Graffiti, Submarines and Hali-wood: Jason Eisener and Rob Cotterill talk Hobo with A Shotgun
During their whirlwind tour of Word-of-Mouth screenings for their debut feature, Hobo With A A Shotgun, Director Jason Eisener and Producer Rob Cotterill managed to shoot the proverbial shit with me just prior to the first screening in Montreal. Full of enthusiasm while coming off of a successful screening at SXSW, with a soon-to-be nation-wide launch of a gory grindhouse flick. Certainly the first of this kind since the early 1970s/80s cycle of Tax Shelter flicks (unless you count Vincenzo Natali's anything-goes, but still kinda-glossy Splice.) Jason and Rob know their splatter and exploitation cinema, they know what they've got with Rutger Hauer and Hobo with a Shotgun, and are always excited to talk about the people in their hometown of Dartmouth.
Kurt Halfyard: So tonite [March 21, 2011] is the the big Canadian Premiere in Montreal. There are quite a few Fantasia connections with you guys, isn't there?
Rob Cotterill: I went to Concordia here in Montreal, and that is when I met [Hobo with a Shotgun Cinematographer] Karim [Hussain] and [Fantasia Head Progammer] Mitch [Davis]. Back then, it was pre-Fantasia, and I worked on Subconscious Cruelty with Karim, it was the first film I ever worked on, my introduction into the filmmaking world was with Karim. I've known him for a super long time. As time developed, Fantasia came around. I lived here for the first four or five years of Fantasia, so it was always a big part of what we did every year. Hanging out with those guys, meeting a zillion filmmakers, and watching the movies that we love. For me, Fantasia was a huge inspiration for the kind of films I love and filmmaking in general.
Jason Eisener: When we brought our short film, Treevenge, to Fantasia a couple years ago, that was the first time we got to screen one of our movies outside of Nova Scotia. We had a short film before that called The Teeth Beneath that played in a local film festival back home, but Fantasia was the first time we took a piece of work to an audience that had no idea who we were. And they just welcomed us with open arms. The way the people reacted to the movie. It was like a rock show! It helped spread the word about that short, and we ended up playing so many festivals. Eventually we ended up a Sundance and having it nominated for best short film. That attention really helped us to get financing behind Hobo. For us, this is a way to pay back this audience who helped us spring forward to making a feature film.
KH: The thing that I noticed from the faux trailer a couple years ago, and now having watched the feature, is something that I call 'Shout Acting' [both laugh] which is a very bold way for the actors to play to the camera. What are you looking for from your actors? (particularly the villains, and almost everyone in this film is a villain!)
JE: I think shout acting is just a part of our daily lives. We are always shouting out crazy shit and yelling at each other [laughs]. It's just always been in our films. It is something that I love. I have always found it hilarious when you see a character in a movie say something so ridiculous but the mean it so sincerely. They are very honest about it. That is my favourite comedy.
KH: I talked with Rutger Hauer earlier in the week, he mentioned that you guys sort of grinded up against each other with him shouting lines. He was saying he lost his voice for a while, or that he cannot do the 'big voice.' He is a bit more restrained.
JE: You've never seen Rutger Hauer yell before in a movie. So this is the first time people have seen him really get loud. He had a lot of hesitation about that because he has never done it. Other than when he was a kid; his parents, I believe, put him into some theatre, and he hated being up on stage and projecting so loudly. I think he might have felt that it was not too intimate. And he can have a lot of power simply whispering a line. But I wanted people to feel the rage inside of him as well. That is something to do our best to give him the confidence to do that.
RC: One thing we did before it went to camera. We knew we couldn't get him to yell at the time, it wouldn't be that interesting for the character either, he is the grounding force in the movie. Everything around him is so over the top and crazy, that the Hobo is played in his own reality, and that really helps everybody else, and make the world more believable. But we had a list of the scene where we had to make Rutger get loud. It was give and take, and it works! What he brought to the film was absolutely amazing, and what his feelings for the character were was usually right.
KH: His scenes with Abby play out really, great. Speaking of Abby and actress Molly Dunsworth, there are a lot of Dunsworths in the movie. I didn't see Jim Lahey [Trailer Park Boys' John Dunsworth] but I did see Treevenge's Sarah Dunsworth [Also in Trailer Park Boys] in the credits doing costume design.
JE: Yea, Sarah was our costume designer and her sister Zoe was our background casting.
RC: We really tried to get John in the movie, but he was on another show and his schedule didn't fit. He really badly wanted to be in this. He is one of those tree voices in Treevenge. I worked on Trailer Park Boys since season 3 as an assistant director and did the features and the specials with them. The Trailer Park Boys family is part of our friends and filmmakers that we hang out with and when it came to casting Rob [Wells] in the movie, I didn't even send him the script, we just knew we wanted a particular actor. So I called him up and said, do you want to be the first person who gets killed in Hobo With A Shotgun? He said, hell yea! They've been, with Mike Clattenberg [Director of Trailer Park Boys] a huge supporter of what we are doing. The filmmaking community in in Halifax is really a bunch of people who support each other.
KH: With all the various productions going on there, from Stuart Gordon's Stuck to TPB, You guys should have a nick name, like Welly-wood in New Zealand or something.
JE: Hali-wood! [laughs]
KH: It's never said outright, but it certainly looks like, with the cars and the boom boxes, and the paper money, that Hobo is a period piece.
RC: That was actually prop money from TPB. We liked to use it because it is really colourful, and it speaks to our aesthetic. When the money decision came down, we said, lets just use old-school Canadian money, because it looks cool.
JE: And the world of Hobo With A Shotgun very much comes from the late 70s and mostly the 80s. My favourite movie of all time is Walter Hill's The Warriors. And I love the world in which that is set in. It is almost like an 80s futuristic New York in a different dimension. And that was the mentality we had making Hobo. It is very much in the 1980s world, having old money, you don't see any cell phones. But we were trying to create our own sort of dimension.
KH: Clearly there is a lot of referencing and pastiche of other trash-genres. I caught quite a few nods, both obvious and subtle, from Spaghetti Westerns, to the Bronson Deathwish sequels, to Giallos to Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi. If there were three milestone movies, for tone, and you've already mentioned The Warriors, what would they be.
JE: What I did going into production, I cut together 15 minutes of shots from all these different movies that I felt kinda represented the world we were going into. And I could give that DVD to each member of my crew so they could get a crash course of the world they were diving into. That reel had featured in it the most, was Dead-End Drive In, Vice Squad, and Savage Streets. But also Exterminator, Rolling Thunder, The Warriors, Truck Turner, and many more.
KH: Was there any Risky Business? When I see The Drakes two evil sons, the first thing that springs to mind is a pair of insane 80s era Tom Cruises!
JE: I've never actually seen Risky Business. They were like our evil version of Captain N. from the Nintendo.
RC: It is funny that you say that. The first time that Nick Bateman walked on set with his Ivan costume and those glasses, the guy is a fuckin' dead ringer for Tom Cruise. I felt it.
KH: Let's talk about The Drake Character. Specifically actor Brian Downey.
JE: Well our first casting choice was somebody who could really put on a show, but do it in such a way that it was a terrifying show done by a maniac that could command an audience. For me that person was Jake "The Snake" Roberts. That was who the script was written with in mind. And then we got this audition tape when we were going into prep, who also plays Stanley Tweedle in the LEXX televisions series, a Canadian Sci-fi show shot back home, and when I saw his audition tape, it just blew me away. It was terrifying! He did the scene where he is talking to Slick about how he has to come up with something so terrifying that it would turn the community upside down. He gives that line: "If life gives you razor blades, you make a baseball bat covered in razor blades." And he starts laughing and he looks right into the camera and cuts out while he is giving this big grin and evil stare. It haunted me. I watched it 20 times that night. Then we talked on the phone and we were so blown away. It was so relieving to find our Drake, and to find him from back home, Brian Downey's character feels like it stepped right out of Robocop or something!
KH: What was the portion of the budget spent on Graffiti?
JE: I'm not to sure. But it was awesome. Every day we came to set there would be these big boxes of washable spray paint. And everyone one set would grab a can and start bombing everything they could see. It was fun. The movie is an endless discovery of crazy graffiti art in the background. There is some pretty crazy shit! Rutger was so impressed. He'd show up to set every day with his camera, and spend so much time photographing the graffiti. It was so over-the-top and insane.
RC: It was a really cathartic way to start off your day. We'd get there early, grab a breakfast burrito and then start spray painting. Creatively fucking the place up. The major graffitied place was a rehab center, where the end of the movie happens, and the exterior of Abby's house, and what we did there, because it was such a huge space, was to put a call out to one of our production design team's friends, and said that we are having a graffiti party. And about 8 kids showed up from the local high school or whatever came out and were given free reign. It was just colour bombed. It was awesome.
[*MAJOR SPOILER WARNING* Scroll way down if you don't want plot points spoiled]
KH: Can we talk about the school bus scene. Certainly the strongest scene in the movie. I had heard that there was some tension about keeping that scene in the film. Could you comment on that?
JE: Absolutely. When you are going to people to finance your movie. And they read the script and they come across this scene where the villain of the movie walks into a schoolbus with "Disco Inferno" blasting and torches a school bus full of children, [deadpan] that is very alarming to some people. We probably could have two years ago if it wasn't for that scene. But that scene has been in there since the very first draft of the script and it was something we always fought for. It is not there just for shock value, it is there because it is necessary to tell the story. For us, we were trying to come up with an idea that we could afford to do, a terrorist act that a character could commit, that could just flip a community upside down and get them to turn on themselves. And to me, personally, it would probably be if someone were to do something horrible to the neighborhood kids. And I thought that that is something nobody likes to see harmful happening to children. And if you did, especially if it were one of your own, I could picture myself going crazy over it. Definitely.
RC: That scene, as far as financing goes too, we were fortunate that our producing partner felt strongly about it as we did, and Rhombus went to bat for us, in a lot of those meetings, because it would always come up as something that should be changed. But our whole creative team was fully behind it. We knew it had to be there.
KH: There is a call back to that scene later. I noticed that the movie gets more fantastical as it goes along. It starts out well grounded, then it gets crazier and crazier, and there is a later scene where the film almost turns into a 'ghost story' for about 5 minutes...
JE: That came on in about the middle of the writing process. I love it when a movie just throws a supernatural element at you out of nowhere. And that is what we wanted to do with this film. We are creating our own world. I like it when filmmakers do things that, for instance, once we burn a bus full of schoolchildren, then you don't know what to expect from the filmmakers. You don't feel save. They could do anything. And I love that about cinema. You just don't know where they could go. No character is save. Cutting Abby's neck open with a saw, you don't see that happening to main characters in hollywood movies. You almost have this feeling that Abby could die at any point in the film. For me that is the same as the supernatural aspect. That school bus just rolls in like a ghost-ship and shows that anything goes in this world. And you are right that it kick-starts the fantastical side to it, because The Plague are introduced very shortly afterwards and so it is a good introduction to get people into the headspace. They can get that the bus is a revenge for Slick, but then, all of a sudden, there is these demon knights and octopus creatures, and it is a good entryway into where things are leading. What can and cannot happen.
[*END MAJOR SPOILERS*]
KH: Where did the submarine go?
JE: The submarine only happened because when we shot the original trailer, one of my good friends, Zach Tovey, his father is the oldest living, working, submariner in the world, and he lives in Halifax. And he always told us, boys, if you ever want to make a movie and you want to do it on a submarine, just let me know and I'll get you on. And this is when we were just shooting movies in our back yard. And we went and shot on the submarine. And the trailer blows up online. It's everywhere, its playing in theatres. And Zach's dad, I don't think, thought that trailer would ever go there. I've talked to people who have done documentaries on submarines, and nobody can get on them. They'd be talking to us, and say, how the hell did you get on those? We've been doing documentaries and we are not even allowed on those things!
RC: There are three decommissioned submarines sitting in Halifax harbour and nobody is allowed near them. And Zach's dad brought us on and sat their doing his crossword while we did whatever we wanted on there. It was amazing!
JE: But when it came time to make the feature. It would have just been too much of a hassle to shoot on it again.
KH: I was following your production blog, and you often see photos of Jason in a hat that says, "More Blood, More Heart." Can you talk about what that hat, or that saying means to you?
JE: During pre-production there was a day where we had to go location scouting, so I wasn't around the office. I made this list of things, and I posted it on the back of my computer. So if anyone walked into the office, they would see this list. MORE BLOOD, MORE EXPLOITATION, MORE HEART, and MORE FUN. And my costume designer, Sarah, took the More Blood, More Heart and had it designed into a hat. And on the first day on set, she came and gave me this hat to wear. And that became a sort of motto. We're known for always wanting to have more blood, there is never enough blood in a gag for us, but it was very important to keep the heart in the movie, and also to keep the crew inspired. For us to make this film it was a dream come true, and I didn't want us to lose sight of that at all. So that saying, More Heart, reminds us of the fighter inside us. The best fighters in the world are the ones that fight with heart. And they are usually the ones that come out successful. This was a battle and I wanted to do it with heart!
RC: And shed some blood!
JE: Yeah, and shed some blood. [laughs]
KH: When you did the original fake trailer, you used the grind-house gag of thrack-ing up the print. But the new cinematography, the new look of the film is much more modern, much more crazy-colour saturated. When did you decided, lets forget the gag and make the film this way?
JE: We wanted to keep the movie very true to itself. We didn't want to spoof the genre at all. Some of these other films that are paying tribute to grindhouse cinema do things like having purposeful mistakes and missing reels, or film scratches. We didn't want any of that stuff.
RC: We didn't want to be self-reflexive in any way. We just wanted the movie to be its own world and true to itself in that world. That look came from wanting to create a movie that existed to itself, rather than to something else. That was really important to us. The lighting scheme, I think that is what you are asking. Karim showed More Blood and More Heart for this film too, he came down months before pre-production. We weren't green lit, we didn't know if we were going to make this movie or not! He came down, and lived in my basement, and spent time with me and Jay. We location scouted the movie, most locations we found by ourselves, and he would do lighting set-ups and diagrams and went through the script and found a colour palette for each scene and we'd take the gel palettes and staple them to each scene throughout the whole script which created this document that we could give to our production designer and costume designer. They knew what we were going for in each scene and everything could complement each other. It was such a valuable too it was what let us move as fast as we did. And it let us create a unified crazy look for the film. We were spoiled in that way and Karim really gave it his all to get us where we needed go.
KH: I read somewhere that you are working on a martial arts movie. How far are you along, and is there anything you can tell me about it?
JE: John Davies, the writer of Hobo, he's working away at the script right now. We have a treatment. Whenever we have spare time, away from Hobo, we take a crack at it. It's a little bit Class of 1984, a little bit of Rock 'n Roll Highschool and a little bit Breakfast Club meets Bloodsport and Riki-Oh.
RC: It's a crazy, wacked-out gang-fight movie!
[Hobo With A Shotgun opens theatrically in Canada on March 25, in the United States on April 1st (VOD) and May 6th (theatrical.)]
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