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Hollywood often complains about box office slumps. They blame piracy, they blame DVD sales, they blame anyone and anything but themselves. You see Hollywood’s a bit like North Korea, if they ever admitted that the regime they run was flawed and oppressive the people at the top of the tower would come crashing down. So, like any good regime, they choose to blame their failures on the peasants for either not submitting a big enough offering or stealing from the state. The savvier public, however, blame an endless onslaught of mediocre, hollow projects that are touted as remakes, sequels, prequels, re-imaginings, reinventions or video game adaptations. To me that’s just a whole lot of different ways for marketing people to say “lazy recycled crap” but I digress.
But ask yourself this; what if you discovered a miraculous way to make a profit from making these bad movies? An ingenious way to guarantee that if your movie flops, you’ll actually make money. Wouldn’t a box office slump be the perfect climate for you; slipping your bad movies into a world where blockbusters are failing weekly? If it flops, the studios will blame the ticket buyers for not buying or the “illegal” downloaders for stealing instead of you for intentionally sucking. Meanwhile, you sit back safe and secure in the knowledge that while your project drops out of the 300 theatres it was showing in after 2 weeks, it is actually making you a mint. Sound unlikely?
Not as unlikely as you’d think... especially if you’re name is Uwe Boll.
You Too Can Turn Water Into Wine
Hollywood has a long history of sourcing international investors for projects. Often you will find that filming in a certain country offers incentives and tax breaks not offered in the US. Usually though, you’ll find that in order to be entitled to them, you have to meet certain conditions, for example filming in that particular country and/or employing a certain percentage of native workers as your film crew. Germany has these incentives but, crucially, no such restrictive requirements put upon them. Germans can fund your movie and you can make it wherever and however you like.
But crucially, the bizarre tax laws in Germany mean that any wealthy Germans who invest in a movie can write-off the production cost, delay paying their taxes and generally reduce their tax burden. When you disseminate all the boring legal business law surrounding it the bottom line is this – the German investors in a movie only pay tax on any RETURNS the movie makes, their investment is 100% deductible, so the minute the movie makes a profit, said investor has to start paying tax. Plus the investors can actually borrow money to put towards investment and write that off too. Assuming you’re a sharp enough businessman you have a potential goldmine in the making; a way to make money from investing in bad movies...
Enter a German by the name of Dr. Uwe Boll. (Pronounced “Ooo-vay Bowl” in case you’ve ever lain alone at night and wondered. I know I have.)
A Boll KG Production
“A Boll KG Production”. The opening title card that strikes fear into all but the most mentally challenged critics. “Director” Uwe Boll has carved himself quite a niche market since his feature debut with 2003’s House of the Dead, as any self-respecting follower of the movie industry well knows.
Up until the infamous adaptation of Sega’s shoot-em-up, Boll had quietly churned out a couple of no-budget drama/thrillers direct to cable or video and nobody was any the wiser to his existence except maybe the couple of lonely Goths who stayed up and caught his movies on late-night cable by accident. But during this time, deep within the head of the wily German, the first cogs of a devious plan were turning… These were just his training grounds, his twisted equivalent of the Rocky or Karate Kid training montage scenes building to the climactic showdown. The knowledge he gained here would allow him to pass himself off as a genuine director in the naïve circles of the Hollywood Z-list while exploiting his homeland’s overzealous generosity.
When it arrived, House of the Dead turned out to be a painful exercise in bad film-making. I watched it once, and to this day have never had the urge to return to it, safe in the knowledge that with every passing day I remember it a little less clearly. I thought nothing as bad as this could ever be made with a straight face post MST3K. Oh, how wrong I was, so very, very wrong.
Boll then managed to get a distribution deal and some actors people had actually heard of for his second video-game adaptation, Alone in the Dark. Perversely, his sophomore theatrical movie was even more haphazardly made and definitely more nonsensical. What the hell was going on here? A normal Hollywood newbie who inflicted a flop of House of the Dead proportions on the world would, as the saying goes, “never work in this town again.” So how did Boll get a second feature released that was worse than it’s predecessor and then still get away with rushing a third video game adaptation into production? At the time, none of it made sense.
There have, of course, been a handful of misguided apologists out there, proclaiming Boll as some kind of modern-day Ed Wood. This idea to me, in light of the revelations that prompted this article, is an insult to the tragic and troubled Mr Wood. You see there is a fundamental difference here. Ed Wood loved movies. He just had no skill for making them. He loved movies so much that he ended up destroying his life trying to realise his dream. He wasn’t really in it for the money, or the fame and fortune. He just wanted to make great movies and truly believed in his work.
This is the total antithesis of the Boll ethic. Boll’s movies aren’t being made out of a love for cinema. They are a shallow exercise in money-making greed and exploitation. Rich Germans getting richer by exploiting the stupidity of the Hollywood system and the naivety of critics like us, who never thought to question the true motives of why these horrible, horrible movies existed. Pure and unfiltered 21st century capitalism. Of course having such an exalted cult icon like Wood in Hollywood’s history has only made it easier for Boll to pull off his scam, because for every 1000 people who called a spade a spade while watching a Boll movie, there was always one using Wood’s existence to justify Boll’s work, thus creating a faux-cult around the man. It’s the kind of lemming logic that no matter how many times someone might say “Tom Cruise is Looney Tunes and Scientology is a silly cult” there will still be people who won’t listen and follow the leader off that cliff into ignorant misguided space-alien worship just to be different.
The truth of it all is that Boll’s entire shtick is in essence, a sham. He’s not a bad director under the true definition. He just isn’t a director period. He’s only bad because he has no intention of trying to direct a coherent movie, let alone be good. All he needs is 90 minutes of celluloid and a good sales pitch for his investors. He’s not flying in the face of adversity Ed Wood style; he’s rubbing his palms at the awfulness of the dailies, thinking of how much money his fingers-on-chalkboard scenes will make in tax rebates.
The same goes with his interviews. I firmly believe that every comment he makes is intentional baiting, he’s luring internet critics into berating him by comparing himself to legendary directors. Maybe even his broken grasp of English, is not what we had all believed to be - the rantings of a deluded egocentric lunatic wannabe. It is, in fact a carefully managed show, a performance with one purpose and one purpose only; to ensure the maximum amount of negative publicity possible for his project because Boll knows fine and well, the worse his movie does, the better return he will get from his tax break. The man can’t be this stupid, he does after all, have a doctorate.
Why movie game licences? Simple, a hell of a lot of them are cheap and with most of them, the game publishers don’t care what happens. There isn’t a big, genuine market for video game adaptations so most companies will take what they can get if a cheque is waved their way. The only two companies we’ve seen be aggressively defensive of their licence are Rockstar over Grand Theft Auto and Bungie over Halo.
So what have we got then in Uwe Boll? There is no ego-maniac here. There is no rabid talentless hack. What’s there is a brilliant, master businessman who has the entire movie-making support system by the balls and isn’t afraid to yank them. We’ve all fallen for his con and now we’re in too deep to go back.
I put up my hands. I am not claiming to have seen through the scam that is Uwe Boll’s career from the beginning (though no doubt many people from various other sources/sites will start claiming they knew all along the more and more this situation comes out into the open). When I saw House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark, though I like others, questioned how he was managing to pull together better casts and bigger budgets, I simply assumed it was some kind of anomalous rift in time/space or something. I truly believed he was some arrogant hack who was into hypnotising Hollywood players. Maybe he still is, after all we still haven’t explained how he’s getting people like Ben Kingsley in his movies. But sadly, it seems to me that the truth about his motives is darker and more cynical than anyone would have believed.
Never Mind The Boll-ocks
To help you better understand, I’ve picked some of Uwe’s classic interview moments and broken down what’s really going on with the wacky world of Boll. Who better to explain his scam than the man himself?
QUESTION: There was a very nasty fan backlash surrounding the movie upon its release. How angry are you at the ignorance shown by these people who have no idea how hard it is to make a movie?
UWE: I was angry because some "journalists" have no idea how complicated it is for example to make a MATRIX shot with 300 cameras. They tried to blame me for my perfect handling of complicated techniques.
Wait… they blamed you for your perfect handling? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Or at least a badly worded compliment? Blind us with that science Uwe. But what better way to turn critics against your next project than to broadly insult them all while complimenting yourself. Negative publicity is the best kind when you want your movie to fail.
QUESTION: If you can get the rights to Hitman, do you think that could be your next project?
UWE: Yeah, it could be. But it depends on how fast they are reacting. If they wait three or four months, then we are already in preparation for the next movie… This depends on Eidos. I know that [the developer] would sell it to me, he told me he would give it to me, because the thing with Tomb Raider [it] was not the best experience in general."
They need to react fast, you see, because Boll needs to churn out as many movies as he can before the tax loophole closes. No time to wait around doing pesky things like negotiating for a project you’re really impassioned about as a director when the clocks ticking on your career, eh buddy?
QUESTION: Let's talk about your movies. BloodRayne is being released this fall, and you have four other video game-based movies in the works. Do you plan to push ahead with all of these projects.
UWE: Absolutely. We're working on Dungeon Siege right now, and we have a great script for Far Cry done already and we're hoping to go into production next year. We're looking for the star right now. I'm sure we'll get a big star … I'm hoping for The Rock.
Fear Effect needs a little more time. We are not quite sure what direction we're going to develop it in. EIDOS just released news of Fear Effect 3 and I've been trying to get them to tell me about the story because I'd like to know the game's story before having a screenplay written.
Then we have Hunter: The Reckoning, where we already have a very, very good script. But I have Mike Tinney from White Wolf (the company that created the Hunter: The Reckoning franchise) rewriting it right now because I told him I want to have a little more in the horror direction. And who else could do it better than the owner and developer of the game?
You think it’s strange he’s always got at least four game licences on the back-burner? It’s only because if one falls through he can rush into production on the next. That damn tax law review creeping up again.
QUESTION: The world seems to still be waiting for its first truly successful, critically acclaimed video game-based film. Has Hollywood given up on the idea that game licences can be converted to profitable film franchises? Do you still make a point of promoting your movies based on the fact that the source material is a video game?
UWE: My movie House of the Dead made a lot of money worldwide because it's based on the video game, because everyone wanted to see the zombie movie based on the game.
House of the Dead cost $22,000,000 including marketing costs. It’s worldwide gross was $13,818,181. That’s a LOSS of $9,000,000 by my calculator. Alone in the Dark cost approx $32,000,000 including marketing costs. To date its worldwide gross is $6,040,827. That is an even more impressive LOSS of $26,000,000. Simple case of misunderstanding, I guess what Uwe meant was “My tax-break movie made ME a lot of money because it tanked.”
QUESTION: Why do you use choose to shoot many films in Vancouver?
UWE: Good locations and crew. Labour tax rebates.
Straight from the horses mouth folks. Can’t argue with that.
Slaying the Beast?
So where do we go from here?
There is a massive outcry in Germany right now over this ridiculous tax law and steps are being taken to try and close the loophole Boll and others are exploiting, some time in 2006. What will this mean? Well in short, hopefully it will mean that investors will no longer see rebates from failed investments and a separation of the concept of a movie investment and an “intangible asset”. Making flop movies will no longer be the easy-money scam it once was and movies that fail will mean investments that fail and those who were involved actually lose the money they put in instead of making more.
The other end result though seems to be that Uwe will be exposed for the con-man that he is and will be forced to slink back to Germany and actually start doing some honest work to make his money. Until then, we find ourselves caught in a horrible dichotomy - Continue to pour hate and scorn upon his movies, and we’re making him money and giving him more projects in the process. Or we can support his movies and give the misguided impression to dumb executives that this Boll kid has got some directing chops.
What to do, what to do?
Maybe I’m wrong and way off base with what I’ve said here. Maybe once the loophole closes, Boll will continue to make loss-making movies and will continue to get bigger budgets and bigger casts in spite of himself. If that does happen though I’m packing up my DVD collection and heading for the hills because it really would be a sign that something is far far too wrong with the world and that the worst is yet to come.
For the moment, the best we can do is to spread the good word about Boll’s scam. Boycott his work in screening, review, interview or any other form. Studios like Lions Gate need to stop picking up his projects for distribution. Stonewalling the evil little man is the only way to effectively convey the message that this cynical exploitation of a system already in crisis and beginning to feel the first pangs of lack of public confidence will not be tolerated. He should take his Super 8 and his tax forms back to Wermelskirchen where they belong.
There is another war with Germany brewing and it’s one Hollywood can’t afford to lose.
Sources – Skewed and Reviewed, Wikipedia, Columbia Business School, Box Office Mojo, IGN, Globetechnology, Horror Asylum, Insomniacmania
Stuart Wood reviews House of the Dead long before he discovered The Truth About Boll. Rafe Telsch reviews Alone in the Dark long before he discovered The Truth About Boll.