From the Vault: Uwe Boll Interview

This is the fourth in a series where I try to do something constructive with the pages and pages of interview material that doesn’t make it into the book or magazine for which it was conducted.

In which the controversial director explains his preference for reality-based horror, and discusses The Bailout, a Falling Down-style movie that does what the West has failed to do — punish the bigwig bankers who destroyed our economy.

I had the opportunity to interview controversial German director Uwe Boll for the current issue of Rue Morgue (RM 122) and, as usual, only used a very small part of that talk for the piece. After reading so many skewerings of his work over the years, I must admit that I was impressed to find the man to be a lot shrewder than he’s ever been given credit for. But of course, you be the judge…

[Note: Though Boll’s English is good enough to be understood when spoken, it can be a bit confusing in print. I cleaned up some of the following for the sake of clarity, but have tried to preserve his voice as best I could.]

Was Darfur (aka Attack on Darfur) a turning point for you in terms of the types of movies you want to make from now on?

Uwe Boll: No. To be honest, the turning point for me was Postal. When I started going back to basically where I came from and started writing my own stuff, this is what I did in earlier years. And with Postal and Seed I started that progress. But I think with Darfur and Rampage, and also Stoic, as a director I think I progressed enormously and delivered something maybe that was surprising for a lot of people, and from my point of view, very strong.

Were Darfur, Auschwitz and Basement (Boll’s segment in the forthcoming anthology film The Profane Exhibit) a sort of loose trilogy — movies meant to move away from fantasy horror toward the more real-world variety?

Yeah, it’s definitely stuff that’s based on reality and I think Stoic, the jail movie I did – it was buried on DVD but I hope it’s on Netflix or something – I think it’s also a very strong movie on a real prison case that happened in Germany 5 years ago. But Auschwitz and Darfur definitely have the same subject matter, genocide. I did Darfur  before Auschwitz, to question how it’s possible that stuff like this can happen again. Did we learn from history or not? In regards of Auschwitz, because there is a documentary part in the beginning and the end where you actually see what the school kids are knowing about it in today’s time. And it’s kind of shocking to see their knowledge is zero and they have no clue what it is. Or they know what it is from like the highest school you can go to. So yeah, it’s to show what is human nature and to find out what humans are capable of doing, and at the same time what can we do to let the beast out basically.

And the Basement movie – I was fascinated by that case in Austria, the Fritzl case, who actually had his daughter in the basement for 20 years and made two kids with her – one kid died and the other kid actually was living also in the basement, and upstairs he had his wife and another kid! And they were all acting like everything is good. I thought [in The Profane Exhibit]where 13 movies are compiled to one longer movie, I think there was a great opportunity to make just one day of that Fritzl guy basically as an example, so we don’t have the time for the whole story, but we have the time to show that one crazy absurdity. We moved it to America, it’s not [set in] Austria. I think we in a way were accurate about how to tell the story but because Clint Howard plays the lead, we said it plays in America. And I don’t need a lawsuit with the Fritzl guy who’s now in jail and his daughter who actually, I think, tries to make some money out of her story right now. So that’s the reason to do it just loosely based on this.

Of course Auschwitz is a day-in-the-life movie as well.

And Darfur also. Darfur plays in one day in a way.

These are movies that strip away the narrative storytelling to just show what’s behind the headlines of the day.

I agree. Auschwitz is definitely the movie, compared to Darfur, which is absolutely not entertaining at all. It’s very harsh but it grips you and it makes you upset and emotional. In Auschwitz I think the opposite almost happens. because it is so cold without any actors, you just follow the people from the train into the oven. In a way its also the shocking part, but I didn’t want it that you get any connection to anybody. Not to the German guards and not to the victims who get killed in the gas chamber. To just see the manufacturing of this kind of craziness, under what circumstances for years this kind of killing, like a meat plant, could happen. I think this is the very interesting thing in the Auschwitz movie, that it’s totally anti-commercial, it doesn’t try to tell a story about a hero who tries to survive or whatever because it’s just true. Of course there were some heroes and everybody tried to survive, but if you actually see what happened, there is no chance. There was just no chance. It’s kind of unfair to all the people that died in Auschwitz to show only those kind of crazy stories about the survivors because it was not on you. Fifty percent of the people who came to Auschwitz were dead the same day. And you see some movies like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas or something and it’s completely idiotic, and this stuff gets nominated for an Oscar, which makes it doubly idiotic. It shows the people who nominate the movies, they don’t know anything about history.

You say Auschwitz was “noncommercial.” So you put up the money yourself to make it?

Yes, absolutely.

So you can shoot whatever you want.

Yeah I know, but I’m not a super rich guy. This was the whole point to do it after BloodRayne III, [that was set] in the Second World War, so I had the costumes, I had the equipment, I had the crew. And to say look we just do that Auschwitz experiment after the normal shoot was, I think, a good thing to do. Otherwise I would never be financially able to pull off a movie like this.

Did you also use the same uniforms and sets for Blubberella as well?

Yeah, I used the BloodRayne stuff. it’s all from Croatia where we shot all real Second World War stuff. Nothing was made like in the Tom Cruise movie [Valkyrie] where they all made the costumes; we basically used real uniforms from the Second World War. There’s the thing. I shot BloodRayne III and Blubberella parallel, and then when that shoot was done I shot Auschwitz completely separate with completely different actors and completely different extras in everything.

Sounds like you’ve found a way to do “one for them and one for me” at the same time.

Absolutely. I was able to finance the BloodRayne movie so I had the chance here to basically do this. And for me, my whole crew didn’t want to do it. They said they were not looking forward to shooting this movie, especially the gas chamber, and they tried to convince me not to do it and said why do you want to do this? This is ridiculous. I said to be honest I really want to do it.

Was it because of the extra work or because of the subject matter that they objected?

It was the subject matter. They were really concerned that the movie makes no sense to do, but the opposite happened. When we actually shot it and then the whole crew said later we’re so happy you did that movie when they saw the finished movie. The first teaser that came out of course made a lot of negative response, but for me it was to make a point with that teaser – to shock the people and say look, this is what it looks like.

If it hadn’t been you in the teaser, it might’ve gotten a different response.

I know, but I’m by accident in that movie because the people we had were just not able to make sure that everybody got naked into the gas chamber. We had various tries with the other guys we hired to play the SS guards and they let people in the gas chamber with like bras on and underwear. And I was flipping out saying it’s just not working – I will be the guard and make sure everybody’s naked, otherwise I will make them naked. This is the reason why I’m in the movie. Of course I’m also in the trailer which was for a lot of people – later the people who actually saw the movie said no, it’s actually good this movie exists. I gave an interview to a guy from UK two days ago where the movie is already out on DVD.

We haven’t seen anything in the states yet.

No, my normal distributors all don’t want to release it in US. And now I hope I make a deal with Vanguard, the guy I sold some smaller movies to in the past and he said he loves it, he wants to release it, and I say let’s do it. I hope I can close with him soon and we can get it out in the US because I gave so many interviews about it, it should at least be going to DVD and Netflix and iTunes and so on. So I hope this will happen.

Do you think the audience for these movies are the people who just aren’t comfortable with the documentaries that show the real footage?

I agree. What I recognize, the real naturalistic, realistic movies are basically almost not getting made anymore. I miss that cinema from the ’80s, what was rough and brutal and in the face. The main subject matter was life and death and so on. It’s not really existing anymore.

Can you name some of the movies you’re thinking about when you say that?

The Raging Bull, the Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter. The French Connection. You don’t need always a love story. You don’t need always a hopeful ending. All that stuff Hollywood now puts in every single movie, even in the so-called critically acclaimed movies. if you have a movie like King’s Speech for example, or The Artist, Oscar-winning movies – they’re good movies, but they’re not important at all. There’s nothing in it what is important for anybody. It’s more like making the people escape from reality but not facing the real problems on earth.

I shoot next Bailout, another movie about a very realistic thing as we all know. But I do it more like Taxi Driver and Falling Down. I wanna show the guys who actually lost it all. In my movie, the main guy is losing everything, the whole family is dead basically. The house is gone. He goes against the investment bankers and shoots them. It’s a very radical approach. I was always a very politically interested person. After all the video-game-based movies, I felt like I have to get back to where I’m originally coming from, that I write my own stuff, and I do stuff what is more radical. Even my first movie, German Fried Movie, was a comedy, was very political, was very incorrect and more in the line of Postal. And then my second movie, Barschel: A Murder in Geneva, was a real political case where a German prime minister was found dead in a hotel room and I made a movie out of it while the case was still going. Like everybody thought was it suicide, was it a murder case? This is what I came back to after the eight years of Alone in the Dark, House of the Dead, and so on. And I feel better with the other movies but they are harder to finance.

Which are harder to finance?

Of course more like Darfur and stuff like this, because it’s a genre movie like In the Name of the King II. Like in the US 20th Century Fox distributes it, so Darfur gets distributed by Phase IV. And that’s the thing. It’s like you’re not getting the really good distribution deals with political ambitious stuff. Maybe Auschwitz comes out with a very small distributor shows that they’re going for the most harmless entertaining stuff.

But as you get older and more sophisticated in your filmmaking, there are things you want to try. You’re not the same filmmaker as when you started.

Absolutely. This is more connected to the Bailout movie, but I think we live on debt. We all live a life that we cannot afford to have basically. On the cost of the future generations. We all feel an entitlement and we got raped and ripped off by a whole generation of greed where people who were really rich screwing over the people. And then the government helped the thieves to survive and they’re still getting their bonus payment and they still keep going. This is the shocking situation we are in. If it’s a state like Greece or if it’s a bank.

Do you think the Eurozone crisis is going to have an impact on you?

Yes but I have to say, for example, Bailout I got all the money out of Canada, so I’m not so dependent anymore on German money because the tax breaks disappeared in 2005. I raise some more money in 2006 with some private investors but then it almost dried out. And now the money comes from more like Canadian investors, but also typical stuff – pre-sales, labor tax, investments like the CGI dragon in In the Name of the King II was all a French company that invested that CGI in the movie. This is the thing. It’s harder to finance the movies, we have to be more clever, we cannot overpay anybody, and at the same time you have to be more creative. So The Bailout is placed in New York and we shoot four weeks in Vancouver and we go one week to New York to shoot all what matters to make it New York.

Guerrilla shooting?

Yes. In New York we just bring the two main actors and we go to Wall Street and everywhere to establish New York, driving them to the subway, going to work. But the actual stuff when he starts killing everybody and so on, this we all do here. But it’s kind of an easy cheat because we have inside of Vancouver those skyscrapers. If you look out of  a window on the 20th floor you see another skyscraper so it doesn’t really matter where you are.

Are you based in Vancouver now?

I have a place here. Since 2005 I live here part time.

Which is when the tax credits dried up in Germany.

Yes, then it was time to move. [Laughs.] It makes more sense for me to live in both countries.

How did you get involved with the whole Profane Exhibit movie?

David Bond, the main producer, he asked me in regards of world sales what can we expect for a movie like this, can I sell this for him. And he showed me the first trailer and I was very impressed and I said this is a very interesting project and, if you want, I make also one of the short movies. So I did it. I think now in the end a lot of illustrative directors from around the world are in it. I think it will be nice to see different styles, different directors, under one title. Let’s see how it turns out. So far I have seen only two others. The rest are in the making. Hopefully it turns out very good. I think the others are very gory and I went more for the psychological horror, and of course the rape, but it’s not bloody. I wanted to do something different and not like doing another gore shocker.

Are you handling the distribution?

Yes. Germany is already sold. We have a lot of interest but a lot of people just want to see the finished movie before they decide anything.

Can you tell me more about The Bailout?

Yeah, absolutely. We start shooting April 10 [2012], we’re in pre-production. I can’t tell you who’s now all in it, but we will do that officially in two weeks, what actors we have lined up. I was writing this and trying to get a lead actor for a year and trying to finance it and now I’m really happy we’re at the point now we can make the movie. It was an interesting development process because Hollywood stars, a lot of people read the script and they all were scared, that it was too hard for them – ah, you can’t really shoot the bankers. And I said why not, we make a movie,  right? And the point is also excuse me, if there’s no justice system, if you get 10 years in prison when you rob 100 bucks at the gas station but these fuckers go away with $500 million in their pockets and 10 trillion dollars, how is that possible? It’s ridiculous, and I think it’s a huge scandal.

I’m sure the first thing common people say when they hear about your movie is “That’s great.”

Exactly. That’s the whole point. When I just talk to friends or people I meet they all say yes, this is a movie I want to see. And I’m happy I do it now because then the movie is done for the elections so I hope we can get a few screens during the US elections in November. It could be the talk of the day. People on CNN and Fox News and everybody discusses that point maybe when the movie comes out. I think it’s very necessary to show the subject matter and to bring the pressure back to the politics to not let it go like this.

When you saw the guy from Goldman Sachs step back two days ago in that huge article in The New York Times and everywhere. How can that be that these fuckers are still nothing else but greedy assholes who create products that make them money but not the clients and they don’t give a shit about the clients everywhere? And that they just talk like we have to make the profit and who gives a shit about the clients, the “muppets.” If these people survived as the main decision makers in one of the biggest banks in the world, this is a bad sign. Nobody learned anything from the bailout. Nothing.

Is there a style you’re going for with this movie?

It will be a little like Rampage. Rampage on Wall Street. We shoot it all handheld and it will be more like a documentary style and harsh. It’s not like let’s say the PG-13 movie. It will be very hard but it will also be sophisticated. I put a lot of work into the script and had various investment bankers looking over it making sure it’s accurate. Nothing that is in the script is made up, the deals they do and stuff like this is actually happening. I also want to mention we don’t make fictional names. Of  course our guy is fictional but we will have CNN and Fox running on TVs. We say Richard from Lehman Brothers. The people that will get gunned down are fictional, this is clear. But when people talk about the criminals they will say Lehman Brothers – it will be realistic. And for me this is very important to have the people know we do something that is based on reality. We want that the real investment bankers feel scared. They see this movie and they say, “Shit, maybe some client now will do this to us what that guy’s doing in the movie.” This is what I actually want. Because if they’re not scared that the police arrest them, they should be scared that somebody shoots them. And sometimes this kind of stuff changes behavior.

Are you worried about getting sued?

This is a risk I have to go as a filmmaker. I remember the guy in Norway they said he played video games and he watched movies like Rampage, so I was mentioned in a newspaper article about the guy. But we all know before somebody runs amok, he needs good reasons. I think it doesn’t bring a guy to go on a rampage based on he plays video games or watches a movie. The people that run amok, they have a psychological problem and they have enormous amounts of misery they go through for whatever reason, like medication. The guys in Littleton, they were on the medication. So I think it’s a very medicated structure. This is the reason I don’t feel responsible for this because I do House of the Dead or Rampage. I don’t feel responsible for them.

What’s the budget for Bailout?

Bailout has a $7 million budget. I think it’s big enough to make a theatrical movie, but it’s also low enough that if it isn’t a theatrical success, I have a chance to get the money back.

You’re financing most of it yourself.

Yeah, we did pre-sales and we shoot Canadian content so you can count 38 percent labor tax.

Do they have any influence on what you shoot?

No. There’s a good thing that in Canada they don’t care. If you fulfill the points – if you have X amount of Canadians working on the show – you get 38 percent labor tax. And this is perfect. Because in Germany you get only subsidies. If they read the script and stuff like this, if you have any kind of radical movie, you never get any kind of subsidies in Germany. Total disaster.



Kudos to Kill List director Ben Wheatley (and to writer Phil Brown) for a short but devastating observation he made in Rue Morgue #120 (March 2012 issue):

“For me, the difference between the original Dawn of the Dead and the Zack Snyder remake, which I really like as well, is that you know that Romero is actually terrified about dying in a nuclear apocalypse and Zack Snyder’s not afraid of anything.”


From the Vault: ‘Livide’ Interview with Julien Maury

This is the third in a series where I try to do something constructive with the pages and pages of interview material that doesn’t make it into the book or magazine for which it was conducted.

With recent reports that Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s latest, Livide, is slated for an English-language remake, I thought this would be a good time to share a brief email interview I had with Maury last July for a Rue Morgue piece about Livide. The pair famous for Inside are definitely key directors to watch, and two of the warmest, most dedicated horror guys you’re likely to meet. (And for those who want to know what really happened during the making of that modern classic, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that there’s a whole chapter dedicated to its making in The New Horror Handbook.) Just a note on the interview below. The film is alternately spelled both Livide and Livid depending on who is writing it; I stuck with Livide to stress its French origins, while I believe Maury stressed Livid to appeal to we famously uniglot Americans. Secondly, I have left the director’s answers largely as he sent them. His English is very good, and what few missteps he makes I find, on reflection, to be more revealing than they might at first appear.

How did this whole project come about? Was this a story one or both of you had been working on for a long time?

Julien Maury: The idea first came from a ’60s french book : MALATAVERNE written by Bernard Clavel. More exactly the idea came of a frustration in the reading of the book, which tells the story of three friends who decide to break in the house of an old woman, but the moment they enter is the end of the novel and you never know what they find there. So on a quite classic story of a burglary, we just imagined what they could find inside … Our movie is a sort of a fantastic continuation of the novel mixed in a universe dominated by the ballet dance making openly a reference to SUSPIRIA.

Is “Livide” less gory than “À l’intérieur”(Inside)?

Yes, Livid is much more measured than AL’INTERIEUR. We designed our first movie as a basic ultra bloody slasher. Livid is in a different category, closer to a traditional fantasy inherited from Hammer movies. We did not necessarily want to make another hardcore film but as we cannot fight against our nature, Livid still contains some very violent sequences…

Just from the few photos I’ve seen on the movie’s Facebook page, it looks like you are again taking a very painter-like approach to the look of the movie. For “À l’intérieur,” one of your primary influences was the painter Georges de La Tour. Did you have a particular painterly influence for the look of Livide?

In terms of pictorial references, we are always fascinated by de La Tour. His way to transcribe the darkness by using a single light source has still interested us. Filming the darkness is something very difficult and for Livid, we still have worked in this direction with our DP Laurent Bares. I think that we’ve better succeded than on AL’INTERIEUR. On a completely different register, we have also been influenced a lot by the paintings of Degas. His work on the world of dance particularly and on the natural light was a good reference for all the flashback scenes. A reference for light but also for the costumes and hairstyles.

It looks like your entire cast is French. Did this make it difficult to make an English-language movie?

In fact, the movie is in French! You have information back from the time when the film was supposed to be shot in English, in Ireland, and for a much more comfortable budget. But for several reasons, this could not happen. We were losing our control over the artistic and the budget was complicated to find, so we decided with our producers (the same as for Inside) to make the project in France for a budget equivalent or even slightly lower than for A L’INTERIEUR… And it really wasn’t easy because Livid is much more ambitious in terms of action, special effects, the number of actors etc…

We haven’t shot in Ireland but in French Brittany for the same reasons we wanted to shoot in Ireland: just like Ireland, French Brittany is a land of Celtic legends and beliefs which [impassions] us and, of course, the landscapes are very cinematic. In a sense, we tried to create a legend that could exist in Brittanic folklore without feeling artificial.

“]Inside 'Inside': L to r, Béatrice Dalle, François Maury, Julien Maury, Alysson Paradis and Alexandre Bustillo.
Inside 'Inside': L to r, Béatrice Dalle, François Maury, Julien Maury, Alysson Paradis and Alexandre Bustillo.

From what I’ve been able to gather, this is a vampire story, but one that is more about the human element of living forever than about the vampires we are used to seeing in movies. Did Let the Right One In influence you at all in the way you approached your vampire?

 We loved Let the Right One In — it was a real slap in the face for us! But the movie has never influenced us strictly speaking. The only link we have is actually the idea of the human side of the monster, which is finally only a cursed creature. In Livid, you will not see either crucifix or garlic. Vampirism is one of the founding myths of the fantastic culture but also one of the most known. It has been so handled under all its forms that it is difficult to be original. Our vision is thus the one of its deep solitude in front of the world of the living and despair arising from its abyssal lack of love… We are in love and fascinated by monsters and villains, they are always the most interesting! It was already the case for A L’INTERIEUR; for us, the real hero was not the pregnant girl but La Femme! As we often take it as an example, George Lucas did not make a new trilogy about Luke but about Vader.

Can you explain the part that Beatrice Dalle [La Femme from Inside] plays in the film?

Dalle declared one day that she wanted to play in all our movies. So we took this sentence very seriously and wrote her a role in each of the projects we developed. In Livid, she plays the main character’s mother but has only a relatively brief role in the final cut. On the other hand, narratively, she is absolutely crucial in the development of the story. This is not just a cameo.

When did filming begin? When did it end? When do you expect the movie to come out?

We began the shooting in late September 2010 to end it in mid-November. Regarding the days of shooting, we even had a little less than for A L’INTERIEUR! The theatrical release is planned in France on November 2nd. In the rest of the world, it is not known yet. Dimension bought the movie as for A L’INTERIEUR so we most likely are going the have the same kind of release in America. But we surely are going to show it in some festivals before.

From the description of the plot, it sounds that like “À l’intérieur,” this movie will also take place mostly in one house. Was this a requirement by the producers to keep the budget low?

Livid is a “closed door” only in its second part. There are numerous secondary sets, as well as several outdoor scenes, in the moor or on a fishing port for example. The difference between the approaches of the “closed door” of Livid and of A L’INTERIEUR is mainly the decoration. The house of Livid is the antithesis of that of A L’INTERIEUR. It is gigantic, with diverse rooms, less stressful than our previous movie, but much more mysterious. We wanted a building close to a fairy tale. But it’s true that we always considered Livid as a low budget movie so we deliberately have limited sets during the writing process to preserve the action and the special effects.

There was a political element to À l’intérieur, especially as it was written during a time of great unrest in France. Is there a political element to Livide as well?

No, there is no political message in Livid. In A L’INTERIEUR it was events that had marked us so we wanted to talk about it, but the real reason was because it was mainly a way to serve our history by creating an almost more stressful climate outside than inside. For Livid, we are in a realistic and credible universe in the first part to get lost in a fantasy world sometimes on the edge of a dream in the second part. Our purpose really was to make a macabre fairy tale, a strange legend that we could tell at night by the fire.

When last we spoke, you said the budget for the movie was about $8.5 million; is that still about right?

HAHAHAHAHA! Unfortunately not! This amount was the estimated budget at the time where the film was supposed to be in English. The reality is quite different because as we’ve said before, the film’s budget is slightly below 2 million Euros, just a little lower than A L’INTERIEUR.

With “À l’intérieur,” the name of the film made a lot of sense considering the plot. How does “Livide” relate to the plot of this movie?

Yes, of course, we looked for a title that makes sense in relation with our history. We don’t know if the meaning in French of Livid is the same as in English, but in French it really evokes the extreme whiteness of a face which is bloodless, but also about someone frightened — the usual way is for a cadaver. And all of these definitions are in the movie!

The Magazine That Inspired Me to Get Into This Business

I’ve been meaning to post this piece I wrote for Rue Morgue last year about Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine [click image above to download an easier-to-read PDF]. It’s not often that I get to write about something so close to my heart. It was this magazine more than any other publication that made me want to become a writer. Some of my happiest childhood memories are of sitting on our apartment balcony reading and re-reading these issues.

Anyway, many thanks to Marc Scott Zicree and Carol Serling for sparing a few moments to answer my questions for this one; hopefully I kept my fan gushing to a minimum.

Kubrick’s Copy of ‘The Shining’

Just finished a short piece abut the new documentary about The Shining, Room 237, for Rue Morgue, so coming across this next bit today seems an eerie bit of synchronicity.

Kudos to Lilja’s Library for posting these images from Stanley Kubrick’s own copy of The Shining, complete with marginalia. While the images seemed to have originated from the fantastic Tumblr The Overlook Hotel, Lilja’s images seem to be much sharper, to the point where you can actually read (sort of) some of Kubrick’s notes. (OK, I’m a huge notebook nerd; sue me.)

The New, New Horror?

Working on a piece for Rue Morgue magazine this week, the subject of which has me intrigued. Though the jumping off point is an anthology film expected to premiere at a film festival later this year (no, not Mark Pavia’s eagerly anticipated Stephen King anthology this time), the thrust of the piece is this: the genre has begun to reacti to the bankers-gone-wild attitude that has thrust us into the current abysmal economic circumstances.

Just as flicks such as Wes Craven’s original Last House on the Left were in part a reaction to the Vietnam War carnage glimpsed nightly on the evening news, we now have a few film projects in the pipeline that address the cavalier way that investment bankers sacrificed the lives and futures of many simply to line their pockets. More on this next month once the story’s out, but ultimately it leaves me asking this: is this just a blip on the radar or the new face of horror?

An in-depth book on fright cinema of the last 15 years.