Never far from controversy, the ubiquitous film director / writer / producer Uwe Boll recently took time out of his busy schedule to talk to Justin Richards about how he got into filming, the film industry in general, his favourite films and his plans for the future.

How are things going with you?

I just came back from a film festival in Slovenia, where they showed Rampage and Darfur and I just got back about half an hour ago.

So how are your more recent films being received by film critics and general audiences alike?

So far Rampage and Darfur have been receiving really good reviews. So very much a step up from the old reviews I got! From that point of view it’s definitely looking not so bad. We learn to adjust - you make an art-house movie, you get good reviews, but the sales are not so good compared with BloodRayne II, so you’re always in between things.

I remember you saying, at my own festival, that your passion projects are the ones the critics like but they don’t do so well at the box office, and you sometimes struggle to get them shown at art-house cinema chains, and projects which you develop and produce which are based on games do well in regard to DVD sales, but the critics don’t like them...

Yeah, that’s right - you’re caught in the middle! The things you really want to do and that the cineastes or film fans really like and what mainstream audiences like are often different. For example, in Sweden now there’s the Lund Fantastic Film Festival where we played Rampage, and it played really well there and at another 20 film festivals and it’s had a limited theatrical release in Germany on a few screens, as has Darfur, and both got good reviews everywhere they played. But I did BloodRayne III: The Third Reich, this year, because it definitely sells better, this kind of title.

What are you currently working on?

We’re doing post-production on Bloodrayne 3: The Third Reich and together with that movie I shot an Auschwitz movie in the same vein as Stoic or Rampage, very disturbing, and we squeezed that in the budget. We had Second World War movie sets already set-up so I used those for the smaller Auschwitz film, which I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.

And when this is done I have in preparation In the Name of the King II, which also makes financial sense too and then a film called Bail Out, a movie about the financial crisis, which will be like Rampage on Wall Street! So we have a good mix of projects going on right now.

I think the Bail Out movie will be popular with most people since pretty much everyone hates bankers at the moment!

Yeah, and we need a big name actor attached to that movie to really make it happen.

So is the money still coming in for these larger projects?

Yes, but it’s tough. It takes longer to get the money together and you have to make cuts in crew and in cast to make it all more efficient, with less money and less time and so on.

You set up your own production company a number of years ago - what was the reason behind that?

Because there was no other chance to keep going basically. I had to do it to stay in business and to put me in a position whereby if I raise money I can recoup some of that money and pay that money to the investors, otherwise it would be a huge problem, with all the different parties involved, to get the money back.

Can the film industry compete with the massively growing games industry or do you think the two will merge together more or will the film industry have to rely on new technologies like 3D to survive?

There are some out there who feel that 3D is already going down the drain. In fact the last couple of 3D films that were out in the theatres were not so good.

Also I read in a Frankfurt newspaper that the reviewers were really disappointed with the 3D in the latest Shrek film and there have been some shockingly poor results since Avatar, where production companies have rushed to convert 2D movies into 3D movies in postproduction with very mixed results. And these movies are now being destroyed by their own hype.

I think there is now a growing problem with films based on games. Prince of Persia, for example, tanked. I think Hollywood thinks that game based movies are only low budget movies to make and they’re failures compared with the big business world - comic book adaptations, for example, with $500 million box office franchises.

So this is a very bad situation now for game based movies. And in the games industry the penalties are much the same as what we have in the movie industry. Bigger games, have bigger advertising budgets, bigger development budgets etc, where the focus is on the spend and where some games make money and the other games make even more money.

So why don’t you think Prince of Persia was the success they hoped it would be? The studio hoped that it would be another franchise like that of The Pirates of the Caribbean.

I agree - that was the case, but I think with The Pirates of the Caribbean you had, at least in the first part, (I actually hated the later parts), you had the surprising element of Johnny Depp, who was totally way out. I think with Prince of Persia there wasn’t enough action - it was visually interesting, but boring and with Jake Gyllenhaal, he’s not the most charismatic guy.

Do you think, taking Prince of Persia as an example, that there’s been too much misuse of CGI in films recently, whereby the technology hasn’t been used in a very good way?

Absolutely; and also because the audience is not surprised by CGI anymore. This is the reality - they are bored with it.

What are your thoughts on the digitisation of film in general - is it a good thing that filmmaking has finally come to the masses, or do you think that there’s too much trash being made now and not enough good films?

I think there has been, for a long time, a period where too many movies have been made, when in fact we need fewer movies to be made basically. And then maybe things will turn around and the audience will go for independent movies again - a rebalancing of movies if you like.

At the moment it’s not healthy. You have around 200 main Hollywood actors with big names and they now make around three movies a year, which makes for around 600 Hollywood movies with stars in them every year. Then you’ve got all the European movies and the movies with the not so big stars in them and I think this is just too much to swallow! I think this is not a healthy tendency and this has to change.

And I will also change it to be honest - I will definitely shoot nothing else this year, after I shot that movie in February, and then I’ll wait until next year until In the Name of the King II or the Bail Out movie to be sure it will work in future.

You seem to favour the horror and action genres more than other genres, is that because you especially like to work in those fields or just because there is more of a return on DVD sales for those particular genres?

Absolutely. Dramas just don’t sell on DVD and comedies not so much either. Comedies only sell if you have superstars in them like Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller or whoever.

I think with a good thriller, horror, fantasy or sci-fi, these sorts of genres, you have at least the sales from DVD distributions around the world to keep you going. With a drama or a comedy you will almost certainly not sell it to Asia or Eastern Europe - they won’t buy those movies.

Unfortunately comedy doesn’t translate too well.

I agree - only the really big hits like The Hangover, Tropic Thunder, that kind of stuff, will work pretty much everywhere.

Over the years you’ve had to contend with more than your fair share of voracious criticism of your films. Do you think in some circles it became kind of trendy to have a go at Uwe Boll and people just got on the ‘beat on Boll’ bandwagon? How did you cope with all that criticism over the years?

On the one hand you have to live with it and try to ignore it and let your movies speak for themselves. But I will always fight back if I think I’m getting unfairly attacked and give a response if someone is saying something that is just not true about a movie I’m involved with. I just hope that with the new movies that it slowly changes and that every interview I do won’t always involve me having to vigorously defend what I do.

Did the boxing matches that you, or someone close to you, set up between you and your fiercest critics have a positive effect in the end or did they backfire and garner you more negative publicity?

I think it made a statement that no one else had ever made before. A lot of people thought it was cool - people working in the film industry thought it was cool that I kicked the ass of these guys (laughs), but it got a mixed response overall. But the Boll haters of course used the boxing to make another point and said what a fool I was, so whatever you do you can’t really win.

Talking of critics, according to my research you used to be a film critic yourself for a local radio station in the 1980s - did you enjoy it and did watching films as a critic help you as a film maker?

I think it helps to watch everything that you can, on your way to making your own films. I don’t think you can be a great film maker if you’ve never watched any movies before! I think it helps to watch other film maker’s movies. And for me, as a student, it was a way to make money and to watch movies for free. So for me, at that time, it was a way for me to get connected to movies in some way and to get paid to do it.

I also made a programme, like a flyer, for a local theatre every week, and I wrote about the movies on the flyer and people actually liked the flyer because I really put some effort in. I didn’t just put in a synopsis of the film, like it is nowadays; I provided some background information about the film, the director and what they did before and so on.

Is that something you’d consider going back to if you decided in future to take a bit of a backseat to the actual filmmaking part of the business?

I don’t know, but I just said yes to Chris Alexander from Fangoria magazine and said I’d write an article about my favourite horror movie. He was asking for it for issue 300 of Fangoria.

And what is your favourite horror movie?

I’m kind of in between Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining, but I think I’d prefer The Shining.

What gives you the most satisfaction - producing, directing or writing films?

Definitely shooting a movie...

Do you enjoy working with the actors or is it all the technical side of things too that you enjoy?

Yes, sometimes I like that too - but post-production can be a slow, long process which can be a bit boring. Whereas shooting is four, five or more weeks of action where you work with creative people, there’s this communication process and I really enjoy that process, of basically getting it ‘in the can’.

I understand why some directors really like the editing process as no one can really interfere by that point.

How did you get involved in filmmaking in the first place - did you make your own 8mm films or shoot on video camcorders?

I can’t remember the reason now but when I was 10 I said I want to make movies and filmed on Super 8mm, on video and so on. I was lucky because I found Frank Lustig my partner in crime to film all sorts with.

We helped each other filming various projects, firstly on video and then later on German Fried Movie and Barshel; those were the first two real movies we did in Geneva and this all happened when we were students. He was an Eisen student and I was in Cologne.

So how have your films been received by the German market and your fellow students?

The good side was that with German Fried Movie in the German market we ran it ourselves in the theatres -we had six prints of that and we sold 40,000 tickets and we actually made money on them and then the Uva came along and bought the video rights for 25,000 Marks. And then they gave us 150,000 Marks for the next movie, Barshel, a political thriller movie. So from this point of view it was a good start, but the subsidy system, or whatever, in Germany, totally ignored us so that later I felt there was a problem.

Do you have any advice for upcoming filmmakers? Is there anything you wish you had known when you had started in the business and then learnt it the hard way?

Basically, you learn only from making movies, much more than you would from film school. But today a lot of film schools are very practical, they have equipment, you find out how to hire actors and crew, many of whom are attached to film school and acting school, so it can be easier initially if you go to film school. But I couldn’t do that because the film school wouldn’t accept me.

So my first advice would be to go to film school, definitely. I think in the beginning it is best to make a very radical and stylistic short movie rather than try to make a mediocre long movie because this is your business card basically.

Over the years you’ve gained a reputation for making movies off the back of successful video games. Do you play games and was this something you were interested in before you made the films?

Yes, of course I’ve played some games, but I had no real interest in them until I’d been offered the House of the Dead movie of the game adapted by Mark Altman from Mindfire Entertainment.

At that point I jumped into it and at that point it was basically the most successful and profitable movie franchise around and I thought, OK, maybe I should acquire more video games that I’d like to make movies out of because it will be easier to raise money for video game based movies than for normal movies, if you like.

What are the highlights of your film career so far; what achievements are you most proud of?

I would say I really like, for example, Heart of America, a drama about school violence, then I would say Postal because of its controversy and ridiculousness and my newer movies like Darfur and Rampage, and also Tunnel Rats, the Vietnam War movie. All those moves make a point also. Not only are they entertaining but they’re also relevant and based on reality.

And Rampage and Darfur are now out on DVD?

Rampage is now out on DVD in the UK with High Flyers and Darfur is out at the end of October. And Tunnel Rats is out with Metrodome.

Out of all your films I think Tunnel Rats is my favourite, followed by Rampage.

I think you will like Darfur then, it has a similar mood.

I would have to agree with some of your critics that your better movies have been the fact-based ones such as ‘Tunnel Rats’, ‘Stoic’ and ‘Heart of America’, which I much prefer to your video game adaptations.

Yep, yep... [In agreement]

Quick questions

What’s your favourite film of all time?
It changes every few years! First it was Citizen Kane, then it was A Clockwork Orange and for the last few years it’s been Apocalypse Now.

What is it about ‘Apocalypse Now’ that you particularly like?
I think the craziness of its production and it shows what movies were, that they were real adventures to shoot; I don’t think that exists anymore, it’s all so clean! You read in the production notes of today’s blockbusters ‘shooting Transformers was a big adventure’, was it hell! There’s something very intense about Apocalypse which I really like and admire.

Who’s your favourite film director?
That’s a bit problematic to answer. There are a lot of great directors out there. Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, both have done great movies, but they also did some movies I don’t care for. John Ford was great and Howard Hawks too.

I think the real big genius of all the directors was definitely Orson Wells, who never really got the chance to make the sort of movies he wanted to make with the budgets they really required.

It would have been amazing to see what he could have made if he’s been properly financed. I think he would have blown everyone away with really big stories. Steven Spielberg had made four or five really great movies, but he’s also made a few that I really hate.

I think as a director you get influenced by a lot of different directors and influenced by a lot of different movies, but it’s hard to find one director where you love everything they’re done.

I’m curious, which Spielberg movies do you hate then?
AI, for example, I hated The War of the Worlds - a good set-up, and then... disaster. It was just stupid! I don’t think I liked any of his films after Schindler’s List to be honest; I never liked Amistad. But of course Jaws and Schindler’s List were great movies; Close Encounters of the Third Kind was good and I liked E.T.

Do you have a favourite action film and action film director?
It’s hard to say - I know I hate Renny Harlin and Michael Bay! I thought Heat from Michael Mann was great, I loved that movie. This is hard - a lot of action movies are fun, such as Crank, that was good, you watch it, enjoy it and then it’s gone. They’re not really important movies; they don’t stay with you forever, but are fun to enjoy for the moment.

Do you enjoy your 1980’s Stallone and Schwarzenegger type of action films?
Yes, of course, and I really liked Tango and Cash - a great early Stallone and Kurt Russell movie. I think 25 years ago the action movies were all better than they are today. They were all done physically, without CGI. I liked True Lies and Total Recall, and Robocop was great. I think they did some really good movies at this point.

So I take it you’ll watch The Expendables at some point?
I will watch it. And I hope it’s good. All those action stars are in it and I think Stallone is a good director and I liked the new Rambo movie and the latest Rocky movie. I think his direction is good and he can tell a story well, so I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Do you have a favourite video game?
I liked Silent Hill and I also enjoyed the movie of it too.

Do you enjoy attending film festivals and do you like to watch films while attending them?
Yes, I attended one recently in Slovenia where I saw the film The life and death of the Porno Gang, which is a Serbian film. I always try to watch one or two movies when I’m at a festival to check out what other people are doing. And of course I enjoy doing that.

Did you watch A Serbian Film while you were there?
No, I wasn’t able to as it was screening today so I had to miss it. But they said they’d send me a DVD screener.

It does sound like a very harsh film...
Yes and also the Porn Gang film, which was made by his buddy; that’s a very hard movie also, where they’re shooting the snuff porn.

Do you think movies can go too far - do you think there’s any justification for stronger censorship?
I think if you make a movie with a H or 18 certificate then when you’re 18 or older you should be able to watch whatever you want. I think there should be no censorship at that level. I think if you’re able to shoot something then people should be able to watch it. So you have to decide on your own what you want to watch and what you don’t want to watch. So from this point of view I’m totally against censorship.

You get used to this stuff - I mean I’m not shocked by violence anymore, I can watch anything. But if it gets to the point where you cannot stand seeing the torture porn you’re watching anymore then don’t watch it! But I don’t have a problem with any of that and I watch it and, I guess, I watch it with different criteria - how they were able to create great gore and blood effects in the shitty $50,000 movie!

In fact your own film Seed came under quite a bit of attack because of the hammer scene...
Yes, in fact in Germany I had to cut it out to get the film on to the index. In order to buy a complete copy of the film now Germans have to get it from Austria!