The name Uwe Boll tends to stir fear—or derisive snickers—in film critics. His movies (most of them video-game adaptations like House Of The Dead, Alone In The Dark, and BloodRayne) have been universally panned for their shallow plots and wooden performances, yet Boll doesn't suffer such criticism quietly: He's been known to send his critics angry e-mails and lash out at them on DVD commentaries. Last summer, he even challenged detractors to a boxing match. While this has done little to change perception of him as this generation's Ed Wood, Boll may finally surprise everyone with Postal, an outlandish satire (based on the video game of the same name) starring A Christmas Story's Zack Ward as a "trailer-trash dude" in a world where Osama bin Laden is hiding in America, Dave Foley is the leader of a sex cult, and Boll himself is the demented owner of an amusement park built on Nazi gold. Already receiving positive word-of-mouth, Postal has also stirred up controversy for its opening scene, a graphic 9/11 parody that dares to make the World Trade Center attacks a punchline. Just prior to his appearance at this year's Fantastic Fest, Boll spoke with The A.V. Club about Postal, his unique relationship with his critics, and why he feels he deserves another chance.
The A.V. Club: How did you approach writing a script for a video game that had no real story at all?
Uwe Boll: I've had that problem before! [Laughs.] I actually saw Postal as a story where you have every day the same kind of setup. You have to pick up your welfare check. You have to make a decision: "Do I get violent or should I play it peaceful?" There were so many good ideas for a comedy in that game, like he lives in a trailer park with his dog. He shits always in front of his door. He has a 300-kilo wife, and she claims he changed after the wedding, but she gained 250 pounds. And he has his crazy Uncle Dave who's like a sect guru. You can play Osama bin Laden or [George W.] Bush, and you can use cats as silencers. So I think it's a very good foundation to develop some crazy ideas for a satire.
AVC: With such a simple premise, it seems you could have written almost anything, so why use it as an adaptation? Why not claim it as your original work?
UB: There are two reasons. First of all, I think I stole too much from the game. [Laughs.] You can't have "the Postal Dude" who lives in a trailer park, the similarities in how he's dressed, the cats as silencers. There are a lot of ideas in there that they would claim against me, and I don't want that. The second is, I see Postal as a very good title for a movie like this, because in a way, Postal shows that we're all going down the drain on this planet. It has something in the word. Not only "going postal," but it is also a little "post-apocalyptic," like we are already over it. We cannot save it any more, so let's enjoy the last 20 or 30 years of the Earth. [Laughs.]
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AVC: What happened to Gary Coleman being part of this project?
UB: He didn't want to swear in the movie, and I asked him, "Did you ever see yourself in the video game? You were on a rampage killing everybody!" [Laughs.] He said he does not give [a] shit about this, and I say, "Now you're swearing!" He said, "I'm very Christian, and I don't want to swear in the movie." Verne Troyer played his part, and he's swearing in every line, so there's no way I could have done that movie with Gary under those circumstances.
AVC: So it wasn't worth it to get rid of the profanity to keep Gary Coleman?
UB: [Laughs.] Absolutely not.
AVC: Ron Perlman was also attached at one time, right?
UB: He was, but then he got Hellboy 2. I wanted to have him as Uncle Dave, but then Dave Foley played him. Both of them would be great, but Dave Foley really went for it. He even went for a full-frontal nudity scene, which was surprising for me also. I was sitting behind my video desk and couldn't believe it! He did it without telling me. He was supposed to get up from his bed and close his bathrobe, but he didn't close it. We were all sitting there laughing our ass off. He played it super-cool. It's those kind of offensive scenes that make Postal special, because it's harsher than what we're used to from even the Farrelly brothers' comedies. It's like one step more than even Borat. Postal is like Borat without the black bars. [Laughs.]
AVC: You've worked with some big names in the past. How did you decide upon the mostly unknown Zack Ward to star?
UB: We did casting in L.A. and a lot of people came against the advice of their agents. The agents said, "You shouldn't be in Postal, it will damage your career." Sarah Silverman and David Cross passed. I thought, "Oh God, if people like this are passing, we are really harsh." So Zack Ward came to casting and played one of the cop parts, and then later I looked at the DVDs again and said, "This guy is Postal Dude." He's like white trailer trash. He's had a long time in the film industry, but no real success. He needs money; he's two-times divorced in real life. He said he works only to pay off his Philippine ex-wife. [Laughs.] It's totally depressing! He's fucked-up. I was like, "He is perfect." He is in that mood, like, "I hate this town." I'm really happy he played Postal Dude.
AVC: You must like working with him, because he's also playing "Billy The Kid" in BloodRayne II: Deliverance.
UB: Absolutely! Look, he started with A Christmas Story, and I think that he is a really great actor. The thing is, he gets typecast now, like in Transformers. He's always the red-haired bully or strange guy who gets killed. He's never getting the hero part. But his acting abilities are way above a lot of the good-looking guys.
AVC: What did you see in Zack that screamed "vampire cowboy"?
UB: [Laughs.] He's a very sportive guy. He's very used to weapons, and he has the physical ability to be a badass or an evil guy. So the Billy The Kid part is closer to him, as is the Postal Dude. I think he has that kind of violence in him, and I thought I really had to have a badass villain in BloodRayne II, so I cast him.
AVC: Did you approach any of the original BloodRayne cast to be in the sequel—Kristanna Loken in particular?
UB: First of all, everybody died in BloodRayne, and only Rayne survived. Of course I wanted Kristanna to play in BloodRayne II, but she signed with SCI FI to do Painkiller Jane. It was a 22-episode TV show, and she said she could only do it if I waited one year. This was impossible, because Universal wanted it for September '07, so I was forced to shoot it in winter in Vancouver. Worst shoot we ever had, to be honest. Some days it was snow, other days only ice and rain, so we had to put snow in. We had a big explosion with a heater in the railway station, so the whole railway station burned down. We had $600,000 in damages. Natassia Malthe had to jump into a lake, and there was ice on the surface, and she crashed through the ice and almost died. Everybody was really, really tired from shooting [at] nighttime in the cold. We shot almost until Christmas, because the burning railway station cost us three more days. Then we had to rewrite the scene so that Michael Paré burns down the railway station. We were so happy that this movie was over. I think overall, BloodRayne II looks really grumpy. It's kind of a corny, winter Western, very rough and cold. Universal likes it even more than the first one.
AVC: Postal may come as a surprise to people who are only familiar with horror movies from you, but you actually debuted with German Fried Movie—which was a German version of Kentucky Fried Movie. Have you wanted to return to comedy since then?
UB: I think Postal was my way back to where I started as a film director. It made sense to do German Fried Movie because we didn't have enough money to shoot 30 days of movie with the same actors. We were forced to have actors we could get for free, and shoot only small scenes and do it as a compilation movie, so we have a guy in German Fried Movie who is switching channels, and we see the different TV programs. We had suicide shows, a Desert Storm show from the first Gulf War, "Danger Seeker" from Kentucky Fried Movie, all these absurd things. [In Postal], I basically wanted to return to that. It's a ruthless, Mad TV-type thing. We sent out a DVD to the South Park producers, and they liked the movie so much that we can say now, "It's like South Park with real actors" on the trailers and posters.
AVC: Do you think America is ready for a 9/11 parody?
UB: Look, the thing is, it is maybe a little too early. But as a director, what should you do? I think it's better to be too early and disturb a few people—but have other people say it was necessary—than to do it way after the fact. The other way, you do something that nobody gives a shit about. We shouldn't forget that Charlie Chaplin did a movie about Hitler while Hitler was alive, and Peter Sellers in Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece Dr. Strangelove was during the McCarthy time, where everybody was a communist and McCarthy was flipping completely out. I think it's important to have a movie like Postal now, where we are on the peak of the Iraq War, on the peak of terrorist attacks, where everything is actually happening. Not like in a few years, where maybe bin Laden dies or Bush is no longer in office. I think it's important that Bush is still president when the parody comes out.
AVC: What would you say are some of the major political ideas you're trying to get across with Postal?
UB: The main point is that I think if we want the Earth to survive and everybody to have a positive future, we have to stop thinking in [terms of] religions and races. We have to face that we are all on the planet Earth together, and we have to figure out how we all survive. It makes no sense if we are all driving hybrid cars, but China pumps massive [amounts of] CO2 in the air. If we don't start working together and find solutions—if every country thinks only [in terms of], "First we, then the other nations"—then we will fail. I think this is the biggest problem we face right now. Even if people hate my other movies, and hate me, or whatever, I think from this point of view, Postal is the most important movie after September 11. It's not respecting any edge, any border, any nation, any religion—it's an all-type offender.
I think that only if everybody gets a little pissed about something then you will start thinking about your situation. In Germany, people are saying, "Bush is an asshole. Bin Laden is an asshole." But then I make jokes about Auschwitz, and how the Germans are lederhosen-wearing sausage freaks—and they hate me for this! And I'm like, "You all are sitting there because you want to relax and have a nice evening, and now you're pissed because I put also a mirror in front of you." This is the point of Postal, because no one can relax. Everybody gets hit. If you want a career in Germany as a filmmaker, you shoot another fucking movie about "My old uncle tried to kill Hitler." Right? You do Sophie's Choice Part 11, and you get an L.A. agent and make a career in America because you showed you were against Hitler. But in reality, 98 percent of the people were not against Hitler.
You don't need any courage today in Germany to make a movie about the Nazi time. You get all the subsidies, you get the TV stations, you get the good reviews. But you need courage to kick in the balls all the people that are still hiding under the blanket, and to say, "Oh, Hitler was maybe not so bad." And with my little Nazi jokes [in Postal], I offended the Germans in a harsh time. This was important to me to say, "Look, I'm not pussying out for you. I'm not delivering to you a nice anti-Bush, anti-bin Laden comedy." I think this will pay off. I don't know. But I know that I'm very proud that I made the movie.
AVC: In a Washington Post interview, Running With Scissors [the company behind Postal] said they didn't want anything like a recreation of the Columbine massacre, or the Twin Towers falling, in their games. You'd already done Columbine in Heart Of America, and now you put the Twin Towers attack in Postal. Did you ever feel like your sensibilities clashed with those of the game's creators?
UB: In the beginning, yes, but then later, they really liked the movie. And now when they see the scene with the Twin Towers, where we see it through the window-washer's perspective… [Laughs.] I think it makes fun of the terrorists. They have the big fight in the cockpit, the complete stupidity about the virgins. This is only the end result of them crashing into the World Trade Center. It's not what the New York Post tried to make out of it: an anti-American movie. That's completely wrong! It shows the absurdity of the terrorists, and to not show the last scene where the airplane crashes into the World Trade Center would mean no end of the scene. It would make no sense.
AVC: You have game developer Vince Desiderio running through screaming about you ruining his film, so obviously they were pretty good sports about it.
UB: [Laughs.] Yeah, to have that in the movie—that he wanted to kill me because I fucked up his movie—this is only for the insiders. A lot of normal [people] don't get it. I had to put it in for all the video-game freaks out there bashing me and e-mailing me. I also wanted to show that I have enough ironic humor, to show myself as a corrupt asshole.
AVC: What is it that you enjoy about adapting video games? Why did you choose that niche?
UB: In the beginning, it was money. We did House Of The Dead and made money with it, so I thought, "How can I raise money from investors based on this?" It's easier to raise money than if you come in with an original idea. But I also found more games I really like. I liked the game Alone In The Dark a lot. It's really creepy. BloodRayne, I didn't like the game so much, but I liked the character. This super character with two swords, and she needs sex and blood to survive. I liked that ruthless kind of character—not so clean like Kate Beckinsale in Underworld, where she never sucks blood. I wanted something dirtier and bloodier.
I always try to get games of different genres. This is the reason Postal is a comedy, and Far Cry is a real, pure action movie—like Die Hard on an island—and In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale was my opportunity to do my epic, Braveheart, Lord Of The Rings, Gladiator movie. I try not to repeat myself in genres too much. Everybody says video-game adaptations are all the same, but I disagree. Normally, video-game adaptations are like Alone In The Dark, Resident Evil, Alien Vs. Predator—sci-fi creature stuff. But I think I've [covered] a wide range of genres and time periods, like Transylvania in 1700 and now a Western with BloodRayne II, or adventure with Dungeon Siege, or comedy and satire with Postal.
AVC: You hold a doctorate in literature. Isn't a video game comparatively shallower source material than a good book or original screenplay?
UB: Of course there are a lot of books that are interesting to make movies out of, but on the other hand, I think video games are also kind of like bestselling books for the younger generation, and the younger generation is the one going to the theaters. It's more about what you create out of it. And if you really go for a bestselling book—like Stephen King, John Grisham, or whatever—you pay five, six, seven million for the movie rights. Video games, you get normally for around $500,000.
AVC: Do you think that exclusively adapting video games automatically sets you up for a negative critical reaction?
UB: Absolutely. I think a lot of people don't take you seriously if they hear it's a video-game-based movie, and a lot of press people don't write about you. With BloodRayne, a lot of serious newspaper people didn't actually even see the movie. They went online to see other reviews, and then wrote their own. I think comic-book-based movies have a better image. We see it with 300, Sin City, Spider-Man—they are A-list features, and video-game movies are B-list.
AVC: Do you find that unfair?
UB: Yeah! They should take everything seriously, and look at everything on its own before they judge it. I think Resident Evil or Silent Hill was definitely better than The Punisher or Ghost Rider. There are lots of comic-book-based movies that are shit, and a lot of video-game movies were acceptable, [well]-made action movies.
AVC: Two of your movies that received the most negative reaction—Alone In The Dark and BloodRayne—have sequels coming out. Are you hoping that people will come around to it if they give it another chance?
UB: First of all, I hope this. Second, Lions Gate is releasing a director's cut of Alone In The Dark in September, and I cut out eight to 10 minutes of Tara Reid, and dialogue, and I added more scenes of action and creepy stuff. I think the director's cut plays way better than the original. [Alone In The Dark 2] is based on the game Alone In The Dark 5 which is coming out, and this will help, that they're both based on the horror in Central Park—we shot it in L.A. I think it will hopefully be better received, because in the first part, we were totally alone and Atari did nothing. I think with BloodRayne II, it's a totally different genre—a vampire Western—and I hope that a lot of negative reviewers from the first one give it a fresh view.
AVC: To some, it might seem like you're doing these films out of spite, like you're rubbing it in their faces by doing a sequel to a movie that was panned the first time around.
UB: That's one thing, but on the other hand, BloodRayne and Alone In The Dark were, in various territories, very successful, and also in America on DVD. In Spain, Italy, Russia, Thailand, and the Middle East, they were both in the top five at the box office for at least one or two weeks. They were not bombs everywhere. All the territories have an interest in getting a second part, and BloodRayne II will actually get a theatrical release in Russia, Spain, and so forth. From this point of view, business-wise, it made sense to do a second part. But I thought, "If we're going to do a second part, let's try to make better movies."
AVC: The people who pan you, critics you've called "idiots" online—what don't they get about your movies?
UB: If you have a serious reporter and he writes both the good and bad things about a movie and then writes a negative review, I have no problem with it. But I have a problem with people—bashing guys—who, no matter what you do, [say] it's all crap. They have no clue what the fuck they're talking about. They have no better understanding of movies. They have no knowledge. They cannot do better movies. They say, "If I had a camera, I would do a masterpiece." It's all bullshit. This pisses me off. There are a lot of idiots on the Internet getting a lot of attention. A lot of people like Richard Lowtax from SomethingAwful.com. He has his own community, and the only movie he did so far was posted on YouTube. I don't know who thinks this is funny. I think it's stupid, that movie. It's not technically [well]-made, and I don't see any talent in that guy. But he gets hyped like he's a hero, like he would have made a better BloodRayne. This guy has no clue even what a shooting schedule is. As a filmmaker, I get compared to people who have no clue how to do anything, but because of some Internet writing, it looks like they would actually be better filmmakers. I think this is absurd.
AVC: Two of your most vocal critics are Harry Knowles and Quint from Ain't It Cool News. You've called them "retards," yet you're coming to Fantastic Fest, which they help program. Why agree to be a part of their festival?
UB: First of all, I had no clue that they were part of that festival when I got the invitation. But second, everybody can get a new chance. [Laughs.] If they say they'll give Postal a fresh chance, and see it and then judge it and talk to me about it, then I'm more than happy to come down there. On BloodRayne I didn't get it. They were sitting in the audience at [SXSW] with 300 people, and we got big applause and it was a great atmosphere. The only people that didn't applaud were the four or five guys from Ain't It Cool. After the screening, Quint came to me to get an autograph, and we talked on the sidewalk, and there was no indication they hated the movie. But on the Internet, they bashed that movie to the ground!
I think this is dishonest. You should say right away how you feel about the movie, and if you write a review of it, at least say how the audience reaction was. If you write, "I didn't like that movie because Michael Madsen was drunk," you can write that, but you should also write, "It looked like 80 percent of the audience enjoyed it." If you omit that fact and write only "The next piece of shit from Uwe Boll," I think that's unfair. And in regard to Harry Knowles and Quint, in Hollywood, a lot of people think that AICN is corrupt, and that they get paid by filmmakers and studios to get better reviews. I don't do that. And of course he has these people he loves, like [Quentin] Tarantino and [Robert] Rodriguez. I like them also, but the point is, whatever they do, it's "the next masterpiece." Eli Roth, Guillermo del Toro—it's always a "masterpiece." It doesn't matter what they do. And then it's always "shit," what I do. Postal is a totally different movie than everything they've seen before, so I want to come to Texas and hopefully convince these guys. I want to be like, "Look at Postal like Tarantino did it. [Laughs.] Brainwash yourself and convince yourself that Tarantino did it. Forget my name and enjoy the 100 minutes and then write your review."
AVC: You challenged two of the guys who wrote for that site—as well as several other critics—to a boxing match. Do you think the critics who showed up expected you to really fight them?
UB: Absolutely! They had it in the application that they had to sign a waiver that I was not responsible for health damage. They had time to train. This was a thing where Chris Alexander from Rue Morgue and Chance Minter got my respect, and Rich Lowtax and Jeff Sneider, where they said afterwards, "Uwe promised not to hit us"—they did that to damage me. This is a complete lie, and everybody knows that it was a real fight, and that I did the application [to fight me] because I was pissed. We had 1,000 people in the stadium watching it live, and they wanted to see blood and guts. [Laughs.] There was a real doctor, a real referee—it was so clear it was a real boxing event. I said to them after the fight, "If I prepared my movies the way you prepared for the boxing fight, then my movies would be really bad." [Laughs.]
AVC: Did physically taking out your frustrations on your critics give you any satisfaction?
UB: On that evening, yes! And after that, Chris Alexander was very fair in all his articles on my movies, because he used that opportunity to talk to me privately during breakfast. Jeff Sneider, from AICN, came to Vancouver and refused to come to the set of Postal. I never saw him until five minutes before the fight. I think this is so stupid. These 22-year-old guys who have no film experience come to Vancouver, and instead of coming to the set, they hang out in Starbucks. What [kind of] characters are these people?
AVC: Do you value the opinions of critics?
UB: Absolutely! I think without the harsh critics, I would maybe have not made progress. From BloodRayne on, I spent more time and money on the development. With Dungeon Siege, I got very good responses from all the agencies on that script, which we worked for one and a half years on. Also Far Cry. I think the harsh reviews helped, in that I spent way more energy in the preproduction and development. From this point of view, I'm very thankful for the harsh critics. I still think the critics were unnecessarily insulting in a lot of things, but I think it helped.
AVC: Do you actively seek out reviews or writing about yourself?
UB: Absolutely! I get most of my reviews through e-mail, and then I go and read it and go on message boards to check it out. I want to see what's out there and to better estimate my position. I'm definitely happy that a lot of people are voting positively for Postal—especially the hundreds and hundreds who actually saw it. Still, there are a lot of people who didn't see it who are giving me only one point out of 10 because they hate me, and it has nothing to do with the movie.
AVC: You're unique among most filmmakers in that you're pretty vehement about responding to critics who give you negative reviews, like the e-mail exchange you recently had with a Wired reporter. It seems to genuinely upset you. Do you take criticism personally?
UB: That was different. What the guy from Wired did was come up to me after the screening and say the movie was great and set up an interview with me. Then he bashed it in his review. I was flipping out, because it's dishonest and it's shit. Nobody should do that. I think it's unfair to tell a filmmaker, "Congratulations! I loved it!" And then the next day it's, "Another piece of shit from Boll, no different than BloodRayne or Alone In The Dark." It also makes me upset that he published that e-mail from me. It was private, for him, and with that behavior, I don't think he has a career as a journalist in the future. If you're so dishonest and don't have enough self-confidence to tell the person you're interviewing, "Look, I didn't like the movie. I didn't think it was funny. But let's do the interview anyway." I would still give him the interview. But it's not fair to lie and to be two-faced.
AVC: Why respond to it or even acknowledge it? Most artists, when they get a negative review, just brush it off and try to stay above the fray.
UB: I know, but I'm different. [Laughs.] I like the direct contact. I went to the Penny Arcade in Seattle, where 2,000 people were booing me for 20 minutes. But at the end of the thing, at least three or four hundred people came to me with BloodRayne and Alone In The Dark DVDs to sign. I was like, "Now you're coming to me with these DVDs, but when I was onstage, you were booing me like I'm the Antichrist standing there?" I do that because I want a lot of people that only know me [through] the mass media to learn more about what I'm doing, and to know that I'm an independent filmmaker and I'm not part of the Hollywood system. I'm coming from where they started. I'm not coming from a family with a lot of money, I had $60,000 for my first movie. I was 33 before I made any money off of movies. I worked my ass off for free. To get that I'm "enemy number one" among young kids is a little absurd. Michael Bay got $100 million for his first movie, and Eli Roth—"The Future Of Horror" because of Cabin Fever and Hostel—is the fucking son of Joe Roth, a studio chief! These guys are getting turned into heroes? [Michael Bay actually received $23 million for Bad Boys, and Eli Roth is the son of a Harvard professor and a painter. —ed.] Any asshole can make a good movie for $100 million. I think it's way harder to make a movie with no money, and to start with no contacts and work your way up to international productions. It's unfair that I'm enemy number one.