Mention Uwe Boll to a cinephile and the name conjures up terrible movies and worse reviews. He's often thought of as a hack filmmaker who's aggressive and combative—he even challenged his detractors to a boxing match. But he's also a man of fierce passions, a politically-minded writer-director who works on the fringe, making his movies his way. He's outspoken, to be sure, but he's also sincere and I found him to be quite affable.
I caught up with Dr. Boll as he was editing Rampage 3, which will be his last movie. Our conversation touched upon the Rampage trilogy, which sparked some politically-charged statements about the world today. We talked about his other business ventures, his film distribution company Event Film, and his restaurant, Bauhaus. And we talked briefly about his film career in general, where it began and where it led.
Rachel Katz Let's start at the beginning, sort of. Tell me the story of Rampage and how it got made.
Uwe Boll Ten years ago, I wrote Rampage. A lot of the thrillers and stuff I was watching at that point had gotten so predictable, so I wanted to do something really surprising where there was no hero, or our hero was a mass murderer. I also wanted him to be very sympathetic, even if it were a violent movie; it would be kind of interesting to watch what this guy is pulling off. So I followed up with Brendan Fletcher, who I'd worked with before. He's a very sympathetic person and would be able to play [the lead]. So we shot it and I got the best reviews of my career for Rampage I. It felt like I have to make very cynical, violent movies, and I'll get good reviews.
Because [the main character] gets away with murder, I spoke to Brendan years later about a follow-up—basically it's our Boyhood. Rampage 1, 2, and 3 is our Boyhood but we follow a terrorist over ten years. I wrote [Rampage 2] as a continuation, filling in the gaps of what he was doing the last five years while he was in hiding. He still has the money but he becomes very political. He takes a TV station hostage an gets himself a nation-wide interview in which he blames the world for what the world is: We're making ourselves extinct, global warming, we're destroying the planet, and we're all idiots.
So I did Rampage 2 two years ago, and that was [going to be] my last movie. The independent film industry is bad right now, it's hard to get financing together to make movies. Selling movies is my other job so I watch tons and tons of movies, checking them out to see if we can sell them, but the market is so bad. People are forced to make a movie for $100,000 and the movie sucks. You cannot make a proper movie with that kind of money. But you can't spend more money because nobody is going to pay you for your movie since Blockbuster and video rental are gone, and sell-through is gone, and everything is now only on VOD. A normal independent movie doesn't have a theatrical existence anymore. So you have only VOD revenues and you're not getting paid. If you sold one hundred thousand DVDs to Blockbuster ten years ago, you had six or seven hundred thousand dollars in revenue. Now you have a hundred thousand [rentals] on iTunes and they give you two or three hundred thousand dollars for it. And that's really the downfall of independent movies. So I felt like it was over—I wouldn't make movies anymore. But then I did the Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns, because I felt like I can't just stop. I want to finish my career, and I want to finish the Rampage trilogy properly with a third part that really has an ending. And is what we're doing now.
CRK For a while there it didn't look like Rampage 3 was going to happen. What changed?
UB I was mad the [crowdfunding] campaigns didn't work but I [still] wanted to do it. I wanted to do the movie. At the American Film Market in November I was able to make a few sales. E One bought North America, and Netflix bought the rights upfront, so I felt that even if I wasn't going to make any money I should still do it—as long as I could get the crew and the actors to accept low pay. We shot it right at the beginning of the year and we actually had the perfect situation, in a way. It's easy to get crew in the first two weeks of the new year because nobody shoots then. So I got a very good technical crew together, great stunt people. And the part 3 turned to be bigger than part 2. I think we got very good stuff and now we're diving into the editing room. I'm very optimistic about the ending [of the trilogy].
On the subject matter of Rampage, I think the trilogy will have a long life because it's about the main problems we face today and they've become a hot topic [in the media]. Ten years ago, mass terrorism wasn't really a hot topic, but now it's all over the place. Like that whole thing in part 2 where he goes into the TV station and starts shooting people and he says he's the result of no gun control. The [Rampage] movies were always very political. They're about problems we won't fix. I think it's a big problem, the major issues on the planet don't get attacked early enough and then we can't really do anything about it. As an example, global warming. Even if we were to all stop driving our cars, we couldn't stop [global warming].
CRK You had a bit of a challenge to convincing Brendan Fletcher to reprise the roll of Bill for Rampage 2. Now I see he's a co-writer on Rampage 3.
UB He always wrote a lot of his own dialogue and he deserves the credit. I wrote the story, but he worked on his character, and I think he deserves to get the credit.
CRK You really made a name for yourself on this side of the Atlantic, at any rate, directing video game adaptations, House of the Dead being the first. How did that first adaptation come about?
UB I'm normally very political, and I made a movie, Heart of America, which Brendan Fletcher is also in. It's about a school massacre. It was a flop, but it was actually a really good movie. During that process I was approached by a company from LA that said, “We have the rights to House of Dead. It's a zombie game by Sega. We should do it.” I felt I should probably do something very commercial, so I made House of the Dead. That movie was the launch of video game movies, from me and other directors, and it was the most successful movie I ever made. Based on that, I kept making video game-based movies. I tried to get different video games. BloodRayne, that takes place in the 1700s. Dungeon Siege—that epic thing with Jason Statham. Alone in the Dark, which was more sci-fi.
I kept going with the video game-based movies for a while, and I got, of course, the worst reviews of all time. I think because I made so many of them, I was the number one hated director on the planet. And it's hard to change the opinions of reviews or critics, when you make three or four movies in a row and they hate them.
CRK That kind of leads into my next question. Forgive me, but I have to ask, what are your thoughts about Michael Bay's upcoming movie 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi? A lot of people don't think he's necessarily the right choice for the film.
UB [Laughs] Well, I totally agree. Don't let me let loose on Michael Bay! He started right away after film school already having shitloads of money making Bad Boys with Will Smith. He is Hollywood's wonder boy. For me it's a big, big surprise that he's doing a movie about that embassy burning down and killing everybody.
I haven't seen it. I have no clue. But I see that title and I think, omigod he's doing a real case that was reported. They came into that embassy and killed everybody and burned everything down. I'm sure there will be American heroes, but I don't see how that is possible. There was a terror attack and people died, and I don't know how he's going to turn that into another heroic, positive, Hollywood story. I have no clue.
I think a lot filmmakers aren't aware of how much they support the army and the weapon industry with their movies. I think American patriotism and politics are kind of created and supported by studio movies. It's because they feel they have to save the planet, like with Captain America or Iron Man or whatever. I think, in a way, a lot of Americans think they have to be the world police. And that idea is definitely supported by most of the movies we see. [In the movies] you have these elite people who are from US, and wherever they are in the world, they want to do good, but it has nothing to do with reality. In reality, American policy, especially foreign policy, is—has been since Vietnam—an absolute failure. I mean look at the Arab Spring, and the two Iraq wars, and the Afganistan War, and so on. And that is why I make movies like [the Rampage trilogy].
I am very critical of politics, and at the same time, I'm very scared about the future. Looking at the republican candidates right now, I'm can't really imagine what that means for the world if a Ted Cruz becomes the president of the United States. And it's crazy that part of America is super high-tech developed but half of the people live in the Stone Age. In Germany, and in Canada, if you publicly deny climate change, there is no chance that you'll get any position of power. But in the US you can talk bullshit and still get 50% of the votes. That's scary.
CRK Is there anything that can be done to fix things, to get us back on the right track?
UB Of course, there's a long list [laughs]. On the subject of global warming, I'm not sure there's much we can do except reduce emissions and hope for a delayed melting of the ice caps. But other issues we can attack and change, like gun reform, and prison reform and inequality. I'm a big fan of Bernie Sanders right now, and I think he made great points about regulating the banks. And there's way more to do.
I'll give you an example. Last summer, right near my house in Germany, they put up a refugee camp. Near my house is only an old factory, and they put the refugees in the parking lot and brought them food every day, and that was it. So they came on my lot. I have fruit trees so I said, “Here, pick the apples, pick the pears and eat them.” Talking about integrating a million Syrian refugees into Germany because nobody else will take them is crazy, and it doesn't work. The reality is what I had to do [to give them something to do during the day].
A year ago, before any refugees were on the ocean, I said we need a “peace zone” in north Africa. Nato protected. In Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, there are tons of hotels on the coast and if we protect them, and we can put refugees there. Then, after the civil war is over, they can go back home. This is so they're not going on the ocean where [they boats] sink and they drown. Or so they're not coming into Europe [with nothing to do]. Poland, Hungary, all a lot of other countries are now turning very much to the right, to neo-Nazi thinking and behaviour, because they don't want the refugees. And if Germany takes in another million next year, people will get killed by the German white trash. [Angela] Merkel is dead wrong. Everyone says she's great, but I'm German, I know Germans, and I know a lot of white trash in Germany and I know what's going on. So if something like [what happened] Paris happens in Germany, hundreds and hundreds of refugees will get killed that same night by the white trash. It's not like the French mentality. It's very crazy what Merkel doing.
In the summer when the first people came by my house, Germany wasn't doing anything with them. And that was when there was only fifty or sixty thousand of them. And in the last five, six months a million came in. If there's no integration, then you just have people in a prison camp getting food and some pocket money. And that's the reality of the desperate situation in Europe. It's a big, big problem.
I'm also a big fan of helping people where they live and doing stuff for real there, like spending hundreds of billions in Africa to help them to sustain themselves. In the past years, all that money spent in Africa by the Red Cross was to help them survive the next drought or the next flood, and that is the wrong approach. I think we have to put real money there so that Africa can turn into a place where people are living well. It's a huge task.
I hope Justin Trudeau, as a young Prime Minister, steps out from under the shadow of all the PMs before him, and sees Canada as a strong country able to lead. Not like Harper. Harper followed American politics blindly, and Canada was never really recognized in the foreign policy landscape. I hope Trudeau really questions everything. Canada's a huge country, economically wealthy, and it has huge potential to be a big player and to bring European ideas into North America.
CRK Do you think cinema might have a role to play in all this? You're certainly very passionate about these issues and you're making a lot of political films. Is it up to other filmmakers to now take on that mantle and start making movies that address some of these issues?
UB Yes. Without Hotel Rwanda, I think half the people would have never known about the massacres in Rwanda. I did the Darfur movie about the genocide in Darfur during those massacres. I hoped that we would have a strong presence going into Sudan to stop the genocide, but that didn't happen.
I don't really think movies change the world, but depending on who watches them, with a movie you can, in a way, infiltrate opinion and you can change opinions. You can make people think and hopefully move the world in a different direction.
A lot of my movies are cynical because I'm scared. I see something shocking and I think, no I can't let that happen to the next generation, or I can't let that happen right now. That's why a lot of my movies don't have happy endings. They are not optimistic. Because I want to tell people, if you don't turn that around, or if you just think somebody else will make the change, then it's over. And that is why I don't do happy endings where everything is good. Most of my movies end kind of bitter, to make you think, “that shouldn't happen in reality.” It's is a good feeling if, after watching a movie, you think, “I don't want that to happen on the planet or in my neighbourhood, so we have to do something [about it].”
CRKIt's been stated that Rampage 3 will be your last movie. Is there any project that would bring you back to the director's chair?
UB No. I mean all those years I was self-produced, I was never lucky enough to get a producer to give me money or bring something to the table. I had to do it all on my own. And I'm now at the end of that path. I'm not willing—I've made too many movies to ask for more and more favours. You know, you can do that one or two times, especially if you're young, that's no problem. But I'm 50 now and I think it's too exhausting to ask a crew to work for half their normal daily rate. That is the wrong approach.
I like stuff like Breaking Bad and Narcos, about Pablo Escobar. Great stuff is on TV and I would happily get involved with a project on an original series with a great subject matter. I think that TV the market of the future. But I have no desire or energy to do independent movies, where you just shoot a movie and hope you sell it. Because I know the market so well, I know it's just a waste of time.
CRK So was it a natural move for you to become involved in film distribution with Event Film?
UB That started in 2005 because I always got screwed over by sales agents who sold my movies with shitty other movies for less money and pocketed more percentages. I felt I need to take control over the fate of my movies, so I needed to sell my movies on my own. That is why I founded Event Film. And then I opened it up to other producers, other filmmakers, to sell their movies with us, via us. I've worked with fifty or sixty producers over the years, nobody never had any dispute with us. We are completely transparent. We sell the movie, we give you all the contracts, and we pay you. We're not coming up with excuses for why we don't pay. I dealt with a lot of that, a lot of lies and dishonesty. People would charge things like, “Oh we went to Cannes and it's $100,000.” No it's not. It's $20,000 but you want to charge me $100,000. I'd had enough of that stuff, I was finished with it. And that is the reason I opened Event Film. And it's actually not a bad business, even if the movies are getting cheaper and cheaper and the chance to sell them for good money gets lower and lower.
CRK Event Film's catalogue is mostly genre film but still pretty diverse. How do you decide what to pick up?
UB I would say I pass on a movie a week. Like very week I get a movie offer and I pass on it. And I try, when you see the newer movies like Jack Goes Home, or King Cobra with James Franco and Christian Slater—who won the Golden Globe which is good for us!—I try of course to get more movies with some names everybody knows. That's really important to me. And then I have to like the subject matter. King Cobra is a true story about gay porn in the '80s in US, where two producers are fighting over one actor, and the one guy actually killed the other guy and now has life in prison. For me, [the true story] was the kicker. To acquire a movie like this... It's a crime story, it's a true story, and of course it's a scandal because it all plays out in the gay porn world and there are scenes were guys are fucking each other. It was clear it that half the planet would never buy this movie. The Middle East and Russia, won't buy this movie. But it has a great story, like Boogie Nights had, and I feel we can make money in North America and Europe. I got very involved with King Cobra, and I hope we'll be playing in February in Berlin at Panorama.
CRK In addition to being a filmmaker and film distributor, you're also a restauranteur.
UB That was a selfish move. Living in Vancouver and spending less and less time Germany, I missed a lot of the food that I'm used to. Not only foods from my childhood, but from high-end German restaurants, and German classics like wiener schnitzel, sauerbraten, and rouladen. Stuff that I used to eat. I'm also a big foodie, and not a fan of Octoberfest—I'm more into Michelin star cuisine when I travel.
Chef Stefan Hartmann worked in LA then went to Berlin where he was chef of the year in Germany in 2009, and got the Michelin star. He said wanted to go back to North America, and when he said he would [work with me], I looked here for a location and rented it and renovated it, and it was way more stressful to set all up than I wanted it to be. Now the restaurant has been open six months, and the reviews are way better than the reviews for my movies. I think, in the beginning, everybody was like, “Oh, the horror director will of course open a horrific restaurant.” But then when people actually ate there, it changed their minds.
So the restaurant is open and it's going well. I would say on a scale from 1 to 10, as an investment, I'd say we're a 7 right now so we have potential to grow. Quality-wise we really are a 9 out of 10. I think it's by far the best food in Vancouver. People grow up here with convenient food. They grow up with the chains and they think Cactus Club is gourmet dining. That's the thing, you like what you're used to.
Now in Vancouver we have more and more foodies. What you have in Montreal or Toronto with better, higher-end restaurants, you had that earlier [than we did]. Montreal had the French influence, and Toronto had the Chicago and New York influence—that's where the really good restaurants are. Vancouver was always a little bit of a letdown, I think because it's smaller, west coast and easy going. But I think there are more and more foodies here now, and the tourists. They love trying out all the foods.
CRK Which is more stressful? Filmmaking or the restaurant business?
UB Filmmaking. It's way more complicated because there are so many layers to it. You're not done with the script, not done with the shooting, not done with the post-production. Then the sales and the marketing starts. And every country has different requirements and different markets. It's way more expensive than having a restaurant.
It is [for some], a once-in-a-lifetime investment to open a restaurant. I make movies in a volume of 5 or 6 hundred million dollars, so for me to open a restaurant and spend a million bucks (it's not all my money, I'm not super rich) was for me not so scary based on my past. To oversee a renovation and say, let's do this it makes sense, was a calculated risk. If we fail, I'll just write it off and say, fuck it didn't work. Forget other businesses, I'll keep selling movies. But luckily it sustains itself. And from the beginning I said, if I'm not getting paid back my investment in three, four, five, six years but the restaurant makes some money and keeps going and everybody's happy and it's great food, I'm okay with it. And that was the case after a month, so I'm very happy with the outcome.
CRK Any other plans for the future?
UB No. I'm trying to find my rhythm.
There was like ten years of my life where I was basically always shooting movies. I was always in post-production when I started shooting my next movie. Talk to my DP, Matthias who I shot like 30 with, and I've now finished our work relationship with Rampage 3, he'll tell you when I drove him to the airport I said, “That ten years between when we were 37 to 47 or 48, that was the fasted period of my life.” It it just flew by. I blinked and it was over. My dog Daisy here, I [rescued] her from the street as a puppy when we shot Bloodrayne in Romania. That was thirteen years ago and now she's an old dog!
I wish the next ten years will go a little slower. I want to be busy, but I also want to be able to relax from time to time. In that ten years there was not one day, not even New Year's Eve or Christmas Eve, when I wasn't answering emails. Every single day for ten years, there was not a holiday where I wasn't sitting for four, five hours at my computer—when I could even take a week of holidays. I'm happy that now things are slowing down a little.
I'm looking forward to dedicating time to the restaurant and for making movies happen. Younger directors, if they have a project, I advise them. I'll say, “Don't shoot without a brand-name actor. Spend that $5000 for a casting agent in LA who has good contacts.” You know, a lot of times people are so happy they have some budget and they shoot movies that has good potential, but because their neighbour is the lead actor the whole thing ends up in the toilet. I'm happy to help filmmakers with sales and advice.
CRK Is there anything more you wish to share with our readers?
UB I would love when Rampage 3 comes out, in either August or September, that you don't illegally download it this time. Just pay for it. Everybody paid for Star Wars but all the other movies are heavily, heavily pirated and we loose all our revenues if you just download it from the Internet. You pay for milk at the supermarket; pay for movies, too.