Uwe Boll isn’t one to take criticism lying down. In 2006, the prolific German director, best known for his nearly annual output of poorly reviewed video-game adaptations, challenged his most vocal critics to meet him in a Vancouver boxing ring, and triumphed over every one. Afterward, Boll cast his vanquished opponents as trailer-park trash in his newest video-game adaptation, Postal. Though it was initially reported that the boxing footage would end up in the movie, he now says it’ll be on the DVD. (Full disclosure: When Film Threat ran an online poll asking which critic should fight Boll, I was the winner but was deemed ineligible due to having given Boll’s BloodRayne a relatively positive review.)
Postal, according to Boll, was designed to “wash the past away.” His first comedy since his 1991 debut, German Fried Movie, the film — in which a disenfranchised white-collar worker (A Christmas Story bully Zack Ward, all grown-up) helps his cult-leader uncle (Dave Foley) try to steal a bunch of deadly penis-shaped plush toys from the Taliban — opens with a joke at the expense of 9/11 victims. It progresses to even greater heights of derangement, peaking during a sequence — set at a German-themed amusement park with gas-chamber playgrounds — in which Boll appears as himself, confessing that his movies are made with Nazi gold and offering to pay actor Verne “Mini Me” Troyer in gold teeth, only to be shot in the crotch by Postal creator Vince Desiderio, who is outraged that Boll made a mockery of his invention (a disturbingly simple game in which the player goes on a suburban shooting rampage).
German audiences weren’t too happy about the Nazi stuff. “They were flipping out on me, and said, like, ‘How can you present Germany like this?’” Boll recalls, in thickly accented English, which sounds not unlike our governor’s. “I said, ‘Look, if you believe the German-subsidized movies and the movies that are getting the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film and this kind of stuff, you’d think all of what Germany is are good people, and liberal, and they almost tried to kill Hitler. But if you go right now to eastern Germany on the streets, and you are, like, East Indian, and you go out at 11 p.m., there’s a big chance that they’ll beat you up.’ It’s a 20 percent vote in eastern Germany for the Nazi party right now. Twenty-five percent of the people are employerless, and they think that the foreign workers are the reason, so there is an explosive thing in Germany existing. I show the ugly side of Germany, and I’m not scared to show myself as an ugly German.”
The intense self-deprecation may help to insulate Boll against the firestorm of criticism that could greet the U.S. release of Postal, which depicts George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden as being in cahoots and imagines almost every American to be a gun-crazed lunatic. The director claims to be influenced by movies like Airplane!, but his style has more in common with that of gonzo Japanese director Takashi Miike, or even Richard Kelly’s insane manifesto Southland Tales. Boll calls Postal “a depressed look into the political landscape and what’s going on around us,” adding that “when I wrote it, America was maybe close to starting a war against Iran. So I thought, ‘If they start the war against Iran, who knows, this will be maybe a third world war coming up, and then we [will] all go down the drain.’ It was a scary situation, and in a way I think [it] was time to go away from all that patriotic stuff that happened after September 11, to show how corrupt and absurd all political sides are. It’s not only the Taliban that are crazy. Other groups are crazy.”
On top of the politics, Postal is laden with mass murders played for laughs, and even some full-frontal male nudity courtesy of the always-game Foley. “Everybody was expecting an NC-17,” Boll recalls. “Vivendi Universal [which is handling North American DVD but not theatrical distribution] were shocked, because they tried to make me cut stuff out the whole time, and I said, ‘I’ll wait for the rating.’ And now, boom! I get the R rating! With the full-frontal nudity, with the shooting the children — all that stuff — I said, ‘This is it! I keep it how it is, I don’t cut it.’ What we face now is, we have problems to get screens. The big exhibitors don’t like the political content of the movie.”
Over the years, Boll has developed something of a contrarian cult fan base, including Movies.com critic Dave White, who wrote of Boll’s recent In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, in which Burt Reynolds plays a medieval king who illegitimately fathered Jason Statham, that it “sucks, but it’s also awesome. Those two things can co-exist sometimes, and they do here in a very big way.”
While Boll will cop to the miscasting of Tara Reid as an academic in 2005’s Alone in the Dark, he has mixed feelings about his newfound ironic status. “If you have House of the Dead,” Boll says of his 2003 zombie-shooting-game adaptation, “it’s kind of campy, and I know that people maybe enjoy it because it’s kind of stupid and over-the-top craziness, violence and gore. But if you say this about In the Name of the King, for example, I would say you’re wrong. I saw people sitting in the theater, when Burt Reynolds dies, and they had tears in their eyes, right? So if people say that it’s the most silly scene when Burt Reynolds dies, I’m not sure that this is the case. I think it was a good scene.”
As for going head-to-head with the new Indiana Jones movie on opening day, Boll seems surprisingly optimistic. “At least there is no other competition, so you know you face only the big movie of the year, and not, like, four other $20 million movies. I hope that Indiana Jones will be sold out, [and] some of the overspill will see Postal.”
Super Boll: A Web-exclusive continuation of our talk with the Postal director
L.A. WEEKLY: Why is this your first American movie to screen in advance for critics?
UWE BOLL: It’s not a decision for me alone to say if we should show it to the critics or not. Especially [with] In the Name of the King, I think it was a mistake not to show it to the critics, because everyone thinks it will be completely crap if it’s not shown to the critics. In Germany, where we showed it to the critics, we got, I think, a 50-50 split between people who said, “it’s clearly bigger and better [than] all his other movies,” and the people who said, “ahh, it’s another Uwe Boll piece of shit.” And in the U.S., I think it was 80-20 bad, so I think maybe the reception of it would [have been] better if we [had shown] it before. I think [with] Postal, it’s necessary to show it to the press, because it’s something that you shouldn’t see without any information, and then it comes completely surprisingly in front of you, not only as an Uwe Boll movie but also because of the whole content of the movie.
With Postal, I used that movie to finish up a lot, to make a political statement, and to make a statement about my whole career, showing myself as that lederhosen Nazi guy. So to do all this at once was for me kind of … I wanted to wash the past away in a way, it was one big hammer hit, and I think I definitely reached my goal in the way that it is a ridiculous, ruthless, over-the-top movie.
This is your first American movie that you also wrote. Is it more personal than the others?
Totally. Not only to show, like, making fun of myself and of the whole situation with the video-game geeks out there; it is also at the same time a depressed look into the political landscape and what’s going on around us. When I wrote it, America was maybe close to starting a war against Iran. So I thought, “if they start the war against Iran, who knows, this will be maybe a third World War coming up, and then we all go down the drain.” It was a scary situation, and in a way I think was time to go away from all that patriotic stuff that happened after Sept. 11, to show how corrupt and absurd all political sides are. It’s not only the Taliban that are crazy, there are also other groups that are crazy.
Can we extrapolate that the movie represents the way you see American pop culture?
Not the pop culture, but I think it was important to have the story of a loser, a trailer-trash flack, [who] has no work and tries to make a living and is an honest guy, but he’s not having a chance to do it; he gets fucked over everywhere. And then he sees his corrupt uncle, who got the money and the girls because he fakes [being] a sex guru, basically. It’s kind of a reflection of the film industry and industry in total, where you see people getting away with major crimes. But if you are a gang member in South Central and even have a car crash, you get like 65 years of prison [time] as a 15-year-old kid, and people like Bush and Cheney are walking away with billions of dollars, and did basically major crimes, and will have a good life for the rest of their lives.
How have German audiences reacted to the Nazi jokes?
Very negative. They were flipping out on me, and said, like, “How can you present Germany like this?” If you believe the German subsidized movies and the movies that are getting the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film and this kind of stuff, you’d think all of what Germany is are good people, and liberal, and they almost tried to kill Hitler, and Hitler was a dark element, a dark part of history. But if you go right now to eastern Germany on the streets, and you are like East Indian and you go out at 11 p.m., there’s a big chance that they’ll beat you up. It’s a 20 percent vote in east Germany for the Nazi party right now. Twenty-five percent of the people are employer-less, and they think that the foreign workers are the reason why they are employer-less, so there is an explosive thing in Germany existing. I show the ugly side of Germany, and I’m not scared to show myself as an ugly German, so this was the reason I had to do the mini-Auschwitz theme park in the movie, where they’re all eating sausage and drinking beer and running around in lederhosen, and having fun in the gas chamber.
Was this your first acting role?
I had a cameo in German Fried Movie also, where I played the Danger Seeker — I didn’t find another actor willing to do it, because we, like, ran into a Wal-Mart and stole stuff, we ran into a German prize ceremony and grabbed the prize from the stage, and no actor wanted to do it. So I did it on my own. In Seed, I did it again with the producer, Sean Williamson, playing cops, but we say nothing; we are only in the background standing there, like an Alfred Hitchcock cameo because we felt like it was funny to put us in the background.
In Postal, it was fun to do because it was so ridiculous, and I had fun to play myself as a pervert. If there is something funny, I would be happy to do another small cameo, but I couldn’t make a bigger part. I have to get in and out of a movie quickly.
Were the boxing matches with your critics used in the movie?
We did the boxing matches during the Postal shoot, and the contenders are playing trailer trash in the trailer scenes as extras. The boxing matches will be a bonus on the DVD. The point was, for me, [that] I was loaded against these guys, and I wanted a reason to hate them. I didn’t want reviewers that did a positive review, or people that never wrote about me. I got tons of applications from people who never wrote anything about me, and I said, “Forget it, this is not the purpose of it.”
What about the reviews?
If you compare BloodRayne to movies like Elektra or Daredevil or Catwoman, I think the movie’s way better. And a lot of people don’t see that. They compare BloodRayne only with Dracula, or with Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise [in Interview with the Vampire]. If you compare my movies always only with the best movies of the genre, of course, In the Name of the King is not Lord of the Rings. But if you compare it with Golden Compass, I would prefer to see In the Name of the King. This is the thing: What gets a little lost is they don’t compare the movies with the right movies.
What do you think about people who say your movies are “so bad they’re good”?
It depends what movie. If you have House of the Dead, it’s kind of campy, and I know that people maybe enjoy it because it’s kind of stupid and over-the-top craziness, violence and gore, and whatever. But if you say this about In the Name of the King, for example, I would say you’re wrong. Of course, there are some weak parts in In the Name of the King, but overall I think it’s a solid story with good actors in a big movie, and it’s an enjoyable movie. I saw people sitting in the theater, when Burt Reynolds dies, and they had tears in their eyes, right? So if people say that it’s the most silly scene when Burt Reynolds dies, I’m not sure that this is the case. I think it was a good scene, for example.
You tend to cast big-name actors against type, like Tara Reid as an academic in Alone in the Dark or Burt Reynolds as a medieval king in In the Name of the King. Is this a deliberate strategy?
Tara Reid was a mistake. I hired her based on her name, basically, and I thought she could pull it off, and it was a mistake. But I think Burt Reynolds is actually good in that part. If people are not used to having a Burt Reynolds or Ray Liotta in a movie like this, why not? Why [do] you have to have Jeremy Irons as the evil guy, or John Malkovich in a medieval thing? Why not Ray Liotta? I still think that In the Name of the King has a very good cast, and there is not one actor [who] breaks out there in a so negative way, like Tara Reid did in Alone in the Dark.
Did you have ratings issues with Postal?
Everybody was expecting an NC-17. Vivendi Universal were shocked, because they tried to make me cut stuff out the whole time, and I said, “I’ll wait for the rating.” And now, boom! I get the R rating! With the full-frontal nudity, with the shooting the children — all that stuff — I said, “This is it! I keep it how it is, I don’t cut it.” And they were like, “Oh, my God,” because they saw the political backlash with it. What we face now is we have problems to get screens. The big exhibitors don’t like the political content of the movie, so we waited for the Speed Racer bump. Let’s put it this way: If this weekend, the Cameron Diaz movie and Speed Racer movie will not be strong, and hopefully both are clearly less than $30 million on the weekend, then I think we will get more screens booked. Of course, it’s not so comfortable to wait so long to get screens, but the reality is that they don’t want to play the movie, and in the end they [will] play the movie only because they have free space.
Aren’t you opening opposite Indiana Jones?
To be honest, I felt like with a movie like Postal, why not go against the biggest movie of the year? At least there is no other competition, so you know you face only the big movie of the year, and not like four other $20 million movies. I hope that Indiana Jones will be sold out [and] some of the overspill will see Postal. On the other hand, I think Postal’s so unusual that it’s not necessarily a movie where you make all your money on the first week. It’s a movie that actually could run for a few weeks and could grow with word of mouth. I’m kind of sure that no matter what will happen in the theaters with Postal, it will be a cult classic 10 years from now, and I think 10 years from now [if] everybody saw that movie on DVD or on TV, this is what I want — that the people see it, and in the end, if it’s on DVD or in the theaters doesn’t matter.
What are your influences?
Postal is not really influenced by anything else [except] this kind of really more American [parody movie] like Naked Gun, Airplane!, BluesBrothers, and overall it is a little different. I have made now a lot of movies, and in the beginning, when you make your first movies, you are influenced directly by the directors you love, and you try to be similar, to copy, to get in the footsteps of the masters. Martin Scorsese, John Carpenter — these were the people I grew up with, and in a way older [directors like] John Ford, Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick. But then you recognize it’s not working! So forget it; it’s better to create my own style or my own ideas how to make a movie, and then follow my own instincts. I felt after a few movies, because I did so many different genres also, that I’m not a guy who has his style, where you know this is an Uwe Boll movie. I like violence, I like sex, I like this harsher, edgier stuff, I’m not a fan of big happy ends. I like the ending of BloodRayne, for example, a lot. Even in Alone in theDark, they turn around and the creatures are coming, so you know maybe they’re dead. But I don’t, say, shoot all my movies only with a 21 lens, or whatever. I use all different lenses, I use different lighting styles and different camera styles depending on the movie. Seed is made with hand-held cameras the whole movie, and a lot of shots with shutter to have this rougher effect in it. But Postal is story- and character-driven, so the camera in a way disappears. Sometimes we have a camera on a dolly track, sometimes we have Steadicam, sometimes we do it hand-held. So I don’t follow a special style, I try to tell the story and disappear behind the story.
Do you mind being labeled as a video-game guy?
I definitely want to break out of it, and I want to get back to more original movies. Even if Postal’s based on a video game, I think it’s a very original movie, different to everything I did before.
I read that Hitman is one of your favorite games. Did you try to get the movie rights?
I tried it! Vin Diesel had the rights at one point, and then Eidos, it looked like I could get the rights, and they made me buy Fear Effect, and I said, “Look, I don’t want to make Fear Effect, I want to make Hitman. Then it ended up that the rights went to Fox, in a way, and then Metropolitan ended up doing the movie together with Fox. I was disappointed because I had Jason Statham ready to play Hitman, and I thought, Statham as Hitman, why not? That could be good movie, but they did it different. It was disappointing for me.
How do you get the rights to so many video games?
House of the Dead was [producer] Mark Altman — he came with the rights from Sega, and then [for] Alone in the Dark, I approached Atari [through] a friend who worked as a developer, and I approached Majesco for BloodRayne. But, for example, Gas Powered Games [who own Dungeon Siege] came to me, and the same with Zombie Massacre and Sabotage 1943. With Postal, the Postal fan club came to me. I had never heard about the game before, to be honest; I played the game after they approached me with it. It’s a mix: I think half of the video-game companies stay away from me; they say, “Oh, my God, not Uwe Boll!” because of that Internet stuff. But the other half likes me, and they’re saying, “Look, he at least is interested and tries to make the best out of it, and if he makes a movie, we gain sales from it.”
Do your movies make money on DVD?
Not In the Name of the King. It is now more than $20 million on DVD returns, but it’s a $60 million movie, so it was too expensive to recover from a theatrical disaster. It helps that it’s a big hit in a lot of other territories, but it’s not making the money back. If you do $20 million, $15 million movies, and they make only $5 million box office, there is still a good chance to make the money back after the DVD. But on In the Name of the King, it didn’t work, so this was a hard hit.
Was Vince Desiderio, the creator of Postal, really mad at you?
We had a huge dispute about what direction the movie should go. They saw it more as a real rampage movie, like a super-brutal Taxi Driver, and I said, “I don’t want to do it. I want to make a comedy, and I have to do my thing here.” I was really driven, I didn’t compromise. The Canadian producers were against me, the agencies in L.A., with the actors, were against me, but I really stuck to the plan. I said, “I’ll make that movie, and I’ll do casting on my own and everything,” and I was happy to get all that B-level supporting actors in Postal. It’s not In the Name of the King or BloodRayne [in terms of] cast, but it is very good, solid actors who had a blast doing it, and when Vince saw what I was doing, he liked the idea of a comedy. I said, “It will be violent, it won’t be a PG-13 comedy, it will be completely brutal, but it’s important that it has that satire tone,” and I think this was very good to do it this way.
How did you get Dave Foley to do that nude scene?
He got up from the bed and was naked. And then I told him, “You’re naked, right?” and he says, “Yeah, yeah, it’s all good,” so he played it this way. You cannot really ask an actor to do something like this. If he’s doing it, good; but if not, you have to accept it. If he had gotten up and put the bathrobe together, I would have [gone] with that, but he had to go to the toilet also, so he had to open the bathrobe! I was really happy that he did that.
Are you a big gamer?
What is a big gamer? Is a big gamer a guy who plays six hours a day? Then I’m not a big gamer. I like games, I play a lot with the Xbox. The only game I was ever addicted to was Asteroids — oh, God, it was killing me when I was 12, I played it every day, five hours. I really had to stop that. For movies, I think video games are a good inspiration; you get good ideas about wardrobe, production design, fighting style. Sometimes you have a good story in a video game, like Far Cry — we followed exactly the game story because it was a great story. But you have other games like Dungeon Siege — tell me what the story is! So the thing is, sometimes you cannot fulfill the dream of that guy who played that game five months in a row, because he created something in his brain that is not existing for everybody else. If you a play a game, you develop your own ideas, it’s very clear. But on the other hand, I have to make also the movies that the nongamer has no problem to follow.
Do the recent changes in German tax law affect your funding?
Since 2006, we cannot write off any losses. So you have to recoup your money, and a movie like In the Name of the King I couldn’t do any more, basically, because [at that time] if you lost your money, you lost only half of your money in reality, because the rest you got from the taxes back, so the $60 million risk was in the end a $30 million risk. But now we have to recoup the full budget, and this is the reason now we have to play it safe. But there is still no Nazi gold necessary to finance the movie, so we still are able to make movies, but we really have to look into more risk-free possibilities.
What’s your filmmaking background?
I went to Vienna and Munich for the film school, but at this time, 1983, these film schools had no equipment, so it was [im]practical, and I felt after a few months, This brings me nothing. I wanted to make movies, not talk about movies. I was talking about movies in my free time with my buddies nonstop, so the thing was like, what am I doing here? Then I went back to Cologne, where I originally come from, and studied economy and literature, and during the university thing, with my friend Frank Lustig, we raised $30,000 — 60,000 marks at this point — and we started shooting German Fried Movie as a compilation movie with a lot of different scenes and a lot of different actors. We got equipment on deferral and film from AGFA for free. Part of it is 16mm because we got free stock, and some is 35mm, so we had to blow up the 16mm stuff. This was the way we started, and I toured with the movie for six months from theater to theater, and we made the money back. And then Bertelsmann (BMG) bought the DVD rights, so I kept going, basically. They gave me 150,000 marks up front for my next movie, Murder in Geneva, before I started shooting. So, slowly I came into the film business, but it was year after year where you couldn’t live on it — it was a disaster, and I worked in factories and everywhere to survive and to keep making movies. Then in 1995, I got hired by a bigger production company as a producer, and I produced TV shows, even country music shows!
German country music?
Yeah, yeah, it’s crazy. Then for four or five years, I made no movies on my own, and I felt so empty, like, “Is it over already? What should I do?” And then I created this thing of going to investors, dentists, whomever [asking them to] give me $50,000 and you can write it off on the taxes, and I started collecting money for Sanctimony, my first American movie, in 1999. It was a long process. I was already 34 when I could say this was my first real paycheck as a director/producer, where I think I got $120,000. And then I kept going, making movies, returning money, collecting new money. It was a lot of work.