I'm writing this for the uninitiated who I feel can't go on without knowing about this film. Hobo With a Shotgun is possibly one of the coolest, most outrageous projects I've ever heard of. It comes from fairytale beginnings — or should that be bloody, shotgun-filled nightmares? — that remind you why you love the film industry and why it feels like it has a bit of magic attached to it.
The film began as a trailer created by Dartmouth filmmakers Jason Eisner, John Davies, and Rob Cotterill. They entered the trailer into Robert Rodriguez's South by Southwest Grindhouse trailers contest in 2007, which encouraged filmmakers to make their own grindhouse-style trailer, which would air before Rodriguez and Tarantino's Grindhouse feature. Hobo With a Shotgun won the competition and was screened, mainly in Canada, before the Grindhouse feature. The trailer, made in five days for $150, instantly won over viewers due to its premise and its appreciation, portrayal, and near-parody of grindhouse-style cinema.
The trailer sees the Hobo, played by David Brunt, walk into a new town. The town is filled with violence, sex, drugs, and a general breakdown of morals and the fabric of society. People live in fear as gangsters, pimps, pedophiles, and drug dealers rule the streets until the Hobo says enough is enough. He embarks on a vigilante rampage for justice that is spearheaded by his trusty shotgun and marked by blood. The trailer features lots of death and inventive violence mixed with some hilarious one-liners from Brunt like "I'm gonna sleep in your bloody carcasses tonight" and "You're taking a car ride to hell and you're riding shotgun" while looking like it was made in the '70s or '80s.
Ever since its first screening Eisner has been entertaining offers for making the trailer into a feature film. Skip ahead three years to April 19, 2010 and Eisner's much loved trailer is starting its first day of shooting. Eisner is back in the director's chair but unfortunately David Brunt, the original Hobo, has been replaced. While his gravelly voice and menacing portrayal of the Hobo will be missed Eisner has managed to draft someone more than capable of making the Hobo a big screen star — Rutger Hauer. That's right, the star of films like Blade Runner, The Hitcher, and Ladyhawke is headlining this indie feature.
The casting of Hauer could be a boon for director and actor alike. Eisner gets a known actor attached to his picture, instantly upping its notoriety and interest among moviegoers and bloggers, while Hauer gets a chance to revisit a role similar to the ones that made him famous in the '80s. Hauer became famous, and notorious, for his brilliant portrayal of villains like John Ryder and Roy Batty who could really get under your skin. While the Hobo is a more heroic character he is a brutal and ruthless vigilante killer with a psyche similar to the above characters. It will allow Hauer to prove that even at 66 he can portray a menacing figure.
The production of the film is also something for fans to keep an eye on. Things have only just started and the film's website has been updated with a short behind-the-scenes feature, a write-up detailing the production process (like running out of blood), and most recently the first 39 seconds of footage from the film including our first look at Hauer. If they can keep up this level of reporting on how the production is going then they could build up a rather intimate relationship with fans. So many films are shrouded in mystery forcing our only glimpse of how proceedings are going to come courtesy of smuggled images or lucky location shots. It can be months before we see anything from certain films which builds both anticipation and frustration. Young independent filmmakers, unbridled by the weight of a studio, can afford to do things their own way and in the age of the Internet engaging with fans in this way is sure to gain you some support.
Speaking of the first footage from the film, it looks ridiculously good. It's mainly a compilation of behind the scenes preparation work and very early takes but it certainly sets the tone. There's going to be blood (lots of it), guns, knives, and all manner of weapons (did you see the baseball bat with all manner of sharp things coming out of it?) for Rutger Hauer to kill people with while Hauer himself looks awesome as the Hobo. Aging has made him look perfect for the role with the wispy hair, aged and cracked skin, and beard. He looks like someone you definitely wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley.
While all signs point to this project being all manner of awesome there is a distinct possibility the film could bomb, big time. Eisner and his team need to turn a two-minute trailer into a feature film. They need to add in enough of a story to make this something interesting to watch and not a series of shots where Hauer kills someone (although that would still be interesting to watch). Quiet Earth has a synopsis for the film:
A vigilante homeless man pulls into a new city and finds himself trapped in urban chaos, a city where crime rules and where the city's crime boss reigns. Seeing an urban landscape filled with armed robbers, corrupt cops, abused prostitutes and even a pedophile Santa, the Hobo goes about bringing justice to the city the best way he knows how – with a 20-gauge shotgun. Mayhem ensues when he tries to make things better for the future generation. Street justice will indeed prevail.
That may not be an official synopsis as it sounds similar to the trailer but still the biggest challenge will be trying to make audiences want to watch 90 minutes or so of Hobo With a Shotgun.
The team is also inexperienced and while that may not be a bad thing, as fresh directors can bring fresh ideas, there's no word of a Peter Jackson-esque mentor, like on District 9, attached to the film. Such a mentor would be able to steer them in the right direction and really benefit the production. I really thought Rodriguez would have come on board for this project as it seems right up his alley but it looks like he hasn't. In fact there's not much about who is involved (company-wise), how the film is being financed, or who else will star.
There's also the issue of who is going to see this film. Hobo is set for release in 2011. I'm not sure how much money is being spent on this film and what sort of release they are expecting (festival route with the hopes of a studio picking it up) but before that happens studios will have Kick-Ass and Machete in their minds. Kick-Ass was a fan and reviewer darling, which has made back what it cost but didn't find mainstream success. Machete is another film based on a Grindhouse trailer, which has a known director and cast but questions about how successfully it will find an audience apart from those who already know the inside story.
If there are questions about Machete's success, which has Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, and Danny Trejo as well as Rodriguez writing and directing, then what questions will Hobo face? Hauer's inclusion has generated considerable buzz but will his name be enough to carry the film? Hauer hasn't exactly been sitting around for the last 20 years — he's been making films, just not ones a lot of people want to see. If Machete can't attract an audience then will Hobo be able to find an audience outside of those who already know about the film's remarkable path to release? If Machete is successful will Hobo be able to capitalize on any of that success?
Then again Eisner and company don't appear to be doing it for the money. To them it's more a labor of love. They are proponents of the YouTube generation of filmmakers who are taking independent, original filmmaking to new heights. We've already seen it happen with Neill Blomkamp's "Alive in Jo'Burg" short and Hobo is the next, bloody step. It's going to get lots of attention on the 'net and generate a lot of anticipation that will see it become a cult hit but hopefully Hobo will be to deal its special brand of street justice to a wider audience.