Interview: Uwe Boll

words by Sean Collier | photo by Gregg Segal
| Friday, March 14th, 2008

uweOriginally published in Verbicide issue #23

Whisper the name Uwe Boll in an art house theater and you’re likely to have four or five incensed film buffs ranting within seconds. The controversial German filmmaker has produced some of the most critically reviled movies of the past decade, including video game adaptations such as Alone in the Dark, House of the Dead, and Bloodrayne. Boll’s infamy, however, stems less from his work behind cameras as his words in front of them.

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Outspoken about his methods (and his skill), Boll is notorious for responding virulently to critics and internet commentators who bash him. Last year, he challenged several critics to boxing matches. (While not all who were invited accepted, Boll did win all of these fights.) Listen to Boll’s opinions on his detractors, on the film industry, and especially on Hollywood, and it becomes crystal clear: Boll is utterly convinced that he’s got it right, and the rest of the world is crazy.

Right now, Boll is working on an adaptation of the notorious first-person shooting game Postal, a darker-than-dark horror film, Seed, and a Vietnam War action flick, 1968 – Tunnel Rats. His In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale had a brief theatrical release earlier this year. Very much in character, he was more than happy to talk about these projects, as well as a few of his other favorite topics.

The video game Postal is one of the most notoriously violent and dark games in history, despite its comedic side. When you decided to make Postal into a film, did you feel like you had to be as controversial and outrageous as the video game was? Did you have any reservations about using the events of September 11, 2001 humorously?
Absolutely [I wanted to be controversial], and I think I topped the game in terms of being politically incorrect. I would’ve made September 11th jokes one day after September 11th. Political correctness is used by corrupt politicians to hide from the truth.

Is any subject sacred? Is there anything you wouldn’t want to deal with in film — anything not appropriate for humor?
No. I think topics of the massacres in Rwanda or Kenya or Sierra Leone should be discussed, as well as the killing of the monks in Burma.

So are there any world leaders or politicians — current or historical — who you admire?
Not really. Perhaps Harry Truman was great? He was the guy who dropped the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and turned hundreds of thousands of civilians into ashes. A real war hero! Yeah right! Then Bush Jr. is great because everything that he has done was instructed to him by God. I would love to have this direct connection to God. I could ask God how I should beat up my neighbor’s kids. I’m sure God would provide me with some wonderful advice.

There’s been some early controversy about Seed, especially surrounding the use of animal cruelty footage. Why did you decide to use this material?
I showed it in the beginning of the movie. I wanted the audience to see what humans are doing to animals and then later what people are doing to people [in reference to the] death penalty, etc. We examine what man is capable of doing and what the government does to punish man for his inexplicable behavior.

I understand that PETA gave you this footage — are you a vegetarian or a vegan? Are you an animal rights advocate?
I eat meat, but only organic meat. I think humans need fruit, veggies, and meat. I’m against present day meat slaughterhouses and I’m totally against animal testing in labs for the cosmetic industry.

In one interview, I believe you said that you made Seed because you wanted to make a “horror movie that was no fun.” This is sort of a trend in horror right now, including other films like the Saw and Hostel franchises, as well as the remade Texas Chainsaw Massacre series. Do you feel that this is happening because horror films became too light and harmless? Why do you think horror has gone in this direction?
I think Hostel and Saw are fun to watch. Each horror film attempts to outdo each other and become more extreme from the last. Seed is not a fun movie. Seed is depressing and really bitter.

Seed was your first film not based on a video game since 2004’s Heart of America. Did you enjoy returning to entirely original material?
Absolutely, and this will go on from now on. My Vietnam War movie, 1968 – Tunnel Rats, is also super strong and not based on a game.

What can you tell us about 1968 – Tunnel Rats?
The movie demonstrates why America lost the Vietnam War. The 270-kilometer tunnels of Cu Chi were extremely well designed. The US soldiers (a.k.a. “Tunnel Rats”) had to travel through these nightmarish tunnels filled with traps, spiders, rats, snakes, bombs, water traps, etc.!

What continues to draw you to video game adaptations? Obviously, fans of the video games aren’t always pleased with your work — it seems like you make these films just because you enjoy making them. What makes this work so appealing to you?
It’s easy to presale my movies around the world. Filmmaking is too expensive. Only clever dilettantes playing the “art card” will often state, “I’m the genius, and somebody else should pay the bill!”

I’m not a bullshitter! I see the real world, and I know exactly what’s going on. I’m responsible for the result, but I’m also responsible for the money and my investors. I’m the dream director of every studio because I will not go over budget. The fact that I can raise money on my own is viewed as a negative by the studios. They would prefer desperate directors represented by sleazy agents. There is a reason why 80 percent of the studio movies are not [making their money back]. Nobody in Europe wants to see movies like Fred Claus, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, etc. — the European audiences don’t want to support films made by a Hollywood buddy system that’s been generated by breakfast and lunch meetings, drinks, drugs, corruption, and illusions. The Hollywood system doesn’t care about the owners or stockholders — they care about their connections in their small LA world. I shot Alone in the Dark in Vancouver while they shot an X-Men movie in the same studio. Nobody was working [on X-Men] half the time. Everyone seemed bored. The director was hanging out with hookers. I could shoot a movie like X-Men and re-create, shot by shot, the same movie for 70 percent of the money that was spent on that film.

Why do you think critical reaction to your films is worse in the US than in other parts of the world?
In the USA, every critic is a wannabe filmmaker. Look at the Roger Ebert movie — what has he accomplished as a writer? [Editor’s note: Boll is probably referring to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls here. Ebert has written three films, two under a pseudonym.] Or any other big critics, for that matter. If it comes down to doing something on their own, they suck. A production assistant on a movie requires far more talent and skill than a film critic. It is a far greater task to make a movie than to talk about one
What has been your experience with European critics? Are they much different from Americans?
American film critics are slaves to the major studies. The critics praise pieces of shit like First Sunday, One Missed Call, Untraceable, 27 Dresses — and criticize a movie like In the Name of the King because it is an independent film. They are working for the studios. Only 20 percent of the critics are not working for the studios. The same can be said about the exhibitors. They don’t support independent films. None of the exhibitors played In the Name of the King trailers or put our large [displays] up in the theater lobbies. The First Sunday trailer was playing on 10,000 screens and the posters were in 4,000 theaters. We had 1,000 trailers running and 500 posters hanging. Everything is controlled or preset. Internet advertising and hype is overrated.

As I said, it really seems like you’re making movies that you want to make, simply because you enjoy making them. If that’s the case, why does critical reaction in the US bother you? You’re obviously happy with most of your films; why bother to respond at all to critics who give you negative reviews?
I agree. I made a mistake in thinking that I can turn these nerds and assholes around. Not that you should get me wrong — a solid bad review I always respect. But bad reviews only to trash me again — this is what is pissing me off.

How do you feel that your education and degree in literature influences and informs your filmmaking?
It’s comforting to know that I’m well read, literate, and well versed in the film world. How ironic, considering that critics think I’m clueless in regards to story structure and filmmaking.

Your method of funding for films is very different. Could you briefly explain this to me? Why do you feel that more directors don’t take advantage of these possibilities?
I raise money from German tax shelter investors, in the stock market and via presales. I’m very strong in selling my product around the world. Also, I sell movies from other filmmakers around the globe. I’m basically my own machine with output deals in various territories. It could be that other directors are not so business-driven.

Can filmmaking be both a business and an art form, in your mind? Can you, as a director, be both a businessman and an artist?
Absolutely. There are movies I love and I put all my energy and creativity into, like Postal, Heart of America, Tunnel Rats, or Seed. And there are movies I enjoy doing but are intended to make money like In the Name of the King, Far Cry, Bloodrayne, etc.

Do you have any opinion on the recently resolved writer’s strike?
Nine out of 10 movies are losing money. I think that it is an absolute joke that producers have to pay writers, directors, or actors anything besides their fee until the budget is recouped. I think the unions should have a contract for the major [studios], especially the television networks, and independent producers. Why should I pay a writer, whose been paid for their script, an additional two or three percent of the gross if the movie loses half of the invested money? The film industry survives on tax money, billionaires’ money, and subsidies. Without this soft money, nobody would finance movies.

Finally — and I know this is a very general question — who are your favorite filmmakers, both past and present?
I love John Ford, Orson Welles, William Wyler, and Martin Scorsese for their work and their characters. I love some of the films made by Spielberg, Michael Mann, Oliver Stone, John Carpenter, and the Coen Brothers.

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