Interview: Uwe Boll Talks Postal, Kevin Costner, and Answers Reader Mail

Talking video game movies, moneymaking, and more with the German filmmaker.

by | May 23, 2008 | Comments

Uwe Boll

It’s time to share our exclusive interview with the one, the only, Uwe Boll! Read on for our candid chat about his latest flick, Postal, how he almost cast Kevin Costner, the challenges of distributing a film that features Nazis, Dave Foley‘s genitalia, Osama bin Laden, and Verne Troyer, and much, much more.

Uwe Boll knows he’s a tough sell in America; shortly after we interviewed him, distributors reduced his blisteringly raunchy, ultra-violent political satire, Postal, from a nationwide release to a limited theatrical run. Considering his rather genius business model (explained by Uwe below), however, we think he’ll be just fine. Read on for our chat with the German mastermind behind such films as Alone in the Dark, BloodRayne, and Dungeon Siege: In the Name of the King, and learn why he self-distributes, how he adapts video games, what he really thinks of Michael Bay, Eli Roth, and George Clooney, and why he doesn’t mind those Ed Wood comparisons.


You’re known for nabbing some big name stars for your films, and for Postal you got Dave Foley and J.K. Simmons. Who’s the biggest star you weren’t able to get in the past?

Uwe Boll: I wanted Kevin Costner for In the Name of the King and I met him before we hired Jason Statham. His manager, she wanted him to do it because she felt like he needed a movie like this again, like Robin Hood, more epic. But he felt like he didn’t want to do it, and then he did Mr. Brooks. He pitched to me Mr. Brooks — and I was surprised how good the movie was, to be honest. When I read it, Mr. Brooks, with his alter ego, the other guy, I said “What the f*** is that? You want to play a double part?” He was thinking in the beginning of playing two parts, and it was good that he cast William Hurt to do the other part, and I actually liked the movie.

Wait — Costner pitched Mr. Brooks to you?

UB: Yeah. He was looking for co-financing and everything, and said “Let’s do this movie together!”

So you might have co-produced Mr. Brooks?

UB: No, no! I said, look, I cannot do it — I’m doing Dungeon Siege right now.

Back to Postal. Has it been tough to sell Postal because it’s such a dark political comedy?

UB: Yes. First of all, humor is not translating everywhere. Let’s say Taiwan, Thailand, India — they see Postal and they think, “What is that?” It’s too crazy, it’s too ruthless, and over the top, so it’s against some religious things. For example in France, I couldn’t show it because of Islam. They were actually scared that the people will, like, throw stones in the theaters and everything so they couldn’t release it.

The jokes in Postal target American culture and politics very acutely…I wonder if that aspect would play well in other countries.

UB: That’s the thing; a lot of times, U. S. comedies are not running really good and strong outside of US because the humor is tough to translate. And if you see what are the biggest local hits in France, or Germany, it’s always German comedies or France comedies — like The Visitors with Jean Reno in France. It’s a piece of sh**. If we see the movie we think “What the f***, this is not funny at all!” but it sold more tickets than Harry Potter. And this is the kind of phenomenon what you have locally in movies.

How did Postal play in Germany, your home country?

UB: We got only 20 screens. But we were running three months, so we were kind of happy with the performance but you cannot really make a lot of box office, because three of the four big exhibitors banned us. But it’s the same here in the U.S. We have to fight for every screen, basically, that we can get. It’s not easy. In Germany you have four big multiplex chains; only UCI, owned by Australians, played us. All the German-owned multiplex theaters didn’t play us. It’s a little similar, it looks like, here. Maybe Regal plays us, and AMC maybe. But Cinemark, Mann Theatres, whatever, not interested. I think it’s kind of a political decision from these guys.

Well, it is very extreme material. Do you think the world, or even America, is ready for Nazi and al-Qaeda jokes?

UB: Yeah, I hope so. The thing is, I think as a director or a writer or whatever, you have to have a vision. And you have to be maybe sometimes too early, somewhere.

How did you decide Postal would be your first comedy?

UB: I think the video game, in a way, is funny. Because you can play Postal without violence if you want; you can wait forever in a line, for example, and then at one point you can cash in your paycheck or whatever. Or you can use a cat as a silencer. It’s so absurd! I told [Postal game creator] Vince Desi from the beginning on, we have to make it as a comedy — it’s the only way to tell that story that works. And they were really against it. They had more of a rampage movie in mind; like, they wanted to do a Taxi Driver kind of a guy what flips out and kills everybody, and I felt this would be totally wrong. But you can play bin Laden, you can play Bush, and the whole setup — where he lives with his 500 pound wife in a trailer park and everything — it’s funny. It’s not serious. You think that people get real emotions so you have to do it as a spoof; you have to do it like a Naked Gun-meets-Blues Brothers kind of action movie.

And then later when I actually finished the writing, and I started shooting, then slowly I convinced [Vince] and now he loves the movie. And he’s also in the movie, trying to kill me! When he was on set he had a blast, and now he’s a big fan. It’s the only video game company ever who supports the movie so much.

Next: Vince Desi and how Uwe makes money…

Uwe Boll

It is fun to see Vince Desi in the movie, because it plays on your reputation developing video games into movies — against the wishes of diehard fans. Is this the best relationship you’ve had with the creator of a video game you’ve adapted so far?

UB: Absolutely. It’s their baby, and they basically are all the way on my side. They don’t dump me if I have a bad review, they stay on my side, and they promote the shit out of the movie. They are really helping, and it’s not easy to get support on a movie like this.

Was the case different with movies like Alone in the Dark and Dungeon Siege?

UB: On Dungeon Siege, I have to say we developed a long time, that script — over a year, we had three different writers, and [game creator] Chris Taylor, he was really happy. They were also very nice and supportive. But they didn’t show as much [support] as Vince Desi. They came to one screening, and this was it. But they didn’t organize a party where they played, and Vince is doing all that — wherever he is, whatever video game convention he’s at, he supports the movie.

We opened Rotten Tomatoes to some of our readers to ask you questions, so here goes. lavatory love machine asks, “Why is it that on your videogame movie adaptation you only take the game’s concept and characters to use them on an original story instead of using the one from the game?”

UB: I think that you have to see it project by project. Alone in the Dark was supposed to come out, the game together with the movie — Atari was developing it in LA: Alone in the Dark 5. So if they would make that, and finished it, there would be a game and the movie together. But I was in the end alone with the movie because they closed down LA; Atari was on the edge of almost bankruptcy. And now, after all those years, this year Alone in the Dark Part 5 is coming out. Way too late, yeah? But we produced Alone in the Dark 2 based now on that new game. So I don’t take the blame alone, let’s say. Because when I did the movie, it was supposed to be together with the video game.

Uwe Boll

With BloodRayne, I went totally away from the concept in the beginning because I thought I wanted to do it as a trilogy. So I said, let’s start in the 1700s Transylvania Romanian mountains and everything, like a period piece vampire movie, to show where she comes from. And then we jump into the Wild West with BloodRayne 2 one hundred years later. And then we go to the Second World War for Part Three, which is the game. This is basically how I approached it — of course, people say [the game] isn’t directly in the Second World War, but then I wouldn’t like to go backwards in time. So I thought, why not start in the 1700s and then we go forwards.

But in everything that I did, I kept a lot of the ideas of the game, and the characters — for example, BloodRayne, how she’s dressed, or how she’s fighting. So I kept a lot from the game. And some game stories are also kind of, let’s say, Dungeon Siege — tell me the story. Right? The only thing I could use was in the beginning, there is a farm, and the Krugs coming in killing everybody, and the Farmer goes on a revenge trip. The funny thing is that I even got bashed from game sites about why his name is Farmer. But it’s exactly what I kept from the game, because in the game his name is Farmer — he has no name. So it’s like whatever you do, you’ll have people getting mad about it and it’s kind of stupid.

jomo999 asks, “Mr Boll, why do you like to adapt video games into movies? Your movies aside, the general reaction to video game adaptations is largely negative. To name a few, Hitman, Tomb Raider and the Resident Evil trilogy all had a cold reception. So what are your reasons for working on this particular genre?”

UB: I know, but you have to see we are not spending $150 million on the movies. Dungeon Siege was $60 million — our biggest movie — and the other movies are more between $10- and $25 million. We know we can recoup the money also out of DVD; so theatrical is more like an advertising machine, and then you cash in money on the DVD. This always worked. Alone in the Dark was on DVD a big success, House of the Dead and BloodRayne, and I think if you see the business there is right now a lot of movies losing a lot of money, because they make those movies too expensive to recoup the money. And this is what I did more carefully — also because I didn’t have the money, I cannot spend $150 million on a movie!

Uwe Boll

So in the end, if you really break down the numbers like what I spent and what I get back, then even a $5 million box office for Alone in the Dark — what was around $20 million to do…of course, it tanked in U.S. theaters, but you have to see the relationship. If BC 10,000 [sic] makes a $90 million box office but it was $200 million to do, and they spent $80 million to release it, are they losing not way more money than I “lose” with Alone in the Dark if it makes $5 million theatrical but then $26 million on DVD? And then I have only $20 million spent on it, and $15 million in advertising. The chance that I make my money back is bigger than a movie like BC 10,000.

But it’s not that I’m happy with the theatrical performance of my movies in the U.S. It’s always interesting for me to see that outside the U.S. the movie is working. Dungeon Siege, like every single country it got released in, stayed three weeks in the top ten: Germany, Austria, Russia, Greece, Turkey…we stayed three weeks in the top ten in Germany and beat American Gangster, for example, and smashed Beowulf in the same weekend — it’s kind of strange, right? This is what I think: in the U.S. I don’t get a decent release at all from the beginning on. If you would put $50 million in advertising in Dungeon Siege and have a real studio releasing it, it would also make a $50- or $60 million box office.

So does that explain why your movies perform so much better overseas than in America?

UB: Absolutely! Because here, maybe since House of the Dead, I’m not able to set up a domestic distribution where I can make money. If, for example, a studio takes a movie over, you sign a contract that they can charge advertising costs — like, unlimited — before you get one dollar. So you know, maybe out of the U.S., I get nothing. I cannot do that. I need money out of the U.S. So this is the reason I always have that strange theatrical self-distribution — you know, it’s kind of a strange thing that I’m doing, what is definitely not positive for my career as a director, but what is better for me as a producer. In the Name of the King, for example, tanked in the theaters with Freestyle Releasing, but Fox is doing DVD and TV, and it’s massive. So on DVD, the movie performs like it made $50 million box office, and Fox is for me a real cash cow, because they didn’t spend the advertising money for the theatrical release. Now, I get 6, 7 bucks per DVD — cash. If the movie makes $30-$40 million on DVD in U.S., I get at least my $10-$15 million out of U.S. out of the DVD and TV, and I’m not running into a total disaster. If Fox had released it theatrically, they’d have kept all the DVD and TV revenues against the cost.

Next: On Seed going to DVD, Grand Theft Auto, and Michael Bay…

Uwe Boll

Have you thought of just going the direct-to-DVD route?

UB: Not with King, it was too big. But other movies — Seed, my upcoming horror movie, is definitely going direct to DVD. We showed it in a few festivals, it’s a very depressing horror movie, but it makes no sense to spend $10, $15 million dollars for a release of a NC-17 movie — because I don’t want to cut it, it’s NC-17 — so I don’t do it, the movie stays as it is. I prefer to have the direct to DVD release before cutting it down to an R-rating and then getting, maybe, bad reviews.

Ryze asks, “Would you consider making a movie of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City?”

UB: It would be great, but I heard that the game guys want to play the lead parts in the movie. This is one of the reasons the movie never got made, because they actually want to star in the movies. (Laughs) The producers are like, “Look; you’re a f***ing geek! You will be the hero in the movie? We cannot do it.” So it’s one of the reasons it’s maybe never getting made.

thereign asks, “How in the name of all that is holy do you actually manage to get KNOWN actors (Ray Liotta, Dave Foley, Jason Statham, John Rhys Davies–JOHN F***ING RHYS DAVIES, for God’s sake!!!) to work in your films?”

Uwe Boll

UB: We don’t offer so much money, but we shoot fast. And we also go very late to actors so they don’t have another option — you go two weeks before the shoot to Ben Kingsley and he has nothing, he takes it. You cannot go with BloodRayne in advance; Ben Kingsley will never take it. All genre movies — people do it for money, but also for, like, “Ok, right now I have a gap; I’ll do it.”

You’ve been compared by some to Ed Wood; how do you feel about that comparison?

UB: Look, Ed Wood fulfilled his dreams; he went out there and made movies with no money; I have more money to make movies, but…I’m okay with whomever they compare me with. In the end, after Postal I know what’s coming out for me — I have Seed and Tunnel Rats, a Vietnam War movie, and so on. I know what I did, and in five years, people will talk differently.

Do you consider yourself more of a businessman or a director?

UB: I have to do both to keep going. This was the whole Michael Bay dispute, why I bashed him; if a guy gets always money pumped in his ass from the studios, and can do whatever he wants, and is not even on set where they shoot the real scenes from his movie because the CGI and second unit teams are doing it…I was pissed about this kind of approach; this guy has no responsibility. And I’m responsible, that’s the reason all my movies come in on time on budget, which is totally the opposite of what the public thinks of me. Writing about me, I’m the worst, and a retard, whatever. But who did 12 movies in seven years on time, in budget, distributed it worldwide and financed the movies? Name one other guy in the business who did that. And this is the thing what I think a lot of people should at least show respect for that. Because if you see In the Name of the King, it’s not that movie that, let’s say 90 percent of the movies coming out are way smaller, with way less cast, and way worse in filmmaking in the technical sense — but I do all that shit on my own! I don’t have a CGI guy directing my movie.

Michael Bay

Now, Michael Bay has denied accepting your boxing challenge, but have you sought out Eli Roth or George Clooney to spar with you?

UB: I don’t care — whoever comes into the ring gets beaten up. No, but I think Eli Roth reacted with humor. And you have to see, I said that out of an impulse; it was not like I thought about it a long time before. I wanted to give sh** to all of Hollywood at that moment, so I grabbed those three names. I think that actually Eli Roth is a talented director, even if he made Hostel — it’s not my favorite. And George Clooney made great movies, but I think he was in my mind because Leatherheads started on that weekend. And I felt like, what a bullsh** movie from him! I love Syriana, I love Michael Clayton. I think he’s a great actor.

Tell our readers why they should see Postal this weekend instead of Indiana Jones.

UB: They should definitely see Postal because I will have on Rotten Tomatoes, the first time in my career, a 55 percent or up positive reviews rating…and don’t put the faces up of some Internet “Quint” from Ain’ or whatever, don’t feature him on Rotten Tomatoes. Go for other web sites also, like — they love Postal.

[By the way, it’s 60 percent or higher for a Fresh Tomatometer, Uwe. But we’re rooting for you!]

Postal is in select theaters today. Check out Uwe Boll’s Five Favorite Movies here.