Last October, before the premiere of his latest film, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, I had a chance to sit down and talk with notorious German director and producer Uwe Boll. In addition to discussing In the Name of the King (which opens today and was filmed in Vancouver and other locations in B.C.), we talked about why he bases his films on video games, and his response to the widespread, brutal criticism his films often receive.
What can you tell us about In the Name of the King from your side of it?
It was for me, as a director, it was by far my biggest movie and it was the most money – over 60 million dollars – and, well, it was also the most relaxed shoot I ever had. If you have five cameras, you have a great team. I had Tony Ching from House of Flying Draggers and Hero for the fight choreography. It was all the great actors, also. It was over three and a half months long. Basically the story is: you have the normal farmer, his hometown gets robbed, his farm gets robbed, his son gets killed, his wife gets stolen and he wants his wife back and he recognizes after a while he will not get his wife back if he is not saving the whole kingdom basically. This is the story.
So it’s one of those classic “hero because he has to be” stories.
Exactly, it’s a classic story and I think the difference in this movie to similar movies is that you have a lot of great characters around him and all the characters have their own agenda. You have Burt Reynolds as the king, Matthew Lillard as his nephew, Ron Perlman as his neighbor, Claire Forlani as his wife, Leelee Sobieski as the daughter of the good wizard, John Rhys-Davies as the good wizard, and Ray Liotta as the evil one. This is like a whole crowd of interesting people and you want to follow each character arch.
Did you find it difficult choosing which character to really pay a lot of attention to, or did you try to balance it out?
The theatrical version is more focused on Jason Statham against Ray Liotta… the DVD version will be 40 minutes longer and in that 40 minutes we spend more time with the side characters and supporting people basically.
Was there any character that it hurt to cut scenes from?
I thought I really liked the cut of the longer version. It’s kind of more epic, slower, where you spend more time with the people, with the landscape, with the locations. I think the strong thing in Lord of the Rings was to spend time and to relax also after the action. In the theatrical version now, let’s say it’s a fast movie. And on the other hand it’s tough to get a three-hour movie in the theatre, so we are better off with that shorter version and I think we have everything in the shorter version, all the big epic things. The big special effects are in the shorter version and we lost basically whole set-up scenes and the aftermath scenes.
You already mentioned some of the names that are in the film. What was it like working with such an established, star-studded cast?
It was, first of all, impressive if you sit on set near certain stars or the big scenes almost everybody’s in. On the other hand, I think the stars were all very easy to work with and one of the big reasons for it I think is because of our other stars. It’s kind of like everybody has more discipline if more name actors are in the movie. There was nobody who came late to set, they had no star attitude, no perks, everybody got the same trailer, and everybody got basically no extras. And because it was an adventure movie, we shot a lot of time out in nature, in the Rocky Mountains, and everywhere so it would be a bad movie for a star who needs a private cook or something.
What is your approach to the special effects and makeup? Do you lean more towards using straight effects or do you tend to use more CGI?
In that movie, it’s a mix. So we have the Krugs, they are like Orcs [in Lord of the Rings]. Basically it was Vincent Guastino who did it and a company, SFX, in Vancouver. It was full prosthetic basically. We had three different Krug levels: the A-list Krugs were around $10,000 per Krug and we had up to 20 of these people close to the camera; and then you have the B-list Krug which is $1,200 per Krug and you can film these guys like 15-25 feet behind, in the crowd; and the C-list Krug, our cheap Krug for the really far away scenes. And these were properly done in 10 minutes ready-to-go and the A-list Krug was a four-hour special effect makeup prop. We had up to, I think, 40-50 makeup artists on set. But we also have 1300 CGI shots in the movie; Lord of the Rings part two had 1280. So that shows it was a heavy CGI show and a heavy prosthetic show at the same time. If I make a horror movie, something like BloodRayne for example, I try to make more with prosthetics and I don’t like to do a CGI blood wound or an impact of a bullet hit or something; I always try to make that all real on set.
This was a very large film — like you said, it had a $60 million budget. Would you want to do another huge film or have you got it out of your system?
The shoot was perfect. The post-production was a nightmare. So we had 15 different CGI vendors, it took one and a half years to finish the movie and the CGI was really over budget – this was the first movie I ever made where I went over budget – and because if you have so many different CGI vendors, the quality’s different. And then you have to replace shots, you have to replace vendors, you have to give some shots to other vendors, and this was brutal. But I would make another big movie? I’m not a director who needs a big budget. I think if you have a story you can tell for $5 million or $2 million or $20 million, you should always use the money you need, and I think it’s kind of absurd that Hollywood directors say they only develop ideas for $100 million movies. I think it’s stupid.
A lot of your previous films have been based on video games, including this one. Why do you choose to base them on video games?
Because all the comic book [rights] are sold (laughing). The truth is video games are like best-selling books. They are like comic books, where a lot people know the game, and if you make a movie you get harsh critics, but you get also a lot of fans that want to see it. In a video game, you have all kinds of genres, you have all kinds of characters. You get good ideas for production design, for art direction, for costumes, for fighting styles. You can take a lot of stuff out of the video game that you turn into the movie. And I like that you have something to work with in the beginning, that you have something in your hands. To create a really original idea out of nothing is tough and sometimes it works, a lot of times not. I think with the video game, you can choose from hundreds and hundreds of videos games and you pick [the film based on] whether you think this is an interesting character or an interesting game for other reasons, because the story is great or whatever.
Are these games that you yourself play and think, “Wow, this could be a really great movie” or are they recommended to you?
Both. I check games out, I check the new games and read all the bibles to the games, like what characters are in it and if I like the story set up, then I try to get the film rights. But now it’s also turned around. A lot of video game companies come to me and they say we have that game; do you want to make a movie? Sometimes the ideas are really good, but sometimes I don’t want to do it. If you see my movies from House of the Dead to Alone in the Dark, BloodRayne, Dungeon Siege, Postal, Far Cry, these are almost all different genres. It’s from a zombie movie, sci-fi creature, vampire movie, fantasy, comedy, action; so I always try to have a big range.
Would you consider using a comic book as the basis of one of your films or do you like just working with the video games?
I almost did Grendel – it’s a comic book – but they wanted too much money and I thought also the Grendel-guy – I don’t know, maybe they’ve made the movie now – but the problem with him, he’s almost four-metres high so you need a guy on wooden stilts walking or something, which is tough for a movie with action scenes and everything… or you have a CGI guy which is super expensive. I thought also that it’s not a good character and practical not to do, basically. For a movie that, say you want to do for $15 or $20 million, then it’s tough. If you do [it like] Spider-Man and you do a lot of CGI flying, jumping and fighting, then it’s easy.
Some of your previous releases have not been received well by critics or fans. How does that affect you and your approach to future projects?
There are two sides. The one thing is I think after Alone in the Dark, I spent way more time and money for the development; to develop the scripts better, to make all the video game companies happy. Like Chris Taylor from Gas Powered Games, he loves Dungeon Siege, and Vince Desi from Postal loves Postal the movie. So I really took more care of the video game [fan base], that they support the movie, that they like the movie and I think I turned it around. When the movie’s coming out in January and February next year, you will see that a lot of people will like the movie way more than the other movies before. But you also have critics that have [played] the games, they have that thing in their heads, they have that movie already in front of them, and you cannot fulfill what they want. It’s impossible.
Boll’s agent jumps in. “When you look at the amount it took to produce and your gross sales, it far exceeds it. You more than cover your costs.”
For a lot of people, the journalists, they look only at the box office. They don’t look at the foreign sales, the foreign box office, DVD sales. So they think Alone in the Dark made $5.5 million [in] box office; it was a huge bomb. But if you see it was like $18 million to do, then you have a loss, but then the DVD kicks in and the foreign market kicks in, so in the end even Alone in the Dark made way more money then the cost of the production. But of course, first thing is the box office. But especially in the market in the last one-and-a-half, two years, we see every weekend big movies going down the drain, and so you can’t really count on theatrical results, but you can count on DVD results, you can count on the foreign sales.
You’ve filmed in Toronto, you screen your films here, you flew yourself to Toronto to be able to introduce your film tonight at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival — what is it you like so much about Toronto?
First of all, I was here also with Postal and, for example, in Postal, the comedy is more against the Bush government and gets a lot of support from Canada and in Toronto they loved the movie. Toronto is a really an urban kind of atmosphere where you have that North American feeling; you can fake New York, you can fake a lot U.S. cities and that’s important. You couldn’t do that in Vancouver; in Vancouver you go for the mountains and the nature.
Would you like to mention your experience at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) with Postal?
I think the Postal response was very good and I think it shows that the world is ready for a movie like this. It’s tough to get the screens. I just came from Germany where you have only like 20 or 25 theatres playing it, but wherever it plays, it’s full. So people love it. And I hope that in North America with Peace Arch in Canada and with Universal in the U.S. that we get a bigger release of Postal because it’s a North American movie. For people in Europe, if you say it plays in Arizona in a trailer park, people don’t know that in Europe but everybody knows it in North America. I think it will play way better in the U.S. as a bigger release than a smaller release.