Personality Complex: Jason Eisener Abides By the Philosophies of Sam Raimi and Master Splinter

The V/H/S/2 co-director is just a horror- and Ninja Turtle-loving kind of guy. With crazy talent.

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Jason Eisener—a proud, self-acknowledged fanboy of all things genre entertainment—has just met his match. The Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, native is seated inside a quiet, uncrowded steakhouse in New York City's Chelsea section, just minutes away from the East Village's AMC theater where his latest film, the horror anthology sequel V/H/S/2, is screening as part of the Tribeca Film Festival. The waiter—an excitable, less muscular Alexander Skarsgard lookalike with glasses—couldn't help but overhear Eisener discussing his favorite movies, and after delivering the filmmaking out-of-towner his lunch (a rare-cooked 9 oz. steak and sweet potato fries), the waiter starts namedropping his top TV shows: Game of Thrones, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad, none of which Eisener has watched yet.

Clearly not familiar with Eisener's 2011 breakthrough indie flick Hobo with a Shotgun, the waiter follows up some vitriol toward ABC's Once Upon a Time with, "I would love to be a filmmaker. How about you, would you love to make movies or TV shows, too?" Eisener, without hesitation, replies, "I would love to do it all!"

"I moved to New York City to be a photographer, but I love film," says Outback's peppiest employee, who's originally from Tennessee. "My roommate is an actor. I read his scripts and I love it all. I'm from If I could do it all over again, I think I would get into film."

With a big you-can-do-it smile on his face, Eisener says, "It's never too late, man. You should give it a shot! You've got to do what you love. Anything else must suck."

Not that Eisener would know from experience. The energetic director, 30, has been wholeheartedly focused on making movies since he was in high school, when he and his lifelong Halifax friends pulled from youth spent devouring VHS tapes of horror, sci-fi, and action films, both of the mainstream and obscure varieties. He's the rare kind of filmmaker who'll cite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a major influence over a cinephile's usual suspects like, say, Citizen Kane or 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's seen his unruly, violent, disturbed, but always unabashedly fun creations. There's the aforementioned feature Hobo with a Shotgun, in which '80s icon Rutger Hauer guns down pimps, murderers, and other deviants in the name of vigilante justice; Treevenge, Eisener's 2008 festival-owning short about killer Christmas trees; and "Y is for Youngbuck," his pulsating, music-video-inspired contribution to this year's nihilistic horror omnibus The ABCs of Death.

"There's just nobody who's making movies like Jason," says Neal Block, head of distribution for Magnolia Pictures, the company behind Hobo with a Shotgun, The ABCs of Death, and V/H/S/2. "You'd be hard-pressed to find anybody who's making movies as individualistic as everything he's done so far. What I like about it is that there's this real handmade, kind of down and dirty style to his movies, and it's really appealing. 'Genuine' is a great attitude to describe Jason's movies, and they feel both loose and meticulous at the same time. Everything he does seems like he and his crew had so much fun making it."

Whereas none of his previous films are necessarily scary (terms like "enjoyably bonkers" and "gleefully sadistic" fit them better), Eisener's segment in V/H/S/2 (available via Video On-Demand today, before its limited theatrical run starting July 12) is a whole other type of beast. And coming after shorts from fellow V/H/S/2 directors Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die), Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project), Gareth Evans (The Raid: Redemption), and Timo Tjahjanto (the insanely perverse ABC's of Death segment "L is for Libido"), Eisener's grand finale is a resounding, final death blow. Straightforwardly titled "Alien Abduction Slumber Party," it's short, rapidly paced, and replete with some of the creepiest, most nightmarishly effective E.T. imagery to come around in years. Think a found-footage Fire in the Sky, with just the freaky parts and, most impressive of all, totally shot from a dog's point-of-view.

Technically ballsy and altogether striking, "Alien Abduction Slumber Party" confirms what Hobo with a Shotgun and "Y is for Youngbuck" suggested: Jason Eisener is arguably the indie scene's most exciting young, on-the-rise genre filmmaker. And he's just getting started. "We're all hoping that Jason becomes the next Steven Spielberg," says V/H/S/2 producer Simon Barrett. "In our perfect world, these next Star Wars sequels would be directed by either [Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol director] Brad Bird or Jason Eisener. We get that he's not quite there yet, but he honestly would be the perfect person to do a film like that. He really does understand special effects, and I don't think people understand that yet because he's been working with such a small palette. He should be rebooting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Star Wars, because that's ultimately what we think he'll be doing. It just might take him ten years or so to get there."

One thing's for sure: There's plenty more cinematic craziness on the horizon for Eisener. Here, the potential-laden auteur vibrantly and candidly details his past, present, and future.

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As told to by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

Growing Up in Nova Scotia

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Becoming a Filmmaker

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Influences of an '80s Kid

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Inspired by Evil Dead II; motivated by Michaelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, and Donatello.

"In junior high, we were shooting stuff, but in high school we tried turning every project into a film project—it didn't work in math class, though, but we tried it in every other class. [Laughs.] Our high school saw us running around the school filming, so they actually developed a film and video program for us, by the time we got into grade 12."

"I had this art teacher there, Brian O'Grady, and he'd never dabbled in film before, but they gave him the program. He's one of the most influential people in my life, because he was one of these teachers who… I remember in his art class, guys would try to draw offensive shit to piss him off, like crazy, elaborate dick drawings, or people shooting up, or killing each other. He would always look at the best in the art and critique it in a way that made all these guys be like, 'Whoa.' They were trying to piss him off but they'd get a compliment out of it. He was that way with everything, and it was really inspiring."


My ultimate goal in life is to come up with something that's as amazing as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.


"He taught me how to edit. It's high school, so you're going to the parties, and you're drinking—that's what it was like for me in grades 10 through 11, but once I started working with him, every lunch break and everyday after school, I would be in his classroom and he'd be teaching me how to edit. He told me about Evil Dead II, and how much I'd like it, so I checked that out and that's the first time I was technically aware of how the camera was moving. Once that movie ended, I was like, "Yeah, I have to figure out a way to do this for a living." And he helped me pick out a college, a community college, called NSCC (Nova Scotia Community College) where I took a two-year program in film."

"That's where I really found my passion for the kind of crazy stuff I want to do, because of him—he never put any boundaries on us. He let us do whatever we wanted. We wanted to make films like the films we were loving back then. We were always working in high-concept ideas. When I started college, they were trying to strip that back a bit and tone my style down, but I've always been geared toward crazier stuff. I've always loved high-concept idea. I'm a kid of the '80s who grew up on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Ghostbusters, Transformers, Thundercats, and those were all crazy high-concept ideas."

"My ultimate goal in life is to come up with something that's as amazing as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, just that idea that these guys are brothers with regular teenage problems, they know martial arts, they fight a gang, but they also just happen to be turtles, and their dad's a giant rat, and they fight this guy who's a cheese grater. I've been saying for years that I would love to direct a new Ninja Turtles movie, so knowing that one's in the works without me hurts. [Laughs.] I'd love to do the Casey Jones movie, though. Just a movie about him, a character study about a guy who's becoming this vigilante. But I would want to take it back to the original comics, or even the first movie. I love how dark that movie is, how it's lit, and the costume work on the actual turtles. That whole fight scene on the rooftop is incredible."

"My mind always goes back to what I loved while growing up: taking high-concept ideas and making films inspired by that."

"Hobo with a Shotgun" Fake Trailer

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Before Hobo with a Shotgun became a full-blown feature, Eisener and his friends honed their skills with an ambitious, demented, 16-minute short called Treevenge, released in 2008, about Christmas trees that revolt against human yuletide practitioners by slaughtering them in exceedingly gory ways. It's the most badass holiday movie since Die Hard.

"After the Grindhouse contest, we were pumped up and excited that people liked our stuff, so we were thinking of making a feature out of it, on the weekends with our friends. We got invited to go to the premiere of Grindhouse in Los Angeles, and when we went there, Rob had never been to Universal Studios. I took him there, and right when we got on line, I get this call from Alliance, the Canadian distributor of Grindhouse. They say, 'We love the trailer. We want to take the trailer, make 200 film prints of it, and attach it to the theatrical prints of Grindhouse.' We were so blown away. They needed the files right away, so I had to call John back home and get him to break into my house and get the files and send them off. Alliance was also like, 'We're also interested in turning this feature. We have a producer we want to introduce you to.'"

"They flew us up to Toronto to meet with one of Canada's biggest film producers, named Niv Fichman. If you look at his IMDB, he has done nothing that would make you think he'd want to work with us. [Laughs.] He did movies like Blindness and The Red Violin. We met him and we all just hit if off so well. But when you read the original script for Hobo, it was completely insane. Reading the school bus burning scene, for example…for somebody who doesn't know what we can do, that can be pretty hard to take, coming off the page. We were like, 'We've got to shoot something else to show people that we're not a one-trick pony, something with a little bit more of a narrative.' The Hobo trailer is just two minutes long without any story."

"That's where Treevenge came from. It was Christmas after the Hobo trailer. My mom makes me help her put decorations on the Christmas tree, so I'm on a ladder putting on ornaments, looking at this tree and thinking, Man, you were in such a peaceful place before this. [Laughs.] It was quiet, you were at peace, and then you got chopped down, brought into my mom's home, she's blasting Christmas music, and making you look like an idiot. That is a crazy perspective. I pitched that to Rob and he loved it, so over a week we turned it into a script. [Laughs.]"

"We then went out and shot Treevenge out of our own pocket; when all was said and done, I think it cost about $5,000. That ended up playing some festivals. The first festival was Fantasia, in Montreal, and that was the first time anything of ours played outside of our homeland. Someone told us to send it into Sundance, and we did it not expecting much. But then it got in and ended up getting nominated for Best Short Film at Sundance. When we came home, everyone was super-excited. Telefilm, the company that helped to fund Hobo with a Shotgun, saw it and got very excited."

"That short is ultimately what helped us get the financing to make the Hobo feature, but it took a while. Without that school bus burning scene, we could have shot that movie two years earlier, but we really fought hard for that scene. For us, one, I remember being in arguments with financiers, and I'd ask, 'What was the biggest film this year?' They didn't know, so I'd say, 'The Dark Knight, where the Joker blows up a whole hospital. I can't afford to do something like that, but we can buy an old school bus for $500 and it would be something that would flip a community upside down and make them angry enough to fight back.'"

"And also, I just love outrageous moments in cinema. When you see a scene in a movie that's so crazy, and you can't believe they went there, I always love those moments. I love when you can't trust a filmmaker, when a filmmaker puts you on such an edge in a theater that anything can happen."

The ABCs of Death

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The craziest horror anthology movie ever made? That would be The ABCs of Death, the commendably far-reaching project overseen by Drafthouse Films that gave 26 up-and-coming genre filmmakers one letter of the alphabet each, $5,000 a piece, a no-more-than-five-minutes running time stipulation, and total creative freedom to shoot a segment centered on some kind of death scene. Tasked with the letter "Y," Eisener remixed on old, particularly twisted idea of his into "Y is for Youngbuck," the heartwarming, dialogue-free tale of a molested boy, a creepy pedophile janitor, and a deer.

"I've had this passion project for years, and I've pitched it, like, three times to execs in Los Angeles, and they've all been like, 'Are you kidding me?' But the main character in this project is a 12-point buck deer, and it's a revenge movie. The deer is the main character, and it's a real deer, not animated. I don't think I'll ever make that movie until I have tons of money and I can afford to make it out of my own pocket. But I took that idea and transformed it into my ABCs of Death short."

"I love synth music, and before I made that short, I hadn't had the chance to make a music video before. The ABCs of Death is a film where all of these filmmakers from all around the world, so it's going to play in theaters all across the world. I thought, I should do something silent, then, so it could work for everyone, without any language barriers. And I also wanted to use it to show what I can do with music videos, too."

"Power Glove, who did the music for my short [a track titled 'Vengeance'], is one of my favorite bands. Originally, though, I wanted to use this old Alyssa Milano song called 'Born to Love,' which has that same vibe. It's so good! [Laughs.] And it added this really creepy context to the whole thing. I always wanted Power Glove to provide the score, but when I editing it, I found that Alyssa Milano song and it fit perfectly, but we couldn't get the rights for it."


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Of the four segments in V/H/S/2, Jason Eisener's "Alien Abduction Slumber Party" is the perfect closer. Less than 20 minutes long, it's a lean, mean adrenaline rush of found-footage goodness. Shot entirely from the perspective of a handheld camera strapped to a little dog, "Alien Abduction Slumber Party" starts off as a slightly raunchier riff on the opening section of The Goonies, with a group of young friends playing practical jokes (including pissing into water guns and water balloons before attacking one kid's older sister and her friends with the urinary weapons), but quickly devolved into an extended chase scene initiated by some of the creepiest-looking and most impressively revealed extra-terrestrials to hit the big screen in years.

"When we were at TIFF [Toronto International Film Festival] to premiere The ABC's of Death, I met [V/H/S producer] Roxanne Benjamin. I was following the buzz of V/H/S at Sundance, from back home, and a lot of critics I really respect were coming out of this found-footage movie and saying it's awesome. I said to myself, 'Whoa, there's a found-footage movie that's actually cool? Not Paranormal Activity?' I was really intrigued by it."

"Roxanne then emailed me to say that they loved what I did in The ABC's of Death, and they loved Treevenge. She sent me a private link to watch V/H/S, and, honestly, I thought it was going to be a ten-times bigger movie than it became, because it's so much cooler than Paranormal Activity, and way scarier. It gave me that same kind of feeling like when I saw Evil Dead II and I was really inspired and amped about how the camera was used. It made me want to grab a camera and go shoot something."

"I felt like an asshole because I hadn't loved a found-footage movie since The Blair Witch Project, but then I felt like a fucking idiot for not opening up my eyes to something that there was obviously an audience for. So I came up with an idea, thinking, this would be my dream idea of what I could bring to found-footage, and they green-lit it right away for me."

"With short films, you can play with ideas and experiment with techniques and concepts. I've always wanted to make a kids movie. I love movies like The Monster Squad and The Goonies. I've always wanted to make one of those kinds of kids movies. Plus, related to that deer movie idea, I've always wanted to do an animal's-perspective movie; I've always loved Babe, and Babe II is one of the craziest movies ever made. Seriously. [Laughs.] My V/H/S/2 segment gave me the chance to mash those two things together."

"The alien invasion angle was inspired by this real-life incident, called Shag Harbour. Back in the '60s, a UFO crashed in a harbor in Nova Scotia, and a lot of people saw it. People thought it was a plane crash, so they went out in boats to try to save the people, but they couldn't find anyone. They saw this weird foam on top of the water, and I've heard so many crazy stories from uncles in the Navy who told me about what they heard. I heard how it was a UFO, and a couple of days later, another UFO crashed somewhere else, traveled underwater, and linked up with this UFO, they stayed together for a couple of days, and then flew away together a few days later. I don't know if I believe that, but it's really cool to think about."

"Everything I've done before has been so in-your-face and insane, so this was the first time we ever tried to make something that's genuinely scary. A lot of the alien stuff is based off of Fire in the Sky. When I was a kid, I saw that movie and it scarred me the most out of any movie. It made me keep a baseball bat under my bed. My parents had to have several talks with me, to reassure me that aliens weren't coming for me. Even though it terrified me, it made me go out and read every book possible about alien abductions and UFOs. I would have this reoccurring nightmare where it was either aliens or the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park, and they would get into my home, I would be running away with my friends and family; the next door isn't home, so we have to keep running. The monster was also visible in the distance. I wanted to capture that feeling from those nightmares, where you can't fully see the aliens until the last second, right before you wake up, sweating, scared to death. The scariest thing about aliens, for me, is that everyone's a target—they'll come for anyone."

"The aliens themselves are actually my buddies wearing masks and gloves that we made for them, and then we painted their bodies white. [Laughs.] We only had four days to shoot it, with little money, so we had to be crafty all-around. Even with the dog, that's actually my family's dog; his name is Riley. He's a little Terrier, but he's such a little shit. At the beginning of the segment, the kids have on these hot dog costumes, and whenever we'd finish a take, the kids would throw their costumes off and Riley would run up and eat all of the damn hot dogs. I can't even eat three hot dogs, but he would eat six or seven at a time, so he'd be so full. I'd have to lift him off his feet and guide him around. It got so frustrating, to where we ended up hollowing out an old Alf doll, because the hair is similar to Riley's, and using that to shoot with. I'm on my hands and knees shooting the whole time, trying to flick the doll's ears to make it seem like it's alive. It was the hardest thing we've ever done."

"For me, though, the most exciting thing about the short is the stuff before the aliens show up, with the kids. John wrote the short with me, and most of those moments are based on what me, my brother, John, and my friends would do to my younger sister growing up. The scene where the kids burst into the sister's bedroom wearing those masks and blasting that rave music, while she's having sex with her boyfriend, in real life she was just sleeping, but we really did that. We would do that when our parents went away. Those moments are all from our childhood."

"Also, I wanted to do something that kids today could relate to, so I always asked the kids for their input. One of the actors is my buddy's younger brother; I wanted one of the kids to be someone whose parents I knew really well, so when we shot the tougher scenes, like the sleeping bag underwater, it would be easier to do it. The other kids never acted before."

Directing Music Videos

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Aside from found-footage aliens, homicidal homeless men, and killer deers, Eisener is also a big fan of music, namely the visuals that accompany it. In February, his first-ever music video debuted here on Complex, for Riff Raff's rowdy street single "Goin' Hamilton." If Eisener has his way, it's just the first of many music videos to come.

"My love of music is another thing that was so tough about the V/H/S/2 segment. All of my stuff is so heavily dependent on the music; in Hobo with a Shotgun, I think there's only two minutes without any music. But in found-footage, you can't use music like that. Music is my favorite thing about making films. I love the marriage of music and image."

"With the Riff Raff video, I would have loved to done even more with him and the concept. We only had three hours to shoot with him because he showed up really late. We started getting ready at 8 p.m., but he got delayed for hours in customs, so by the time we got to shoot, it was, like, 2 a.m. I was shooting in a buddy's store, so he was doing us a favor. I felt bad, so I set a cut-off time of 5 a.m., because my buddy was hanging around the store to make sure everything was OK, and the night was dragging on and on. So, once Riff Raff got there, I only had three hours to shoot. But it was so fun."

"I've helped my friends shoot a lot of rap videos back home. One of the guys I live with one of the most popular rappers back home, Jay Mayne—he's one of my best friends, and he actually introduced me to horror films when I was younger and I introduced him to skateboarding. I love all music, but there's something special about making rap music videos. I'm trying to direct as many more as possible."

Future Projects

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Hollywood has been calling, but Eisener isn't concerned with cashing in with his next feature film. As evidenced by the kinds of projects he's currently developing outside of the studio system, he's not about to change his style or approach for anyone. Well, maybe that would change if somebody called him about remaking a certain 1987 horror-comedy about a Wolfman and his nards.

"The first press screening at Sundance for the Hobo feature was a crazy experience. They usually don't let us filmmakers attend those, and, frankly, I didn't want to be there while the press watched it for the first time. We all went to a restaurant while it was screening and waited for it to end. We were so nervous, and I hated the idea of a critic not being around an audience while watching our movie, because I made that movie to be like a rock show. When we started reading all the press tweets, it was all super-positive, and then our friends who are critics said it was the loudest press screening they'd ever been to."

"After that premiered, we did get a bunch of calls for big projects, including some remakes. We could definitely use money, that's for sure. [Laughs] It's definitely been a struggle. But with Hobo, I honestly would have jumped in front of a bullet for that movie—I would have died in order to make that film, and that's how I think I need to be for every movie I do. We would get projects sent to us, but they just weren't that cool. I couldn't see myself giving them my all. We turned down some $14 million movies, all while we were struggling and eating our of Kraft dinner boxes. But I can't do it only for the money. It does get tough, though, when rent's coming up."


When it's time to make a tough creative decision, I'm always asking myself, 'What would the 13-year-old Jason like?'


"After Hobo, we wrote a film called Blatant Violence High, and that was going to be our own Street Fighter game in a high school setting. But it was just too ambitious, and then The Hunger Games came out. Even though the two movies are totally different, I don't like doing anything that's similar to what someone else is doing. We still have the script, though, so hopefully we'll one day make that film."

"Now, actually, we're just finishing the third draft for a spin-off film about The Plague characters in Hobo. It's like our Masters of the Universe movie—it's so ambitious that I don't know if that's going to happen anytime soon either. [Laughs.] So, for now, we're trying to find something smaller that we can actually make soon."

"One of my biggest goals is to make the ultimate tree fort movie. That's one of my dreams. I used to build tree forts as a kid. I would love to live in a tree fort at some point in my life. [Laughs.] That would make me so happy. There's one thing I'm working on that has a kid character in it."

"I wish I could do The Monster Squad remake. I don't have problems with kids playing video games and being in front of the computer all day, but when I go back into the woods that John and I used to build our tree forts in, there's nothing. Are kids no longer playing in the woods? I want to make that movie that gets kids to play outside, run around in the woods, and scrape their knees. Hopefully, some day, someone will let me make an awesome kids movie."

"With everything I do, I'm always referring to the kid inside of me. When it's time to make a tough creative decision, I'm always asking myself, 'What would the 13-year-old Jason like?' That's how I make my creative decisions on everything. It all comes back to watching Saturday morning cartoons and watching horror movies in my backyard shed."

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