“If you don’t dig it, feel free to come up to me after the show and hit me in the face,” modestly proclaimed Jason Eisener, having ascended the stage to introduce his first feature, “Hobo with a Shotgun,” which screened late on the opening night of this year’s Film Comment Selects series hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. It was 11 o’clock on a Friday night and NYC’s Walter Reade Theater was packed with excited grindhouse fanatics, a big enough crowd to humble the young Canadian director, in his tuque, t-shirt and jeans. Eisener’s comments were brief, just a friendly hello to the crowd and a few words about his filmmaking motto, “no rules.” The lights went down, the music started up, and the craziness began.
And it turns out “Hobo with a Shotgun” is the perfect film for this late night crowd. They were hungry for blood, guts and absolutely ridiculous dialogue. By the time the lights went back up, the room had burst into uproarious laughter and cheers multiple times, won over by this particular brand of exploitation film insanity. “Hobo,” after all, owes its existence to the low-budget trailer put together by Eisener for the Tarantino/Rodriguez “Grindouse” flick. The fake trailer was shown as part of that double feature in Canada, and its truly compelling insanity helped stir up funding for the feature length film.
Though, as it happens, getting the support to make the film and then holding onto it during the production process wasn’t the easiest thing to do. “Hobo with a Shotgun” was made in part through the financial contributions of the Canadian government, a patronage that seems pretty unlikely given the incredibly violent and graphic absurdity of various scenes in the movie. During the Q&A after the screening Eisener addressed this, explaining that they fought to keep in a shocking moment or two, including a particularly over-the-top sequence involving a flame thrower and a school bus.
Was it worth the fight? Well, the film won’t be changed for its American release either, and U.S. distributor Magnolia isn’t worried about the MPAA. As for Eisener, he “doesn’t give a shit” about that sort of thing, and good for him. The charismatic director interacts with an audience like an affable, Canadian Kevin Smith.
He talked about the “blood truck” which showed up every morning on set with all the fake blood, and every day the crew went through buckets and buckets of the stuff, which is pretty obvious about 5 minutes into the film. “What’s your favourite death in the film?” he asked an audience member; she thought for a second or two, and went with the “bumper cars” scene. Suffice it to say it’s a good choice, and apparently the unfortunate victim there was played by a producer’s father.
Of course, one can’t forget to mention the swag. Eisener brought along bags of “Hobo with a Shotgun” knit caps, which he tossed into the audience (though this writer is a bit too ham-handed to have snagged one). There were also three posters given out at the end of the Q&A, rewarded to those who could answer questions like “what was the third death in the film?” It’s a harder question than it sounds.
Other interesting tidbits: Rutger Hauer was on the top of Eisener’s list for the titular hobo, yet he and writer John Davies didn’t expect to get him for the movie. Actress Molly Dunsworth was encouraged to keep her Canadian accent, which comes through pretty clear in the occasional scene. The film has four composers, two of whom worked with Eisener on his short film “Treevenge” (which is available on youtube).
Oh, and no one went up and smacked Eisener, though I’m sure he would have been down for that.