The scene looks like it could be ripped from any film produced in Nova Scotia: it’s a foggy mid-April night, the harbour off in the distance. We’re just off Gottingen Street. A Metro Transit bus drives by. Then Rutger Hauer and his shotgun step into the frame.
“I’m taking a car ride to hell! And you’re riding…shotgun!”
Cue uproarious hoots and hollers from 80s action movie fans everywhere.
This is a scene near the end of Jason Eisener’s labour of love, Hobo With A Shotgun. Eisener, a Dartmouth filmmaker and self-proclaimed film geek, is coming up on his fourth year working on the project.
Hobo started with a fake trailer he made for Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse contest. Rodriguez and Tarantino encouraged filmmakers to create 70s- and 80s-style grindhouse film trailers—the schlockier, the better. As one of the winners, Eisner’s trailer got picked up in front of Canadian prints of the film, alongside fake trailers by Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, and Edgar Wright. After making the Sundance-acclaimed short, Treevenge, Eisener set his sights on turning Hobo into a feature-length film.
In December 2010, Eisener brought a rough cut of Hobo With A Shotgun down to Austin, Texas to screen for 200 die-hard film nuts at the Butt-Numb-A-Thon festival. It’s a 24-hour marathon of vintage films and exclusive premieres months in advance of their theatrical release. To give a sense of the festival’s scope, filmmakers like Ron Howard and Jon Favreau were there to show the first 40 minutes of Cowboys and Aliens, which is coming out in July. It’s the sort of festival where you get some coffee at 3 a.m. and bump into Elijah Wood in line.
And Eisener’s rough cut of Hobo With A Shotgun played just after 6 a.m., as breakfast was being served, and as the crowd was just getting their second wind. Because of the exclusivity of the premiere and commitments to other festivals, Eisener made the audience promise not to tweet what they were about to see. All attendees received legal emails from production companies forbidding any mention of the film’s content online.
Eisener agreed to speak exclusively with the Watch about the experience.
“When I first heard they wanted Hobo at the festival, I said ‘Holy shit!’” said Eisener. “I mean, the film wasn’t close to being done, our sound guys hadn’t even touched it yet. I knew the importance of having this film at the festival, so we busted our asses to try to make something that would play well at the screening.”
Step one was getting a leading man. For Hobo, Eisener was able to work with one of his all-time idols, Rutger Hauer, who starred in 80s classics like Blade Runner and The Hitcher.
“At first, I was a little nervous,” says Eisener. “I mean, this guy is one of the legends. Then I saw this show Hauer does in the Netherlands called Film Factory, where he works with young filmmakers. I saw how good he was, and he came to the set with that same energy. We were working at such a fast pace, and Hauer was a great team player. He came on board and got so into it.”
It shows. Audiences shrieked as the blood sprayed and Hauer popped off zingers like “I’m going to sleep in your bloody carcasses… tonight”, in his classically gruff voice. And when Hobo is released in its final form this spring, it will see distribution in the US, a major step forward for a Canadian film.
“Right before the film played, I was really nervous. The last film that played was The Green Hornet, and the audience was buzzing. I was thinking, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of huge Hollywood films playing, ours is the only one under $40 million in budget’. But I think it turned out great.”
It’s a hometown sense of collaboration that has helped Eisener advance in the film world while maintaining his local roots. He’s a longtime contributor to the Halifax film group, The Thrillema, bringing vintage films to a whole new audience. These aren’t classic films he raves about, but B-titles like The Exterminator, The Glove, and Dead-End Drive-In. He credits his family and friends for the creative energy he needed early in the process, and loves to talk about the eccentricities of his hometown.
“The whole idea for Hobo With A Shotgun came from me and my friends chilling at Ronnie’s Pizza. They’ve got the best pizza in Nova Scotia, maybe the world, right across from Ralph’s Place. Me and John Davies, the writer for Hobo, would be tossing ideas for movies back and forth. One night, our friend Mojo met up with us. He had crazy long hair and was playing around with an airsoft shotgun. We were talking about movies, and he said, ‘Why don’t you make a movie about me?’ John said, “What? A hobo with a shotgun?’ And the idea was born.”
It’s this devotion to his hometown that makes Eisener a unique commodity in the genre. He’s not about to fly out to L.A. and make 3-D soulless blockbusters. He’s got his eye on the films he loves best, and wants to share them with everyone he meets.
“What Halifax needs is a home for filmmakers. We just need a home. A place where filmmakers and fans can get together a couple times a week to share the love of movies. A place where we can screen films, stuff that isn’t playing at Empire Theatres, where we can grab a bite to eat and hang out and do the best thing there is to do: sit around with friends and talk about movies. That was the best part about being at the festival in Austin. We need a place like that. A place where all the people can spread the love.”