An Interview with Director Uwe Boll
Love him or hate him, director Uwe Boll has had quite the prolific career. A quick perusal of his page on imdb lists a boatload of movies that most film fans have very strong opinions about. It would have been easy to, as many have in the past, focus on the negative and put the man on the spot. Anytime you put yourself out there as not only an artist, but an artist who will call you out if you don’t like him, you make yourself vulnerable to such treatment. Being familiar with many of the things he has had to say in the past, I was prepared for this to go in any direction that it naturally went. But, that’s been done. As he seemed quite genuine and open about his feelings regarding his movies and the industry in general, our talk pretty much stuck strictly to the art of filmmaking and, due to the nature of his latest movie (Assault on Wall Street), a bit of political discussion as well. To a film fan such as myself, the process and thought that goes into making a movie is always a fascinating topic to discuss with anyone who has actually done it. So, however you may feel about his films, I hope you enjoy getting into the mind of Uwe Boll.
Jason Howard: First of all, I’d like to thank you for taking some time out today to talk to me.
Uwe Boll: I’m always happy to talk to you.
JH: You’ve certainly had a long and lasting career in the film industry that doesn’t seem to be slowing down. When did you get started and what made you decide to make movies?
UB: My first movie was German Fried Movie in 1991, shot for 60.000 German Marks. I was 26 and I thought if I don’t do a movie now, I will never make a movie. So I and my friend Frank Lustig put all our savings in that movie and we made the money back. Since I was 10 years old, I told my mother I want to make movies. I loved Western and Adventure Films.
JH: What influenced you?
UB: El Dorado, Big Country, Red River, Mutiny on the Bounty… all that and a 1000 more classics were running on German TV and influenced me.
JH: Like all people in the industry, you’ve had your ups and downs, highs and lows, but not too many have the sheer number of projects to show for it that you do. Your filmography contains a surprisingly large number of films that you’ve worked on as a producer, writer, director, etc… Do you prefer to stay busy, moving directly from one project to the next?
UB: When I started making American movies with Sanctimony in the year 2000, and raising money via Filmfunds in Germany, I raised good money and I had to shoot movies to protect the tax loss and the investment. This is the reason some scripts, like Alone in the Dark, were not so good, I had no choice: I was my own producer and financer and I had to make the best out of it. But, I like shooting movies a lot and so I have no problem surviving long hours on sets.
JH: From what I understand, you often, if not always, handle much of your own development, financing, and distribution of your movies. Do you do this in an effort to keep outside sources from having a say in how you do things, maintaining more creative control for yourself?
UB: In the beginning I was very unhappy that nobody ever produced me – but, because of my business sense, I was able to raise the money on my own and so I have the luxury that nobody can tell me what the shot should be …or what the final cut is. That we sell our movies on our own worldwide is very important so that no middlemen can take profits away from us. We also sell movies from other filmmakers who had bad experiences with other world sales companies
JH: Many of your earlier films were adaptations of pre-existing stories – in particular, video games. As a filmmaker, what do you feel is your responsibility towards remaining faithful to the source material? Do you believe that the adaptation should be as strict as possible, or do you feel that it’s important to create your own vision since that original story already exists in its original form?
UB: It really depends on the game. In House of the Dead or Dungeon Siege, you had not a lot of story in the game …in Alone in the Dark or Far Cry, you had a lot of storylines you could follow.
JH: Did you find difficulty in approaching some of those adaptations, particularly Postal, where there was not necessarily much story within the game itself to work with? Was there temptation to just scrap the adaptation aspect and treat it as an original with a new title?
UB: I did that with Postal and just wrote a script with everything that is funny and I put the Postal dude in. I think it turned out to be my best game adaptation, and the game makers also loved it.
JH: With a doctorate in literature, what is it that drew you to video game adaptations as opposed to other works of fiction? Was it financially-driven?
UB: I got the script for House of the Dead and the movie rights from the company Mindfire in LA, and I shot the script how it was approved by Sega. The movie turned out to be my biggest success still today. And so I looked out for more game properties and made more movies based on games. The sales were easy because you had a built-in audience. But then Hollywood jumped on this and so the prices for licenses went too high and I got out. I bought game rights for $150,000 to $300,000. Now they pay $3 million and up.
JH: Your films of late, such as Postal, Rampage, Stoic, and now Assault on Wall Street, certainly seem to be more personal and approach much more serious topics than many of your earlier works. Was this a conscious transition that you always knew you’d make, or is it more in direct response to the world that we live in today?
UB: Both. I come from personal movies and I always wanted to come back to make movies where I show my point of views about the world. I’m very political and I’m shocked about the status quo of our society. These movies have lower budgets than the game adaptations, but they show important subject matters like Genocide in my movies Darfur and Auschwitz.
JH: The subject of the current financial crisis has been approached in quite a few movies lately, but Assault on Wall Street, without giving too much away, seems to take a more hard-hitting, and certainly controversial approach to the subject. Do you feel that other films may be taking too safe of an approach to the subject and maybe there’s a concern that ticket sales could be affected by going too far? Or, is it perhaps that those in Hollywood wouldn’t be able to appreciate the perspective of someone who, for instance, has lost their home as a result of our economic times?
UB: I was so upset that nobody was held accountable after the bailouts and then Hollywood comes out with movies like Wall Street 2, showing only the “poor bankers” who work so hard. I couldn’t believe it. Where were the movies for the 7 million Americans who lost their houses? So, I made a movie more in the style of Falling Down or Death Wish. I love movies like French Connection and Goodfellas and I miss movies like this. We are getting, every week, one stupid comic book adaption after another and I don’t find movies anymore that I want to see. Assault on Wall Street is a movie I want to see.
JH: Speaking along those lines, with Assault, I definitely sensed a bit of a 70’s film vibe – a time where movies had more grit and the atmosphere actually felt lived in. Film wasn’t just for entertainment, it was also a movement. Was that a conscious effort on your part? Were you influenced, as I suspect, by the films of that era?
UB: Absolutely. I loved the gritty movies. I mean, compare The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, or Raging Bull with the movies that got the Oscar the last few years. The King’s Speech, Argo, etc… harmless and unimportant TV movies.
JH: You mentioned the bailouts and, having seen Assault, I can certainly sense that you have a pretty strong opinion on the matter. Care to expand on that?
UB: The fact that banks are still not regulated and that our savings are still at risk if the investment side of a bank goes under is the biggest scandal. Already, one year after the taxpayers bailed the banks out, they again paid huge bonus payments to the brokers. In short, the profits they keep are the losses that taxpayers must pay. And now, we are again in a balloon backed by free money from the FED and the EZB in Europe. I ‘m very skeptical about the future.
JH: Back to Assault, do you feel, with all that he’s been through, and despite his actions in the film, that the lead character of Jim, may still be considered sympathetic to audiences, or do you feel they’ll think he took things too far? Do you find Jim to be relatable on some level?
UB: I was at tons of screenings and the majority of the audience vote for him. They think he’s lost it all and so why not strike back?
JH: What political ideas or personal response do you hope that audiences ultimately take from watching Assault?
UB: I hope that some bankers are scared now that a guy like Jim exists and could go after them and so the bankers DON’T screw people over. Fear is a good helper in making people better than they would be without the fear that somebody holds them accountable.
JH: Assault on Wall Street is currently playing on VOD (Video on Demand) – how do you feel that VOD has affected the moviegoing experience? Now that movies often premiere On Demand simultaneously with or even BEFORE they hit theaters, how do you think that has affected the movie industry? Is it too easy to skip going to the theater and just watch the movie at home?
UB: The advertising for a theatrical release is so expensive that it makes more sense to release movies directly on VOD. I love the theaters, but also the exhibitors don’t support small movies. They show on every screen the same trailers and don’t give small movies a fair shot.
JH: In regards to your distribution company, Event Films, what do you look for in a movie that is not your own when deciding to release it?
UB: We mostly have genre movies …like thriller and action because they are easier to sell worldwide and they fit in better with my movies. Try to sell a comedy to Russia or Japan – they don’t laugh…
JH: Can we talk a little bit about your technique as a filmmaker? It seems as if your earlier movies incorporated more CGI and traditional camera shots, but your more recent output has employed a lot more steadi-cam or handheld and are less effects-driven. Was that a transition that you had always intended to move towards, or was it something that just happened organically as your films became more and more personal?
UB: I like handheld way more, but the movie’s story needs to fit for that. Movies like Rampage work in the docu style — movies like In the Name of the King wouldn’t. Also, heavy CGI is hard to do if the camera is too shaky…
JH: You are pretty notorious for having challenged, met, and defeated many of your harshest critics in the boxing ring (one of which, I was actually in attendance for) – do you feel that this “wiped the slate clean” for you as far as your feelings towards those particular reviewers? Did it provide a sort of closure for you in those instances where you felt that you were now even? Or, was it more of a promotional thing?
UB: It was all of this, but first and foremost, it was revenge. I trained hard for the fights and hoped the critics boxed better. But, with 3 out of the 4, I’m still in contact and they gained respect for me and I gained respect for them.
JH: Is there a movie in your career that you feel did not live up to what you had hoped it would be in your mind and you’d like to take another shot at it?
UB: There are movies like House of the Dead or Alone in the Dark that I would develop, cast and shoot differently with my knowledge now. But, I will not shoot them again and I have no desire to shoot them again.
JH: You tend to work with many actors on multiple projects, but has there ever been one that you would refuse to work with again?
UB: No, but, for example, Jason Statham is now $6 million per movie and I could not pay him his fee for another project. I’m sure there are actors I wouldn’t hire anymore.
JH: Any upcoming projects that you can talk about that we should be looking out for?
UB: I developed a big project, Annihilation, about a terrorist attack – but after White House Down flopped, it will be hard to get the money. But, I have also a western about Canada … the title is The Nation and it will be very hard and gritty The gold rush is in it along with the killing of the natives…
JH: I want to thank you very much for your time and insight. Any final words for our readers?
UB: Thanks so much for the interview and I hope you check out my movies on DVD or VOD.
Interview by Jason Howard, Influx Lead Writer