The Story Behind Hobo With A Shotgun
Most movie trailers are created to advertise an amazing new film that’s about to hit cinemas. Not so Hobo With A Shotgun . One of the now infamous five ‘fake trailers’ crafted in honour of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s 2007 Grindhouse double bill, Hobo was a total fake-out.
“We were hanging out at a pizza joint where me and John [ Davies, writer ] would pitch movie ideas back and forth,” recalls director Jason Eisener. “We were there with my friend Joe who was wearing a scruffy shirt and he had just bought this Airsoft Shotgun that shoots plastic pellets.
“We were pitching ideas and he spoke up and said, ‘Why don’t you make a movie about me?’ John just looked him up and down and said, ‘What, a hobo with a shotgun?’ It was like a light bulb went off.”
The year was 2007. In a case of perfect timing, cult director Rodriguez had just launched a contest (co-sponsored by the SXSW Film Festival) that called upon film fans to make a Grindhouse-style movie trailer in the vein of his Planet Terror shlock-and-shock revival.
Eisener didn't skip a heartbeat. He had an idea. He had a director (uh, himself). And he had a competition to win. The very same day that the contest was announced, he started shooting Hobo …
Hitting The Streets
The shoot took six days. In that time, Eisener and Davies (along with fellow filmmaking mate Rob Cotterill) wrote and filmed the entire two-minute trailer.
Dodging permits, they took to the streets with unknown actor Dave Brunt playing the titular hobo (armed with a real shotgun). They had a budget of just $150 (which mostly went on pizza and cigarettes).
For Eisener, it was a dream come true. “I was raised in a Catholic home and as a result, never had the chance to experience genre films at the cinema,” he says. “A small shed in our backyard served as a gateway to these films. Our ‘backyard cinema’ was set up with a small television and a VHS player, which was perfect for us.”
Eisener and best bud Davies first encountered Grindhouse films via this garden portal, hunting through pawn shops for ‘70s and ‘80s genre movies and devouring them hungrily.
“These movies fuelled our imagination and drove us to make films,” Eisener says. “ Hobo is not exactly a tribute to these films, but instead embodies everything that we love about the genre; and continues to build on it.”
After a speedy editing process, the trailer was completed and shipped off to Austin Texas, where it would be judged against the competition by Rodriguez himself…
A month later, Hobo was shortlisted as a finalist in the trailer competition. Up against two other fake reels, the trailer’s emergence as a frontrunner prompted Eisener, Davies and Cotterill to buy plane tickets to Austin, where they’d find out if their hobo had what it took to become a winner.
Of course, Hobo blew the competition out of the water, and Rodriguez announced it as the undisputed contest favourite.
On the back of the buzz surrounding the short, Alliance Films’ Jim Sherry even attached the Hobo trailer to Canadian screenings of Grindhouse double-bill Planet Terror and Death Proof .
Screening alongside the professionally-made fake trailers of Edgar Wright ( Don't ) and Eli Roth ( Thanksgiving ) only served to boost Hobo ’s profile.
Meanwhile, the ‘little trailer that could’ was causing a storm on the internet (opens in new tab) . On YouTube, Hobo frequently made the top ten list of most viewed videos, and garnered over one million hits.
“When we put the trailer online the view count started racking up,” recalls Eisener, “and we thought, ‘Wow there’s a lot of attention on this and there are a lot of people telling us that they’d love to see a feature film.’”
Ever-vocal YouTube commenters had made their feelings clear – this ball-busting trailer should be turned into a full-blown movie…
Hatching A Hobo
It was a breakneck process. Riding high on the success of the Hobo trailer, Eisener received a call from Alliance Films, who wanted to set up a meeting about developing Hobo into a feature.
“Alliance wanted us to come to Toronto to talk about the idea and developing it into a feature film,” Eisener recalls.
“So they took us to Toronto and we met [ producer ] Niv Fichman from Rhombus Media, and we just really hit it off. He basically sent us straight home to get the treatment done. We sent it off and within a week or two and he told us to get him a script.”
Finchman had previously found success with The Red Violin , an effusive, romantic period film that was pretty much at the other end of the movie scale to Hobo . For Finchman, though, the Hobo trailer showed great promise.
“It was very clear, very quickly that Jason had a vision,” the producer explains. “All his life since he was a kid, he was wrapped up in this – he knows more about this genre than anyone else. Jason’s vision is not only original but it comes from a very studied and learned place.”
So far Hobo had an in-built audience, an enthusiastic director and a canny producer. Now all it needed was some green paper…
Getting funding for the feature-length Hobo wasn't quite as simple as walking into a 7-Eleven with a 12-guage pump action firearm and demanding the register be emptied.
“There were people and financers who were onboard from the very beginning and totally supportive,” says Eisener, “but it definitely took some convincing.”
Hobo may have become a modest hit on the internet, but its success online was but a mere drop in the ocean when compared with the Hollywood big-hitters. For Eisener, much of the trouble getting funded stemmed from Hollywood’s favourite final frontier: violence.
“When we first started developing the idea as a feature, people didn’t really see what we had in mind and how we were going to handle the violence,” Eisener says. “Because when you read the script, to some people it can sound really mean spirited and very overwhelmingly insane.”
Luckily, the director had a secret weapon up his sleeve. “We made a short film in the meantime, while writing the feature script, called Treevenge ,” he says of his sophomore directing gig.
A tongue-in-cheek horror, Treevenge followed a group of resentful Christmas trees that plot revenge against the festive season after being ripped out of their natural habitat.
“When we showed our financers that, they saw how we were going to deal with violence. It definitely helped open doors and get people onboard with us,” Eisener says.
That’s financing down, then. But what about casting a big screen hobo?
By now, it’s common knowledge that the legendary Rutger Hauer eventually landed the role of the hobo with a shotgun. But before Hauer was even a twinkle in Eisener’s eye, the director was thinking of casting in a more low-key fashion.
“When we first wrote the script I was thinking about the movie on a much smaller scale and trying to be realistic,” the director says. “I was very interested in a Canadian actor by the name of Stephen McHattie, who starred in Pontypool .
“He’s one of my favourite actors. He’s amazing and he was in a movie from the ‘70s called Moving Violation where he kind of plays a hobo, too. So I thought it would be a cool return to form.”
Alliance were keen for Eisener to think bigger, though. “Just as an experiment, write down a list of names for your top five choices,” they told the director. “If you could do this with anybody, who would it be?”
Eisener didn’t even need to pause for breath. “If I could have anybody, of course the top of the list was going to be Rutger Hauer,” the filmmaker says…
A filmmaker needs to have balls to approach Rutger Hauer with a role. Just ask the man himself. “The funny thing is most people don't approach me because they are scared and that's fine,” the Blade Runner actor growls, “I want to keep it that way.”
Hobo was different, though, and Hauer credits that difference almost entirely to his director.
“I read through [ the script ] and I thought what the fuck is this?” he laughs. “And I think I went to the fake trailer, and then I heard from Robert Rodriguez, and after that I said to myself I guess I have to stay awake for this.
“But when I talked to Jason I was ready to say great you're a fan but this is not for me, but when we started talking I realised I was going to make the movie.”
The truth was that Eisener was a fan, and getting Hauer into his movie would be a massive coup – not just as a filmmaker, but also as a film lover.
“When me and John were growing up and buying those movies from pawn shops,” the director says, “whenever we would see Rutger Hauer on one of the VHS boxes we would immediately pick it up.
“He was the first actor who we loved enough to track down everything he ever made. I never would have thought in my wildest dreams that we would ever get Rutger Hauer. But I kind of put it out there as the ultimate dream.
"I thought it would never happen, but it would give people an idea as to who we were kind of going for. The kind of actor wand the type of performance we were looking for.” It wasn't long before Hauer said yes...
As it turned out, Hauer was a coup. Not just because he drove a truckload of charisma everywhere he went, but because he also turned out to be an incredibly collaborative and creative co-worker.
Says Eisener of his star: “When he came to Halifax and met the cast and crew and saw how enthusiastic everyone was about the project and, he was so inspired. He just jumped into the team. He was more than an actor on the movie, I feel like he was one of the filmmakers.
“He did so much more than acting. He gave us so much advice and kind us took us under his wing. He helped us pull a lot of things off in the film.
"He had so much experience, so if we would be dealing with a technical problem he would come up and say, ‘Hey guys, don’t worry I’ve seen this before. Here’s what we can do.” He was awesome.”
Hauer may revel in his bad boy image, but he has equally kind words to say about his director. “Jason and his team are very strong and you can't break them up, they're so fucking tight,” he says.
“But I felt at home and I would say we're not fighting against time or the weather, if there's a problem we'll figure it out and solve it.” Which is just the kind of thing a first-time feature director wants to hear…
First Cut Is The Deepest
After all the acclaim surrounding Eisener’s Hobo trailer, it’s easy to forget that he had never actually directed a feature film. With the feature version of Hobo With A Shotgun being his first shot at a full-length movie, Eisener was understandably nervous.
“It was very nerve-racking this being my first feature,” Eisener admits, “but yes, [ Hauer ] would calm me down.”
“He was open to how to get to the finish,” Hauer says of his director. “There would be things that didn't work in the script and there were things that we couldn't pull off, but the shoulders of the team were so strong.”
Eisener admits that there were things that changed about Hobo throughout the process of making the movie. Again, though, Hauer’s wealth of experience balanced out Eisener’s relative lack of it.
“There was this one scene where the Hobo and Abby come back to her apartment after he has climbed out of the corpse,” explains Eisener, “and in the script the scene worked before we had an actor like Rutger.
“But by the time we were shooting that scene and Rutger had made the character his own we had to change it. We rewrote it right there when we were on set and it turned out being one of my favourite scenes in the film.” Speaking of gory moments...
If you make a movie about a hobo with a shotgun, you better expect some blood. If you make a Grindhouse movie about a hobo with a shotgun, well, all bets are off.
“We had a truck called the blood truck,” indulges Eisener. “We had a guy named Henry Townsend who was in charge of the blood and the guy loves blood more than anyone.
“Every time he came to set he was completely covered in blood from head to toe. Every time I showed up on set he would be there covered in blood with 16 to 20 buckets of blood waiting on standby.
“So, I’m not sure how much blood we used throughout the whole thing, but it certainly was a lot.”
For Hauer, the gore and the violence contained in the movie was just a by-product of the story that they were telling.
“There are many stories that need to be told,” he reasons. “There are people who are like, ‘Oh, it’s violent.’ It’s a movie, for Christ’s sake!
“When are we going to stop thinking that all of this is real? It’s an illusion. And I like it there; I live there. I like the horror of the illusion and the beauty of it too.”
On The Loose
Hobo With A Shotgun hit cinemas Stateside earlier this year. Unlike its fake-trailer-turned-feature sibling Machete , which suffered something of a critical mauling, Hobo ’s been welcomed with open arms.
The Hollywood Reporter call it “double-barrelled mayhem as if Sergio Leone designed a video-game”, while we at TF towers praised the film as “twice as good as a film based on a spoof trailer has any right to be, Hobo is a great career kickstarter for director Eisener and the credibility boost Hauer richly deserves”.
H obo 's success could partly be attributed to the fact that it doesn’t rest on its laurels. Eisener and his team know they’ve been given a golden opportunity off the back of somewhat shallow success, and they take their concept screeching into new territory
“The fake trailer that Jason initially made was one thing,” Hauer notes, “but a feature film does need more than just the things that will make audiences jump out of their seats and go crazy.
“There’s only so much you can do in a movie as simple as this one, but you still have to surprise people, anyway. No matter what the film is, you have to give the audience something they can hold on to, and I think we’ve got that.
“I thought it was a very naughty film, but, for that reason, also lovely and crazy and mad and wonderful. I just seemed like too much fun to pass up.”
In the light of Hobo ’s unexpected but much-deserved success, Eisener is already looking to continue his career as a filmmaker.
“We’re working on a high school martial arts film right now that’s very much in the vein of something like Class Of 1984 ,” Eisener reveals. “Its Bloodsport meets a John Hughes movie, or Rock n’ Roll High School.
“The world is kind of a world where [Hobo With A Shotgun villains ] Slick and IVan would pull up in a car and go to this high school. A high school full of the worst students imaginable.”
Hobo has turned out to be a fruitful experience. Not only has Eisener carved himself a niche in the modern movie world with gratifyingly old-school concepts, he’s also made a lifelong buddy in too-cool-for-school Hauer.
“The things that come to me and bring money are so damn fucking boring,” Hauer says, “so for me [ the best thing is ] working with people like Jason who I connect with and who give me the energy to want to create.”
If that’s not a resounding recommendation, we don’t know what is.