Interview: Uwe Boll Talks Dungeon Siege
There’s probably no name more hated and feared when it comes to movies than Uwe Boll. The director has taken fan-favorite video game franchises like Bloodrayne and Alone in the Dark and wound up with listless film adaptations. Still, the director keeps getting the rights to big franchises and big-named actors to put in his movies. Boll chatted with us about his upcoming film In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, the problems with his previous movies (as he sees them), and even that pesky rumor about making movies that are intentionally bad in order to take advantage of German tax laws. The transcript below just doesn’t capture the weight of how Boll says some of these things, so take time to listen to this Special Edition of our Weekly Blend Audio Show as we interview Uwe Boll.
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The Weekly Blend Interviews Uwe Boll
CB: We’re talking today about your upcoming movie Dungeon Siege
Uwe Boll: Yeah
CB: Tell me a little about it.
Boll: Dungeon Siege is based on the video game Dungeon Siege, but only loosely basically, and that’s the reason we changed the title to In the Name of the King and we thought also that the movie’s size, the growth to a level where we basically had to separate this movie from the core video game based movie. It’s more an epic adventure. A lot of huge special effects and it has a great cast with eight stars: Jason Statham, Ray Liotta, Ron Perlman, Leelee Sobieski, Claire Forlani, Kristana Loken, John Rhys-Davies, Burt Reynolds, Matthew Lillard. I think it’s a big… it’s a big, nice adventure movie.
CB: That’s quite the cast you’ve managed to assemble.
Boll: Yeah, we were lucky. Basically the readers’ reports from the agencies were very positive. They really liked that script, so they pitched actors to me and then I talked to Kevin Costner for example and finally Jason Statham ended up as the male lead, and I’m really happy that we are using him basically, because he could do almost all his own stunts on his own and this was, for that movie, very helpful. He has so much stuff to do – to fight, he hangs in trees, he had to flip backwards and forwards and it would be, maybe, not the perfect part for an over-50-years-old man like Kevin Costner.
As the other guys, one came after the other, basically. I offered the part to Ron Perlman because I really love him. I think he’s a great actor and a lot of fun and his agent represents Burt Reynolds also. He said, look, Burt never played in a period piece movie. He’s maybe not what people think of fitting in a movie like this, but he really wants to do it and he has the age, he has the gray hair, he should play the king. So it ended up that we hired him to play the king.
CB: You said this is not really a direct adaptation of the video game. This time it’s more “inspired by.” What are the fans of the Dungeon Siege series going to see that they recognize versus what’s going to be new to them?
Boll: Of course, new is the basic big story that we created that this farmer has to save the whole kingdom to save his wife. What is not new is the beginning of the whole thing; that we have him getting, basically, on his farm. And then we have the crux, this kind of force coming in and killing everybody and he goes on a revenge trip. And we added in that his wife gets kidnapped and he wants his wife back, and then he has to, basically, turn into a big hero and save the whole kingdom to get his wife back. This we added in. So we have a lot of the weapons, the surroundings, the farmer, like the main setup is based on the game, but the rest we had to make up, because, in the game, it’s not a second act… it’s not a, let’s say, a follow up, on the story in any way.
CB: How does this rank as far as the other movies you’ve made. What’s your favorite move that you’ve made so far, especially of the video game adaptations, because that’s an area you’ve specifically been in a lot. What’s your favorite of those?
Boll: I think there are two movies; there are two movies standing out. One is now In the Name of the King because of the size, and it was for me so positive – that long shoot of four months went so smoothly. All the actors worked so good together and we had this great fight choreographer – Tony Ching from Hero and House of Flying Daggers. So, from this perspective definitely my favorite movie.
From the content and my personal, let’s say, result as a director of how satisfied I am with a movie, I’m definitely… I think Postal is by far my best movie. This comes up next year, later, and I think this is definitely perfectly written, perfectly made, perfectly acted, and it has impact and it’s important. It’s not only funny, it has also that second political dimension in it. What I think nails the political situation on our globe in a very funny way, and what is like the strategy in the earlier days, like Monty Python had, for example.
Yeah, I’m super-happy with Postal and In the Name of the King I’m super happy with the result. We have what we will see in the theater, will be the fastest possible version. And what other people can see in, maybe ten months later, is my director’s cut, what comes out way later, as a special DVD that is almost three hours long where you see a little more from the surrounding actors like Matthew Lillard – what is his character arc, what Burt Reynolds wants to do as a king, and so on. So, it’s a full-fleshed out epic. What I personally like a little more because I shot all that stuff and I think I had a very long but a very strong movie where you could follow all the characters; where you had no logic breaks and no story flaws because you saw it all. The theatrical version, two hours ten minutes, is more a faster version of this where you, of course, maybe on some spots you lose maybe a little character arc, you are losing from time to time. You focus more on the main plot in the shorter version basically.
CB: Gotcha. How have you changed as a director? I mean, looking at your movies, for the most part they’ve not been very big critical successes and they’ve also had some commercial problems as well. How have you adjusted your skills as a director to try and compensate for that?
Boll: I think, first of all, what is a little, like for me, what is hard, is that a lot of people recognize only my movies from House of the Dead on, and they basically refuse or overlook all of the movies I did before not based on video games, and I think a movie like Heart of America - it’s a good movie. Good drama, good writers, what I did before House of the Dead.
Second, the weak points of House of the Dead or Alone in the Dark were definitely in the script, the story development, and I think I took this into account already on Bloodrayne where also people didn’t like but some people also liked it. With hiring Guinevere Turner, the writer from American Pie to write the script. So I took that into account and tried to work with better script writers in the future. Then I got the same bad reviews on Bloodrayne even with the Turner script, that I got for Alone in the Dark and I think that a lot of people, in a way, overreacted in regards of my name. That they basically had fun to write bad things about me and wanted to be hip in writing bad things about me, like, “look, I bash Boll better [unintelligible]”
After Bloodrayne I was very disappointed and I sat down and wrote Seed and Postal parallel. Seed is a really bitter horror movie, and Postal is also bitter but it’s funny, but it’s cynical point of view in the way we live and the way the political situation is around us. Both I basically did after I shot already on In the Name of the King. You have to see where I shot In the Name of the King, Bloodrayne was not like a bomb at this time; Bloodrayne was not out in the theaters. So, after the Bloodrayne release where we didn’t even get the screens – we got only 800 screens and they were all shitty screens instead of 2000 because Lionsgate moved Hostel into the three weeks before the release date against us, and so they basically stole all the screens and we were fucked.
So, all this happened and the only good result out of all of this was I was able to sit down again after years and write two scripts in a row and then I shot Seed and Postal back to back. I’m really happy with both movies because they are very consequent and they are my movies, movies like my first movies when I always wrote my own movies. I never worked with other writers until I started doing American movies. Heart of America was also my idea. Blackwoods was my idea but we had other script writers. These two scripts, I think, were really good, and I think I made strong movies; not the biggest commercial movies, maybe, and not for a wide, wide audience, but I hope we find enough audience to look at these movies.
CB: You talked about how people don’t tend to look at your movies before you started doing the video game movies… Why do you stay focused on the video game movies? Looking at your upcoming films, about 50% of what you’re working on still are more video game adaptations. What is your fascination with that genre?
Boll: There are two fascinations. First, I think that so many books and comic books get made into movies; why don’t video games? Video games have a wide range of genres and I think I proved that in making a sci-fi movie, making a vampire period piece, making an adventure epic, making a comedy with Postal, or a zombie horror movie like House of the Dead. I want to show that range, and so I defend also, in a way video games in that they are not only primitive, horrific, like violent… obviously. There’s the one thing.
On the other hand, I’m not… like, I don’t get the money from the film studios to make my movies. I’m out there and I raise money in various countries. I have to presell the movies to various countries and convince private investors to give me money. If you say I make a movie based on a video game, it’s an easier sell. So it’s basically, you get easier investors if you say, if you go to an investor and say, “Look, I have a great thriller.” And he tells you, “Yeah, you and fifteen thousand other people.” But if you go to an investor and say, “I make a movie out of Far Cry, and Far Cry sold five million video games world wide,” then it’s definitely easier to get financing together for your movies.
CB: Since you mentioned investors… I know that there have been accusations that the way you managed to raise money was through tax laws that allowed people to make a profit off the fact that the movie bombed. Do you have any response to that?
Boll: Yeah, people should be a little more knowledged. The German tax law, and by the way, in the U.S. it’s the same tax law, but only for movies under fifteen million, so you can… I’ll give you an example: you have a German guy who makes $200,000 in a year. You would pay fifty percent of the taxes, like $100,000 would be what he would pay in taxes to the Government. So if he would invest, then, $200,000 in a movie, he would pay no taxes. But… and this is the reason why people writing on the internet, that the people don’t want the money – that they lose the money. But this is completely bullshit. The reality is that what this investor wants, is they want that tax loss in the year they’re investing their money, because they don’t want to pay that fifty percent to the government. They prefer to pay it to a filmmaker and so they face the facts that the real investment is all in the other 50% of the money. But what shows you also, is that he has to recoup more than 50% on his money to be at least a little happy. And so the whole thing that was written on the internet, that the investors want the movie to tank, has nothing to do with the reality.
There’s like 110 funds in Germany… 110 funds raised money from investors in Germany, and half of my funds are in the top ten performers. So, this is the reason I raise more and more money and could make bigger movies. And now, with the tax laws changed, the situation is over since 2005, you cannot write it off anymore. All the funds that financed Wicker Man, The Black Dahlia, Rush Hour, Mission: Impossible, The Lord of the Rings… it’s all cash flow from German funds. They all got destroyed by the tax government. They like retroactively lost their taxes, because they were not the real producers of those movies and actually Peter Jackson had no clue that his movie was financed with German money. So they lost the tax advantages and they didn’t pay money back to the investors because they got screwed over by Hollywood companies. If you invested in The Lord of the Rings, you got (today) back eight percent of your money. This is the result of The Lord of the Rings for the people who actually paid for the movie because New Line is accounting like this. This shows the whole Hollywood system.
What I did – and this is the reason I always have this crazy… like, if you read on the internet, “Boll is not getting any distribution when even Bloodrayne was [unintelligible]. Yeah – you know why? Because I try to make money back. And not trying to sign a contract with Fox and then I can make a great press release – Great! Look, my movie’s sold to Fox and then they screw me over and I get no money anymore. So, this is what the difference is between my real life and what people write about me and what the reality of the industry is, where the people have no real insider knowledge. And, I take back, like 130% of House of the Dead and the guy is getting the 100% tax loss.
Alone in the Dark was like almost $20 million to do, with $5.6 box office – “what a disaster for everybody.” Yeah, but if I get from the $5.6 million, 50% and I get back $8 per DVD and then there were 1.2 million DVDs of Alone in the Dark that sold, and we got $2.2 million from Showtime, and I have 80 other territories where the movie was running, where I get a gross window from first dollar… yeah this makes sense, and it’s maybe more believable that the movie overall was not a big hit for the investors – the same for Bloodrayne - but it was also not a disaster. And this is what was the first time in this interview where I can actually explain in detail what the reality of this kind of stuff is.
CB: Well, thank you for the explanation. Last question because I know you’ve got to get going. Do you have any thoughts or plans of maybe moving into the video game area and maybe producing something within the video game realm and telling your story through a video game as opposed to making a video game adaptation.
Boll: Actually, we did that. I shot the movie, and it’s not finished now, 1968 Tunnel Rats, about the Vietnam war, the tunnels of Cu Chi, and we play in Hamburg… late actually the game, an Xbox 360 version and a PC version, right now. So we turned it around, that I make first the movie and a game company basically joined forces and made something based on my movie.
CB: Well, thank you for your time and good luck with In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale and that comes out when?
Boll: January 11th
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