Is German filmmaker Uwe Boll the most hated man in cinema? A trawl through the Internet Movie Database Forums would suggest so, yet while his films translate violent computer games into mid-budget sexually charged gore-fests can they really be that bad? Unlike many filmmakers who ignore anonymous internet pundits Uwe regularly answers back. Recognition being reward as far as the internet is concerned the onslaught continued until whether you had seen a Boll production or not it became ‘cool to hate’ him. Paradoxically, despite almost uniformly scathing reviews he is a filmmaker whose films (funded largely by fickle private investors) consistently make money.
“I am fed up. I’m fed up with people slamming my films on the Internet without see them. Many journalists make value judgments on my films based on the opinions of one or two thousand Internet voices. Half of those opinions come from people who’ve never watched my films. I have been told that ‘BloodRayne’ has a very bad IMDb rating, but many of those votes of zero were made before the movie appeared in theatres.”
Recently, Uwe grabbed headlines when he challenged five of his least favoured critics to a boxing match, gaining some obvious satisfaction in knocking out each opponent. Winning the matches however did nothing to silence his critics and with his anti-PC black comedy ‘Postal’ due for release in 2007 those same critics are surely arming themselves for the next round.
Good to speak to you, thanks for taking time out to chat with us, I know you’re in the middle of production of your new film ‘Postal’.
Right, right, but now it’s the weekend, so I am free.
How is the shoot going?
Very well, the shoot is going good. I think we made the right decision in hiring Canadians to make the movie. The movie is so, let’s say politically incorrect, and dirty that the only way to tell a story like this is as a kind of a satire, and with people like Dave Foley, Chris Coppola, Greg Ward and Verne Troyer, I think we have a great cast. They are used to doing everything a little over the top and a little funny. So that has helped enormously.
Do you think this is a strong departure from your previous work, which is mainly horror films?
Well there is still a lot of blood! (laughs) It’s still a brutal movie, but remember I started my whole movie career with a comedy, a frat movie, back in ’91. So for me it’s a little like going back to that which I started with, but that frat movie also had some very dark humour. So I’m really happy that I have the chance now to do something different; after all those horror movies, I felt it was time to do something else.
You have said in previous interviews that you are definitely drawn to the kind of black humour of South Park, Team America and the like. That seems to come through in your work as well, like obviously there are bits in BloodRayne that are supposed to be quite humourous. Is Postal really bringing that to the fore, with lead characters like Osama bin Laden?
Yeah, the basic story is that we have our trailer-trash guy confused, and he has a really bad day, with his whole surroundings being screwed up. At the beginning of the movie we see his background, like five years ago he got married, and then his wife gained three-hundred kilograms, so already in the first two minutes we show that this is not a lucky guy. This prologue in which we give some background to the character sets the tone for the whole movie. From there we have him meeting up with his uncle Dave (played by Dave Foley), who’s a sex-guru owing money to the IRS. So he’s almost bankrupt, and now he wants to get hold of the last truck of existing sex-dolls. These are a new toy from China, and the ship transporting them to America went down in the ocean, so the only ones left are on this one truck.
If he can get hold of this truck he can then sell the dolls on ebay for like two-thousand bucks each. But by accident he discovers that the dolls also contain bird flu from the Taliban. The Taliban and Osama bin Laden, they smuggle the bird flu into America inside these dolls, and hope to use them to attack the United States. And then there’s a big battle as the police get involved, and George Bush, and the carnage escalates.
Now, a question that you haven’t really been asked in the interviews I’ve read is your own political position. Your films are notoriously politically incorrect; what is your own outlook on America and the current world order?
I think the basic idea behind a film like Postal is to show that we are all going in the wrong direction. It’s not only about George Bush or Osama bin Laden (in our movie the two are good buddies). We show kind of a Team America attitude that it’s all so fucked up and that it’s absurd in a way. I think that normal people, we don’t have power, so we sit and analyse what’s going on in the world and we think, ‘Why are they doing this? Why did they launch the Iraq war? Why now in the Middle East do we have another war? Why are the terrorists and fanatical Muslims flipping out and sending death threats over cartoons? Why is this craziness all happening?’
If we were stood on the Moon and we looked down on the Earth, just another planet out of thousands, watching humans on track to destroy the whole planet, it seems to make no sense. We have another type of movie, like Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth movie about global warming that shows how we are destroying the natural world and how all the companies that we read about every day in the papers are ignoring the facts. Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in Thailand shows that natural disasters are becoming more and more prevalent, and instead of taking care of the major problem, we carry on plundering nature and destroying the planet with weapons and nuclear tests like what’s happening in North Korea right now. So my reaction to all this craziness is a comedy. I think it’s almost too crazy and too serious a situation to make a serious movie about it.
Stanley Kubrick did a similar thing during the Cold War of course, with Dr. Strangelove, an absolute masterpiece, and I think in the last few years this kind of comedy has disappeared a little. We are getting lots of Wedding Crashers-type comedy and Jackass-type comedy, but they are totally un-political. Earlier films, like what Monty Python did with Life of Brian, were more like commentaries about the reality. With this film I am trying a little to follow in their footsteps to make an incorrect, overdrawn comedy, but a very harsh and political one.
Like Kentucky Fried Movie was itself…I haven’t seen the German version but I’m familiar with the original, which was absurdist but still highly politicised.
Absolutely. The funny thing is that in my old German movies, there was one with a scene based around the Iraq war where it was shown as a game show basically, but about the real war, and that was in 1991. And now we’re doing a movie with bin Laden and Bush, and it’s sixteen years later, and there’s a scene about the Iraq war in this new one. So this is what’s absurd to me, that nobody has learnt anything in the last fifteen, twenty years.
It certainly seems that things might not have changed that much.
Exactly. The thing is, when I started, I bought the movie rights to a book called I Was Saddam’s Son about the double of Saddam’s son, who escaped after the first Iraq war and wrote this book. He disappeared, I have no idea where he is now, but I still have this book. I went to Kuwait directly after the war, 1992/93 and the funny thing was that everything I saw there was completely different to what we had seen on TV. There were only a couple of buildings I saw destroyed, everything else was brand new. There was also no border – there is actually a highway from Kuwait City to Baghdad. The whole war that we were told about on TV, where the Iraqis invaded Kuwait with lots of violence, was not what happened. Actually they drove down the highway, stole what they wanted from the Kuwaitis and drove back to Baghdad. But the story we were told was that ‘we have to help the Kuwaitis’.
And that was very suspect in itself, because anyone who knew anything about the Kuwaiti regime could tell you that it was essentially a dictatorship.
Absolutely, and 85% of the people living in Kuwait were not Kuwaitis; there were many Thai people, East Indian people all working for the Kuwaitis, who were generally quite happy to see the Kuwaiti government get a bit of a kicking. They showed me home videos they had shot of the Iraqi troops entering Kuwait, and many people were cheering. What I find interesting is the difference between the various perspectives. There was a lot of strange stuff going on about how this was reported. All the big news channels in America; ABC, CBS, they all give the same report, and it’s influenced by their political agenda more than by the actual reality. From time to time there are great articles coming out of course, like one I read recently in Time Magazine. This was a diary of a reporter within Baghdad now reporting the violence as being out of control; every month thousands of people dying.
To being us back to your film then, is Postal a kind of absurdist take on a lot of the media misrepresentation that you have observed? How are you approaching these sorts of questions in your movie?
Well in Postal I think we are going like three steps further than a movie like Wag the Dog for example. They made that very realistic. It was super-funny but in a way it could have happened like that. In Postal we go further, for example the whole thing with Osama bin Laden, that he lives with this group in the back room of a hardware store, that he reads all his lines from a tele-prompter, and that he almost cancels September 11th because he hears that Whitney Houston may be in one of the towers. So we are pushing this kind of strange humour, and we use news reporters to further the story and show what is happening round the globe.
This is where we get really harsh, and where we really have a blast doing it. I’m happy that the actors we have are really going for it and we have a lot of fun, for example with Uncle Dave the sex-guru; this is kind of our commentary on the other side, on what happens because the politics is so fucked up. A lot of knowledgeable people are now becoming tree-huggers, doing yoga and eating organic food. Yet these people are often ignoring all this shit that is going on over the planet. Drinking only green tea is not helping the situation or the planet, and so we make fun of their mindset in a very harsh way. We show how it starts, how people build a world around themselves to avoid the reality and lose themselves in.
So what you’re saying is…
Closing your eyes is not a solution.
No, and I suppose it ties in with your critic-boxing match, where you could’ve ignored all those people online but you chose not to. It’s quite interesting, the fall-out from that; I watched the interview that was done on the 28th October, when someone came to your set from YouTube to film you.
I think the guy’s name was Lotax, and he was saying you offered to provide training before the match and all sorts of things like that and it was just going to be a PR stunt, is that correct?
No absolutely not. What I learnt is that, with the behaviour from [Rich “Lotax” Kyanka] and Jeff Sneider from ‘Ain’t it Cool News’, that it’s completely senseless to try to convince certain people, even if you make better movies or you are completely honest or even if you give them access to the set. They don’t deserve it, and they don’t actually want it. Like Harry [Knowles] from ‘Ain’t it Cool’, he knows he hates me, and Jeff Sneider was his replacement for the boxing match.
He never came to my set when I invited him; he refused to come to the Postal set. I never saw him outside of the boxing ring, and so how can he write about Postal, for example? Why didn’t he want to see how I work on set with the actors? Because then he might have to correct something which he thinks about me.
The other thing is that we told all the boxing applicants that it’s a real boxing fight. Boll is upset about the critics and now he says ‘Ok, if you wanna hit me, grill me, whatever, go in the ring with me’. A lot of the internet reviews are very unfriendly, quite personal in their tone, so I thought ‘ok let’s go in the ring and if you wanna damage me then try it for real’. And the thing is that everybody, all the contenders, they knew that for two and a half months that the fight was coming.
Apparently they said that they never got the chance to train or something.
This is all bullshit. They made that up. They didn’t train. [Rue Morgue Magazine writer] Chris Alexander and [website critic] Charles Minter, they both trained for the fight, and they were fighter numbers three and four. They didn’t win, but at least later they were not whining like Lotax and Sneider. They said ‘Ok we got beat but we had a blast and we saw lots of Postal’. They even went for a coffee and a chat with me, and they were asking me about my previous films, like why did I do Alone in the Dark the way I did; they told me why they didn’t like House of the Dead. So we had a real conversation. With Lotax and Jeff Sneider they hate me because it’s cool to hate me. Therefore they cannot change their opinion because then they look like idiots to their readers. This is why they make up their bullshit about this being a publicity stunt. It was completely dead serious, and they should’ve trained. Then they turn up having ignored all this, they got into the ring and were suddenly like ‘Oh God! He’s hitting us!’ But this was the whole point, if it was fake, we would’ve been booed by all the people in the stadium and no one would give a shit about it; everyone would be like, ‘what was this?’
You’ve become an internet phenomenon by virtue of being this bad guy and as a lot of the critics mentioned a lot of them hadn’t actually seen your films, which I find very strange.
Yeah and people follow these film critics’ views; like in Germany there is a lot of negative opinion. Only Alone in the Dark got a theatrical release in Germany. House of the Dead and BloodRayne came out straight to DVD. So these critics who are writing about me having not seen my movies and who are calling me the worst director on Earth, the new Ed Wood, are basing their views on what they read, not on what they see. And the thing is I personally like Ed Wood and I think it’s better to make a movie for ten thousand dollars than to make no movie at all.
Ed Wood was a guy who really tried to go it alone and made the best that he could with the budgets he had. People are now getting confused over the issue of budgets. My new movie In the Name of the King, the sixty-million dollar movie that is nearing completion, was the easiest movie I ever did. So more money, although it’s more responsibility and you have a longer shoot, actually makes it easier. You have more cameras, better actors, better costumes, better CGI – you can make a better movie than if you had only two million dollars. Now people hate me for this because they think that good directors should get the biggest budgets. I say the opposite. Michael Bay makes all his movies for $250 million; I think only a complete idiot could make a bad movie with that kind of money.
Take a guy who never made a movie: if he gets $150 million, a whole crew around him and he has a script and great actors, how could he fuck up that movie so badly it makes only $5 million box-office? It’s impossible, because there is an automatic process going on with many different units. The director is often not involved with half of the shoot – he’ll focus on the parts with the main actors, not so much with the action and effects. The budget is not the Quality sign or artistic merit guarantee, and this is what makes people confused. A guy like Harry Knowles for example, I met him in Texas where BloodRayne was being shown at a film festival, and there were like three-hundred people in the room, and two-hundred-ninety-five gave the movie a big applause. All five from ‘Ain’t it Cool News’.
Which festival was this?
Austin Film Festival 2005, the first screening of BloodRayne. Then I talked to [Harry] out on the sidewalk, and he was saying how he’s good friends with Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and many others. He’s talking about how connected he is to the film industry and how it’s almost an honour for me to be talking with him. So this feeling comes over me that he doesn’t want another guy dabbling in this area of videogames/horror because he has his people he supports who are doing that already, and he gets schmoozed by their production companies, gets to go on set with them etc. So I told him on the sidewalk, I said ‘Harry you don’t get it. You got bought.’
You told him that?
Yeah and from that point he totally hated me. I told him the reality, which was that he started as a film geek with no connections to the film industry and he saw movies and had a good feeling of what worked and what didn’t. So he put up his website ‘Ain’t it Cool News’ and became quite a big thing in Hollywood. But after a while, as he got more and more invitations from the studios, more visits to sets all over the world flying business class, he lost his point of view. They bought him. He cannot look at a movie like BloodRayne objectively and think maybe: it’s better than Alone in the Dark or something. These people don’t want to write about it like that – they just think, ‘It’s another Uwe Boll movie now we have to trash it again.’ This is one of the reasons I started with the boxing matches, because I’m tired of the bullshit. Forget who I am, I want people to see my movies for what they are, compare them to the rest of the genre and to the other films I’ve made. Every movie should get a fresh, fair shot and be judged on its own merit. Everybody writes about me like I started with House of the Dead and because they hated that they feel I have no potential for making great movies. They should go see Heart of America, which I made before House of the Dead, which is a great movie, a real drama and it gets ignored completely.
Is Heart of America on DVD?
I know it is out in America, I don’t know if it is in the UK, I’ll have to check that. But you make a really great movie and don’t get good distribution, then you make a piece of crap like House of the Dead and it’s everywhere (laughs). I decided to stay in the videogame genre because House of the Dead made money and I have to convince private investors to fund my movies. If they turn to me and say ‘Well we will fund a movie of the Alone in the Dark videogame’ then I have to do it, or make no movie. I’m not like Michael Bay where I can just walk into a studio and get $150 million.
You have mentioned in an interview that you quite like doing genre films because they stick around, like the John Ford films of the 1950s and ‘60s. The archetypal characters that they have speak to people and have a longevity perhaps because human nature doesn’t change all that much and those archetypes remain recognisable. Is this still true? Do you still believe this?
Absolutely. I like making genre films and they are the ones that I keep in my VHS and DVD collections. I don’t watch those art-house movies twice. Like Brokeback Mountain I’m not going to see again, or Capote or all those Oscar winners, but Escape from New York I will always enjoy.
Did you enjoy watching them just once?
Yeah, I liked Capote, it was a great acting performance, and I liked Brokeback Mountain, it was a good movie but was it the best movie of the year? I don’t know. It was a little overrated and it’s not a big scandal I think to make a movie about gay cowboys. We are in the year 2006 after all but people said they had a lot of courage for doing it and they sold it like, ‘Oh God, I can’t believe they have done this.’
Well yeah, thinking like an advertising executive, it was a very clever move to build up Brokeback Mountain as a sensationalist film that breaks genres or exposes taboos of gay cowboys. Then of course it’s an easy win for the audience to go and see it and not be that shocked by it, so they feel like open-minded people. Whereas in reality the subject matter is a lot less confrontational than say Scorpio Rising by Kenneth Anger.
Yes I totally agree. But this is the thing that happens with movies in the last ten years, it’s all marketing bullshit. If you create a clever campaign out of nothing, suddenly you are in the Oscar running. This is why the Oscars have lost their value a little. But in general, a good western like Rio Grande or Eldorado or whatever, or Escape from New York, you can see them over and over again, they will always entertain you. But a movie like Crash, for example, I liked the movie, but it was overall very schoolteacher-like. I think it was a little annoying. Los Angeles has like fifteen million people, yet everyone meets everyone, there’s too many coincidences. It seemed like they were trying very hard with that movie to get an Oscar. I felt Million Dollar Baby was the same; it was the perfect setup to get an Oscar, and Paul Haggis wrote both movies, so it seems like he knows what is needed. A movie like The Player, on the other hand, from Robert Altman, I thought that was a great movie, very clever, almost a masterpiece compared to Crash and Million Dollar Baby. But that didn’t do what was required for an Oscar.
What are your favourite genre movies? Rio Grandeand Eldorado you have already mentioned; anything else that stands out, or are you mainly a western fan?
No it’s not only westerns. I’m a big fan of Orson Welles. House of Embers and Citizen Kane were great. Othello and Macbeth I like because he did them in a different way. I also love Willie Wilder movies. Stanley Kubrick also – he is one of my top three directors, but some of his films, I really think they are boring. For example, Eyes Wide Shut was based on a novel by Arthur Schnitzler who I studied at university and who is never boring. His novels are always driving forward emotionally. I think in the film, Kubrick casted badly and lost that drive – it was too slow to really grab you. I think if Eyes Wide Shut had had the same sense of urgency as say A Clockwork Orange, it would have been a much better movie.
You’re a German director, yet you have never talked about Wim Wenders or Werner Herzog.
I loved Fitzcarraldo by Werner Herzog. I thought it was absolutely great the way they transported the ship over the mountain. Wim Wenders I liked his first German movie but I’m not his biggest fan. Unlike Wim Wenders, with Werner Herzog you can really feel his energy in his movies.
I was thinking, there are almost three generations of German film-makers. There have been many famous German directors but Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders I thought really typified the 1980s with films like Wings of Desire and Kinski. And then Germany went through a massive change in the ‘90s. Would you say you are one of the new generation of German directors in that vein?
Well I think that I went away from Germany in the year 1999 and I think that now I do more, in a way, American-type movies. I don’t think that I do German movies. Like Tom Tykwer for example, great director, and he has that connection to Germany. His films now are in English, but his earlier work was all German language films. He has always worked his own way, with his editing, camera moves, how he tells the story, it’s all very modern and interesting. He brings a lot of his own ideas and so I think he is definitely the most interesting German director right now.
For a lot of people, myself included, it seems strange that people have a lot of attachment to the videogames you make film about.
Absolutely. I think that this is the only explanation. After all, I’m not a war criminal (laughs), I only make movies. These responses, these threats I receive, can only be explained by the fantasies that these people have about their games. They have a different reality inside their heads and they don’t or can’t accept that someone else is changing the outside reality. So no matter what you do, they will be flipping out on you. Also the internet, with its millions of people and vast traffic, allows people to trash movies in anonymity, often before they are even released.
That said, for people who are prone to live these kinds of fantasies, the bible would always have been Lord of the Rings. Many people love the book and Tolkien was never too specific in his descriptions of the characters, so in their minds people personalised it. The point being that many people were very worried about the movies being made of the books, yet the response to the LOTR films has been hugely, massively praiseworthy, whereas the response to some of your films has been quite the opposite.
Personally, I think the Lord of the Rings movies were masterpieces almost to the same level as the original books and they will stay, deservedly, as three of the biggest movies ever made for a long while. You have to admire something that is really, really rare in this industry, where a fantastic property is remade with such heart and dedication. I cannot compare a movie like BloodRayne or whatever to the Lord of the Rings. I think it’s a different thing, because LOTR was a real epic book, on a level that no videogame has ever achieved. The thing is that if I had made a movie like BloodRayne that was not based on a game and people had not liked it, then you get a negative review or whatever. But if you fuck up a videogame just by not giving the fans what they were expecting then they write that you are a piece of dirt and they want to stamp on your head till your brains come out (laughs).
Well I suppose there is a positive element in that these people are at least being literate about something, even if it is just trashing your film (laughs).
This is right (laughs). It was something that I never thought would happen. I made movies during university, and some little arty movies in Germany. But you do one movie like House of the Dead and you get attention, finally, as a filmmaker. But then it turned into this whole anti feeling. It was really not my wish to suddenly get his huge vehement backlash. Even small interviews I did with barely-known websites were trying to show how evil I was. So you start to get all this bad feedback about films that you thought the fans you talked to were appreciating. I like to go to theatres and conventions to talk to people, and suddenly I’m considered a loser for doing so. But I thought, ‘this is the way I’m doing it and I don’t care how others are doing it.’ This is the reason I gave the interview on youtube.com; I said ‘ok people can come to my set and I’ll do the interview’. I don’t see why I should only ever talk to reporters from big newspapers or whatever. Also, I don’t want to change myself to fit into the Hollywood system, I don’t have the energy to do that. This idea that you don’t talk to anyone, only your agent does, all that bullshit I have no time for. All I have is a publicist who’s great and does a good job promoting my movies, and an attorney, but he’s not getting five percent of my fees like an agent would.
Uwe Boll, it’s been great. Thank you very much for you time, enjoy the rest of you Saturday. It was lovely to speak with you.
The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. – Aristotle