The Den Of Geek interview: Uwe Boll

The director who always comes out fighting - sometimes literally - chats with us about Postal and more…

When did you first become aware of Postal, and what was your reaction when you first saw the game?Well, the reality is that the Postal fan club contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in making a movie of the game. I was not familiar with the game; I had no idea what it was, so I read all the stuff on the internet first. Then I contacted Vince Desi [A head-honcho at Running With Scissors, the developers of the game] and he sent me some stuff: the Postal ‘Fudge Pack’, I think it was… So I played it on the PC and I felt ‘this game is not a great game, but it’s absolutely hilarious’.

It’s a really rebellious game, and I loved it because it is soooo politically incorrect: and I saw in it, as a film-maker, the chance to make the first comedy based on computer game. They are normally horror, sci-fi, action, adventure – and this was one of the only opportunities to make a comedy.

At the same time I was disappointed with the Bloodrayne results, and I felt like it was time for me as a filmmaker to go back to my earlier days, when I wrote the scripts – and Postal was a chance to do this; to go back to my roots – which started with German Fried Movie, also a comedy, that I did in 1991. For me, Postal was a big opportunity to go back to that dark, black humour.

So did you turn to Bryan Knight at this point to help formulate a script? How did the process of taking the ideas from the game to the screen work?Well first, I got a full treatment from the fanclub, with tons of ideas. I used ideas from that treatment, and some of them got credits in the final film because they came up with some great ideas after playing the game backwards and forwards in all its different variations. Then I wrote a full script; but I’m German, right? So I found it hard to write the English dialogue. I thought I had a good script and good ideas, but some of the dialogue was not good enough. So I have Bryan, who is my first Assistant Director on a lot of movies; we have a very close working relationship – and he’s also a writer and has directed episodes of Smallville, the TV show. So he sat down with the script and polished a lot of the dialogue and came up with two or three new scenes too – but he made the script definitely better.

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Did you feel an affinity with the guys from Running With Scissors, inasmuch as they seem – like you – to be fairly maverick characters?In the start, our relationship was problematic. Because Vince Desi and Steve Wik were both totally against the comedy approach; they even wrote their own script. I sent my script of to those guys, and what I got back from them was a totally different script. They said, ‘look, we want a movie that’s more like Taxi Driver’; a dark, rampage thing, basically.

So you had to convince them that it had to be funny?I had to tell them “you can’t make a serious movie out of a game where you can use a cat as a silencer for your gun. I will not work It’s better to make it really funny… My movie will be bloody, it will be super-over-the-top with the sex and crude language and everything – you will get everything you want, but I think that we can be more scandalous if we make it was a comedy. And, we can go way further than we could go with a normal film, in a way.”

If they’d have insisted on the darker route, would you have walked away from the film? Because you’ve said before that one of the problems with your earlier video game movies is that they are too dark.Well, House Of The Dead was unintentionally funny, it is so silly it’s funny or cheesy. But some of the other movies were too serious: like Bloodrayne or Alone In The Dark, they are bloody and dark. I still like the movies, but – for me – Postal is the best movie I did. And I’m totally in support of Postal: even if it’s not turning out as a big US box office hit, I still think that Postal is the best developed movie I’ve done. I’m very happy with the movie; I get e-mails every day saying ‘I just saw Postal, and it’s absolutely hilarious – and I hated all your other movies’. These are the typical e-mails I get.

With Postal I got exactly what I was trying to do. And, by the way, Desi and Wicks loved the movie: they came to the set, and played themselves – from the moment they saw it being made I think they got it more and more what my intention was with the movie.  

So you’re happier with the way they’ve backed the movie than you have been with some of the other software companies you’ve worked with?Vince and RWS were the only software company, from all my adaptations, who were really into, have got behind it and promoted the shit out of the movie. They really see the synergy between game sales and DVD sales of the movie. They’re really working with everybody and they’re eager to do stuff; basically this is what I hoped for from Sega, Atari or Microsoft with Dungeon Siege but they didn’t care. It was like ‘okay, we sold the licence, so let’s make some money from it and hopefully sell a few more games’ but they don’t do anything with it. The most you’ll get from these guys after you’ve made them a movie is a couple of hundred free games to give away as promo prizes.

You’ve mentioned Monty Python quite a lot as an inspiration for Postal, I take it you mean life of Brian…?Yeah…

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I take it that relates to the comedy within religious fanaticism; was that an early marker for the film, or something that struck you during the development?The thing is, Monty Python was so ruthless. Yet, if you watch a film like Jabberwocky they also have loads of stupid gags in it too – or, in Meaning of Life, it can be quite dirty and sexual. What I like about Monty Python is the political incorrectness, yet at the same time you have the same humour as you would get in Naked Gun, or that type of movie. Yet they were never un-political, there was always another level to their humour that you didn’t get in Hollywood movies.

Naked Gun , or Airplane or any of the spoofs you see, they are often completely un-political; the Python movies were Anarchistic. This is what makes me laugh about Postal, especially in these super-politically-correct times.

Twenty years ago, or ten years ago I think Postal would still have been a funny movie – but it wouldn’t have been so important. I firmly feel now that, as dirty as it is, Postal is a very important movie because it has been made in a time when everyone is trying to be serious, or politically correct. They’re all pussies when it comes to religion, or war or peace and military concerns. I’m following the US elections quite intensely, and the image US politics projects about the army – for an educated, intelligent intellectual from European – it’s an insult. For us, the Army is like ‘okay, you have to have an Army’, but it’s nothing to be proud of. We don’t think ‘we want to go away from Iraq with a victory, we can’t have our Army to suffer another defeat’; this is all complete bullshit. All that stuff that happened in the last eight years, the war in Iraq that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, the whole Bush stupidity, all this kind of frustration and also hate. The point of Postal is to blow it all away. You get ‘oh, you have to be careful because of he’s a muslim’ or ‘you have to be careful because he’s an ultra-Christian kinda guy’; no, I don’t want to be careful. For me these people are all stupid idiots. This is the thing: I don’t want to be ‘safe’ around these people, I want to kick them all in the balls.

So it’s a fairly unilateral ‘Fuck You’, then?Ya! (Laughs)

How do you feel about the way the movie was treated in the US, in terms of distribution?It was a disaster. I’m absolutely still pissed about it. For me, it was kind of an insult; and it shows that there is political censorship in the money-driven aspects of distribution. They didn’t like the movie because of the political content, so they tried everything they could not to book it, not to show the trailer, everything. The whole development of the thing was interesting; initially they said ‘if Speed Racer tanks, we’ll have screens for you’… [there’s a long comedic silence, then we both laugh]

So Speed Racer tanks in a bigger way than even they could imagine, and they still didn’t give me any screens.

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So you’re saying, they were using economics to get around explicitly telling you they didn’t like the content of your movie?Yeah…

That’s Cultural Imperialism then isn’t it, they’re controlling you with finance, but they can still stand up and say ‘we’re the land of the free’ . Absolutely. This is the thing: whatever the majors come up with, they’ll show. If Fox’d released Postal, they’d have shown it – Borat got released, or whatever. If it comes from an independent, they’re already sceptical about the movie and they’ll find any excuse they can not to give it a shot.

Do you think Postal could’ve had a wider release if it was animated, could you have gotten away with more going the South Park route? South Park is a phenomenon, if it hadn’t have developed the way it did, I don’t think anyone would show South Park. They’d have all the excuses: ‘the animation is not good enough’, ‘it’s just too dirty’, but because it developed slowly, and nobody took it seriously in the beginning, it became a cult hit, and now they can’t get rid of it, basically.

I love Team America, and the South Park guys loved Postal: we got an e-mail from them saying we could use South Park as a promotional tool, so we could put ‘Live Action South Park’ on the posters.

This was one of the rare positive things where famous people, or bigger shots in the industry supported Postal. So I hope it makes its way around on DVD, and people see it and talk about it; I hope it is a DVD sleeper hit.

Do you think Postal stands away from the source material more than some of your other adaptations do? Yeah, we used the trailer park set up with him and Bitch; we used a lot from the video game, but we used it to set up an interesting, absurd story. This was a failure in some of the other videogame-based movies I did, like Alone in the Dark: we used a lot of stuff from the video game but we didn’t develop a really good story. Alone in the Dark was a well made action movie, with good stuff from Christian Slater and Stephen Dorff in it. It is not good enough story-wise to keep you on the edge of your seat and excited about the movie; it’s pretty much what you expected and nothing more.

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Bloodrayne has a better story than Alone in the Dark, it is more consequent, more gory, there is more sex: it’s more a classical vampire movie. In The Name Of The King has almost nothing to do with the video game Dungeon Siege, but it’s a good story… But there was nothing for me to work with in the game.

The truth is that I wanted to make a fantasy movie, and I tried to get World Of Warcraft, but I didn’t get it. So, Dungeon Siege was my second – or maybe my third – choice for making this genre of movie, and for me it was more like having an excuse. I needed a video game base to get that movie financed so I need Dungeon Siege to make the movie happen, but then we developed something completely separate from the game: apart from the fact that at the beginning a village gets robbed.

You seem a lot more positive the development of your new videogame adaptation, Far-Cry. Certainly in the interviews I’ve seen. Far Cry was, after quite a long break, the first action genre movie I did after some quite personal movies. Postal, Seed and Tunnel Rats, my Vietnam war movie, were all very personal – and I’m really totally emotionally involved. Far Cry is an action movie that is fun to watch, but there’s no extra dimension or political message in Far Cry. I had two things that made it fun to work on: firstly, I learnt from the mistakes of my other movies. I couldn’t afford another Tara Reid in this movie, okay. And, I think the story of Far Cry, and the character of Jack Carver, is just a great set-up. So we could really use what we had from the game and we could follow the game story very closely. These things made me believe in the project, and very happy with the end result.

Was it good to work with German actors again, who you’d worked with before? Well, Til Schweiger who plays the lead is better known for romantic comedies in Germany, but internationally he’s played supporting parts in Replacement Killers, Lara Croft and King Arthur; so I knew he was very good physically. He can kick ass, and he’s good with weapons – he was actually a German army sniper. So, I felt very confident about working with him. It was a blast to make the movie: and I was very lucky to get Scott Ateah, the Stunt Director [and Second Unit Director] – who’s done I, Robot and tons of A-list major $100m movies – who pulled off great boat chases and car chases. It’s more a straightforward action; Die Hard, with humour, on an island!

I was happy during the shoot, and I’m happy with the results. It was a movie that was fun to make and is fun to watch.

You seem like you’d be quite an open and fun director to work with – and that you’d work quite quickly. Is that snappy pace in your character, or do you have to curtail some more perfectionist instincts to get the jobs done on budget?I think actors always have fun with me. We do work quite quickly, shooting with multiple cameras and such. I don’t need 60 days to make a movie; a normal studio movie that would take 60 to 80 days, we’d do in 30 or 40. I think, for the actors, that is actually very positive; they seem to hate it when everything takes to long, and they have to wait – and we’re shooting about half-a-minute a day. They don’t want that, they want it to move.

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I’m also open to actor ideas, especially when it comes to dialogue; I like it when they really feel that they can bring what they think is their best take, and then we do what is written in the script. I don’t do the dictator thing on the set. It’s always open and fun.

Were Stoic and Tunnel Rats as improvised as reports say; did you really just let the actors do their thing?With Tunnel Rats the key was to get the actors, the young 20-year old actors, to dive into a Vietnam War mood; ‘How can we do this..?’

Well, you can’t read the script; you can’t learn that from the lines. So, I put everybody in a boot camp in South Africa, with South African mercenaries, and they spent 10 days with those guys. And I told them, ‘in those 10 days you find your character. You’ve been drafted into the Vietnam War, so you’re not there because you wanted to be there – you had to go there. So now, you develop over these 10 hard days in the camp, what you are about, where you come from, about your family and what you will do. I want you to really be this person.’

For the young actors I think this worked very well, and it is more believable than them learning a script and reading some lines.

Were these two films more single-finger salutes to people who criticise your film-making ability? With Postal, Seed and Tunnel Rats I made three movies that were so different that I proved to myself that I can go back to where I started – to a time when I had to do everything on my own, or with my partner Frank Lustig on my first movies, where we did the lighting and sometimes worked the camera. It’s not like what the internet, or everyone believes I am; ‘the guy who used the tax system’, and that I do it for the money. I felt so wrongly judged, in a way, that for me it was important for me to get back to where I started from.

I would make movies if they would make no money; and before I was 34 I made NO money from movies at all. So, there’s a different brain behind it all, compared to what some people think about me.

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These movies speak for themselves. People should watch Postal, Tunnel Rats and the Far Cry to compare, and if they still think I’m an idiot – or just a very bad filmmaker – okay, that’s their opinion, but I hope a lot of people will give them a fair chance, and realise there’s a lot more in me than a lot of people believe.

You sound like you have a couple of other interesting projects on the horizon; Janjaweed [covering the massacres in Darfur, Sudan] looks especially interesting. Is that going to happen? Janjaweed will happen in February, in South Africa.

Will that be in the same guerrilla style as Tunnel Rats? I will work with [producer] Chris Rowland on this; the story is of a few journalists, travelling with the African Union in Darfur, get involved in an attack from the Janjaweed militia, and they have to decide what they want to do – do they want to help, or just go away and report about it? So it’s a big decision; should we risk helping the town and getting ourselves killed, or should we just walk away and write up another massacre? A few will go back, some will die… But what I want there, is for the actors to develop their own emotional situation – I want to find something of what is true. I don’t want a character to go back and be a hero if the actor doesn’t feel it: so these guys must make up their own dialogue. In the end I think it will be a better movie if we have real method actors doing something. You could not shoot a movie like Far Cry doing this, or Postal – a comedy – but you can do it with movies like Tunnel Rats, or the prison movie I did, Stoic.

That was four guys in prison, based on fact. It happened in a German jail: four guys basically raped and tortured a guy ‘til he hung himself. With that, the actors basically lived and slept in the cell, instead of a hotel, and basically lived their characters. [The actors] Edward Furlong and Sam Levinson were really into this, they really pulled it off, it was so believable; there is not one line in that film that was written in advance, they only had what they had to do. I mean, it was proven that the [real-life victim of the story] guy had been made to eat his own poo, and then what he threw up; it was a really, really harsh movie. So what we did was tell the actors that he’s going to throw up on the ground, and then he’s got to lick it off the ground. I told the other three guys that I won’t stop the camera until he eats it, and that is it; you have to make him eat it. So what happens, his tears, whatever, are true.

You have to have the right actors for this, actors who will go for it. People must know what they are going into, and then we find something that is more interesting than a staged movie.

Do you find that actors are surprised by the level of intensity you bought to that project, and Tunnel Rats? Do they expect something very different from you? Yeah, it is not so easy. It takes a long while to get people on track. For Ed Furlong, it was hard doing Stoic, for the first couple of rehearsal days he didn’t get into it. But then, when we got into the cell, and he slept in there, he began to get into it. Then, when we shot it, it was almost like a stage play; you could’ve shot that whole movie in one day, they were so into it. You couldn’t make a mistake with you lines if you are totally in your character, if you say it how you feel it.

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We did interrogations, with the three survivors, with the three guys who ‘did’ it. Each of these was three hours long, I was the interrogator – I’m not in the movie, you only hear their replies. They were staged like real police interviews, an we filmed it all, like three hours each, and I don’t think there was one moment where you didn’t believe a line, where you don’t believe what they say. It was sooo intense. It was really good. If you imagine, this interrogation alone would be like 200 pages of script. You could never write that, but you get so much more if the actors are really in their characters than you would when you work with a script.

Uwe Boll, thank you very much!

Postal is out now on DVD

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