Fake It Till You Make It

Golden Globe winner Rutger Hauer stars in upcoming Sundance film, Hobo with a Shotgun.

There’s a new trend emerging in the world of cinema.  This trend provides unknown filmmakers a chance to showcase their work to the world in front of a live audience with little financial pressure, yet allows potential investors a first-hand glimpse into what exactly they are investing in. Instead of seeking funds for films based upon 30-page treatments and vocal pitches, the concept of presenting a trailer for a film that doesn’t exist yet has been picking up momentum. Three years ago, directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez revamped the 70s exploitation genre with their double-feature extravaganza, Grindhouse. Separating the two films were four fake trailers developed by Eli Roth (Thanksgiving), Edgar Wright (Don’t), Rob Zombie (Werewolf Women of the S.S.) and Rodriguez (Machete). Before the release of Grindhouse, Rodriguez hosted an international competition at South by Southwest (SXSW) inviting anyone willing to develop their own fake trailers to participate. Over 2,600 miles away from the competition’s headquarters, up-and-coming filmmaker, Jason Eisener, and his friends had been forming an idea that was perfect for the contest and would soon spark excitement far beyond the city limits of his hometown of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

A year before Rodriguez’s call to arms, Eisener and his friends were sitting inside Ronnie’s Pizza to come up with fresh movie concepts. “I was there with my best friend, John Davies, along with another one of my friends, Mojo,” Eisener recalls. “At the time Mojo had really long hair and had just bought an Airsoft shotgun. We were coming up with ideas and Mojo said, ‘You should just make a movie about me.’ John looked at him and replied, ‘What? A hobo with a shotgun?’ Once we heard those words go together, we instantly started coming up with ideas of a world that would involve a hobo with a shotgun.” The concept was simple yet brilliant: An enraged vagrant showers a crime-ridden city with merciless pump-action justice. “When we heard they wanted people to make exploitation style trailers, which is where we were going with the original idea in the first place, we knew it was a perfect match.”

Eisener rounded up his family and friends to complete the assignment, but a new member to the group, producer Rob Cotterill, would add another level of professionalism to the mix with his background and previous work experience. “Rob had been an Assistant Director on a show called The Trailer Park Boys, and I had the chance to meet him on the set. When I told him about the idea of a Hobo with a Shotgun trailer, he was so stoked and said, ‘Let’s start working on this tonight!’” The next difficult task would be casting the ticked-off transient, but Eisener quickly recalled a unique patron who often visited the store where he was employed who would be ideal for the character. “I was working at a comic book / video game store, and David Brunt was one of these guys who would just come to the store to hang out. I always thought he was an interesting character because he would always tell me stories about his life. When David found out I was interested in making films, he would visit when no one else was around and act out little scenarios with me because he was interested in acting. So, when the idea of the trailer came about, I knew he was perfect for the role even though he had never acted a day of his life.”

The combination of creative minds was better than anyone could have imagined and the end product was gratifyingly gory. Eisener and his team won Rodriguez’s challenge and the fabricated endeavor became a hit on the internet. As of January 2011, the trailer has garnered over 402,000 views on YouTube. With a win in the bag, Eisener and company pondered their next endeavor. “When we made the trailer, there was definitely interest in making a feature film, but that trailer only showed two minutes of what we could do and I believe people were more skeptical about whether we could handle something that was more narrative.”

To prove their artistic antics were more than a one-note charade, production soon began on a blood-spattered horror short film that focused on the brutality Christmas trees face during the holidays and their rise to revenge. Treevenge was another success and gained Eisener additional recognition for his original ingenuity. “I never expected Treevenge to take off like it did. It started playing at festivals and winning awards and then it got into Sundance, which is such a big festival where everybody in the film industry knows about it, it started opening up people’s eyes.” Some of the eyes that were opened turned out to be potential investors for a feature-length version of Hobo with a Shotgun. It would take Eisener three more years to raise the funds to begin production on the film, but it was the two-minute trailer that kept the spark alive. “The trailer created an internet fan base that really supported us. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be making the film. They were so interested in the idea of it that it showed we had a product that could sell and that an audience would go to.”

With the money in place and a story written, it was time to take the next step in the pre-production phase, but Eisener would soon have to make one of the most difficult decisions in his life regarding the starring role. “Our producers and our distributor asked us who we thought could play the hobo, and, originally, we always thought it’d be Dave [Brunt] for a about a year or two, but Dave’s on disability and the frustration you see in the trailer with him screaming is legit. After 20 takes, he would become so furious and irritated, and, eventually, I just knew that when it came time to make the feature, it’d just be too hard on him.” To honor his friend for the role he played in their success, Eisener sat down with Brunt and the two began considering other actors who could bring justice to the character with a cult following.

“They told us to write a list of whoever we could think of to play the role of the hobo, and Dave and I put Rutger Hauer at the top of the list thinking, ‘Alright, this’ll get scratched off really fast, because there’s no way we’re going to get him.’” Hauer had been an inspiration to Eisener for many years and taught the destined director the mechanics of acting before he understood the basic techniques of filmmaking. “It was Rutger Hauer in The Blood of Heroes and The Hitcher that showed me an actor can do a lot by not saying very much. The hobo is very much that type of character, so Rutger seemed perfect for the role.”

It wasn’t long before Eisener was shocked to discover Hauer had read the script and was eager to discuss the film in further detail. “I’m going to get on a Skype with one of my favorite actors of all time? I was shitting bricks!” The two video chatted for over an hour, master coaching student, student educating master. It was an instant connection and it wasn’t too long before the Golden Globe winner arrived in Halifax to begin production as Eisener’s deranged derelict. “I still can’t believe we made a Rutger Hauer movie.”

The buzz surrounding the feature-length edition of Hobo with a Shotgun has been incessant since the discovery of Hauer’s involvement, but ever since the announcement that the film will premiere in the Park City at Midnight Series during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, it is louder than ever. The “real” trailer can be found on YouTube as well, and from the brief glimpse at it, Eisener has reached deep into his bag of inspiration and pulled out a chaotic visual explosion of death and destruction. “The directors that inspired the film were Walter Hill, John Carpenter, Sergio Corbucci, Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, Jack Hill, Paul Schrader, Brian Trenchard-Smith, Stewart Gordon and Robert Harmon.” Anyone with a taste for the nostalgic ‘70s exploitation films and copious amounts of blood will definitely find solace in Eisener’s creation. “There’s a crazy amount of blood in the film. I don’t know the precise amount, but everyday I’d walk on set and there would be 20 buckets of blood just waiting there. We had a whole truck set aside that we called the ‘Blood Truck’ that we always had on stand-by.” And for those with a queasy stomach when it comes to violence, you may want to bring your monogrammed barf bag, because Eisener, in total Eisener fashion, isn’t pulling any punches for his first feature-film. “There was no way we were going to pussy out on this film. We knew where we were going, and, if anything, we were always trying to step it up. We were always trying to take it further. We were never holding back.”

It’s amazing to witness the progression of a simple idea like an artificial trailer blossom into a potential cult classic for the ages. The practice was utilized before by filmmakers like The Coen Brothers for their first feature, Blood Simple, and even more recently by Joseph Kosinski, the director behind TRON: Legacy, with outstanding results. “I think it’s a great practice for filmmakers to do, because it gives you a chance to get out there and realize your idea in some way so you can see an audience’s reaction,” says Eisener. “Plus, it’s just fun. When there’s not much pressure and you’re doing it with your friends, it’s a blast!” One way or another, members of the audience are guaranteed to receive an experience they won’t soon forget, especially if Eisener’s promise holds true. “Watching Hobo with a Shotgun feels like one of those nights when you’re with your friends getting drunk and watching a bunch of crazy YouTube movies, and you’re so overblown with crazy images and ideas by the end of the night that the only thing left to do is go home and watch porn.” Here’s hoping!

Hobo with a Shotgun – Screening Times
January 21 – 11:30PM – Library Center Theatre
(Park City)
January 22 – 11:59PM – Broadway Centre Cinemas VI (SLC)
January 26 – 11:30AM – Egyptian Theatre (Park City)
January 28 – 11:59PM – Egyptian Theatre (Park City)
January 29 – 11:59PM – Tower Theatre (SLC)

Golden Globe winner Rutger Hauer stars in upcoming Sundance film, Hobo with a Shotgun. Photo: Karim Hussain Photo: Karim Hussain