on anyone would have been too much for Dave. Basically when he was really young he was hit by a drunk driver and had to have a complete hip replacement. I just knew making a feature film would be so hard on him. When I mentioned casting Hauer, David’s eyes just lit up.
Dave became the main inspiration for the character. Hauer spent a lot of time with Dave on set and they became like brothers on set. If you know Dave, you can see all these parts of him in Hauer’s performance.
There's a rumor floating around that you're conceiving of a spin-off centered around the armored warriors (named The Plague) who appear late in the film. True?
We wrote a treatment for the feature film that we would love to. We’ll just have to see. If people dig the "Hobo" and dig those characters, hopefully we can get some backers to make the film.
The film also boasts an Apple iPhone game. How did that come about?
I think it’s been doing really well. Basically how that came about, is one day on my Facebook I posted a status saying, "'Hobo with a Shotgun' would make a cool old school video game." And then I got an email from Mondo [the collectible art boutique arm of the Alama Drafthouse] and they said let’s make it happen. They put together an old school, beat em’ up style game in really short time.
Have you stayed tight with Rodriguez and Tarantino?
I met with Tarantino once at the “Inglourious Basterds” premiere in Toronto. And I just told him that we were making the film. He was really stoked and excited for us. I just left it at that. I didn’t want to reach out or ask for any favors. I just wanted to do it on my own. Hopefully they’ll see the movie and dig it.
The trailer that started it all: