Jason Eisener's short film Hobo With a Shotgun won the South by Southwest (SXSW) Robert Rodriguez Grindhouse Trailer Competition back in 2007. As a result, the film was transferred to 35mm and attached to Canadian prints of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's film. When the trailer hit the Internet, people all over the world were talking about the note-perfect homage to the grimmiest exploitation films. Eisener's latest short Treevenge premiered at the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival where it won both the audience award and best short film. Treevenge is now playing at Fantastic Fest as part of the shorts program. People who cannot attend the screenings still have time to check out the film at Fantastic Fest Online. Eisener answered some questions about Treevenge as well as the full-length version of Hobo, which now has a producer. The full interview is beneath the fold.
How did the idea for Treevenge come about?
Every year at Christmas it's tradition at home for my family to get together and decorate the Christmas tree. I think it was 2 years ago I went home for Christmas and while we were decorating the tree, I started thinking how awful this must be from the perspective of the tree: to be cut down, taken from their quiet home in the woods, bagged, sold, then brought into strange houses where they are screwed into place, and decorated with bulbs and lights. For a tree, that experience would be so horrifying.
Whats your preferred gear as far as shooting and post-production (e.g., editing) is concerned)?
I have been using my Panasonic DVX 100 for years now. I've put that camera through hell and I still can't believe the damn thing works. For Treevenge, Rob & I wanted to step it up a notch to shoot in HD. Our DP, Jeff Wheaton was able to get his hands on the Sony F 900, which was great. It's a nice camera, and the result was spectacular. For the next project, we are really interested and excited about getting our hands on a Red camera. I just saw my friend's film that was shot on the Red, blown up to 35mm and I was shocked at how great it looked. For editing, I use Final Cut. I always have. I have used Avid on occasion, but I just find it frustrating. Avid, for me, feels like it was made for people who appreciate an older style of editing.
Treevenge has an original premise but pays homage to some specific films in fairly non-obvious ways. What were some of the inspirations? How do you strike the balance between the original ideas and the material that influences you?
Before we started shooting Treevenge, Rob Cotterill (producer/ co writer) and I got some of our crew together. We showed them some of the films that inspired us and what we wanted to do. One film we screened was Black Christmas. That film has this really great dark look. When combined with the Christmas lights, and the super wide angle point of view of the killer, the film really comes to life. It is what really inspired us to give our trees their wide angle POV. Some of the sounds the trees make and the style in which they attack people was inspired by Gremlins. Also, a lot of the camera movement was inspired by Addio Zio Tom. But the biggest influenced on the film were these Dinosaur Attack Cards trading cards that were popular when I was a kid. I used to study those cards and the amazing paintings they featured. When I first came up with the idea for Treevenge I thought, "wouldn't it be cool if there were cards of Trees attacking people on Christmas day?"
Every artist gets inspired by something and helps give them the drive to do whatever project they are working on. It is these inspirations that drive and excite me. Not to the point where it takes over or gets in the way, but these inspirations are usually just in the back of my mind while I shoot.
The musical score is a great mix of original material, familiar themes and some of the most arcane film score references possible. How did you work with the composer in getting the sounds you wanted?
Treevenge has several composers, and I decided to use more than one because I really wanted some scenes to have their own sound. For example, there is a scene where lumber jacks are cutting down trees and the score is very big and almost feels triumphant. So, when the trees started fighting back I wanted to bring that same feeling to the trees. I asked one of the composers to concentrate on both those scenes. A lot of people will recognize the opening theme to the movie, which is from Cannibal Holocaust. I came across this band on Myspace called Morte Macabre who did their own version of the song and it sounded amazing. They were happy to let us use it. The opening of the film shows the trees in their habitat. It is very calm and and the trees look beautiful, with a song like that most viewers feel relaxed, but for the genre fans who know the tune. It gives you a very uncomfortable feeling, like you know that shit is going to go down.
You live in Canada, specifically Halifax, Nova Scotia. There is lots of film festival and production activity in Montreal and Toronto, which are some distance away from your area. Whats the film industry like there, and what are the advantages or disadvantages of working away from the major film centers?
I'm not too sure, because I haven't really been around film in big cities like that. So, I don't know what I'm missing. Back home the film community can be very supportive. We made Treevenge, and all of my other projects, out of pocket. We couldn't have made these films without the help of friends and people who work in the film community. With some persistence, we have begun to get the community to warm up to the idea of genre film in Halifax. Now I think there is a growing excitement about what we are doing, and genre films in general. Halifax also has a great festival called the Atlantic Film Festival, which really helps in bringing the community together. I love making films in Halifax and hope to keep doing it. Also, the cops here are really friendly, and never bust us for shooting without permits.
Treevenge is playing at Fantastic Fest, and Fantastic Fest Online is making Treevenge available for Internet viewing. Whats your take on digital film distribution and its effect on independent filmmakers?
It's a dream come true to have anything to do with Fantastic Fest, and the people who run the Alamo. When I was in high school, I remember reading about the Alamo and hoped that one day one of my films would play there. Having Treevenge on the net for people to view I think is amazing. I appreciate them for putting it up because not everyone can make it out to Texas or the other film festivals to see these films. A lot of people know about the fest and this is a great way for them to get a taste of what its like. It's a huge opportunity for exposure. I have some friends who have their films online and you can pay to download them. It seems to be working out for them. I really like having a hard copy of films. I love my DVDs and I will be sad to see the day when you can only get your films by downloading them. But really the Internet has really helped propel my career, especially with the Internet success of Hobo With a Shotgun.
What new projects do you have in the works?
Hobo is kind of taking up our time right now. It's our main focus. I have another short film idea called Wreckhouse. I would love to jump on and get some funding behind it, but right now Hobo has our attention.
What is the status of the full-length Hobo With a Shotgun film?
Things are looking great. We have an executive producer from Toronto on board who is helping us get our financing together for the project. His name is Niv Fichman and he just produced Blindness and Passchendaele. So, hopefully you'll hear about us kicking it into production in 2009.