Most people have never heard of Uwe Boll. Hit up the right blogs and message boards, however, and you'll find all sorts of lively discussions devoted to this uber-lowbrow German director and his "shitacular" work. The abundance of scatological comparisons is astounding, whether in reference to a single film ("another Uwe Boll feces fest") or his entire oeuvre of "scheissefilmen."
Boll has made almost a dozen films, but is best known -- and most widely mocked -- for his last three blood-spattered efforts: House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, and BloodRayne. All three are adaptations of violent video games with devoted followings -- much of the bile directed at him on the web comes from disgruntled gamers -- and each one really offers the whole package: incomprehensible plotlines, ludicrous acting, subpar special effects, clueless camerawork, hacksaw editing, and dialogue crafted of pure cement. (My favorite, from Alone in the Dark: "Hutchens, don't be insane! Don't open that door!"). Boll's scores are among the lowest ever recorded on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb, two of the Web's most popular gauges of critical and viewer opinion. Did I mention his movies regularly tank at the box office? Slant magazine has dubbed him "mainstream cinema's most awesomely incompetent living filmmaker." Watch just one of his films and you'll find it very, very hard not to agree with them.
Now, you'd think Boll would be washing dishes for a living by now. That's the funny part -- he's doing better than ever, with two, maybe even three films coming out in 2008. The first definite, which hits theaters Friday, is his most ambitious work to date: a fantasy with a (cough) passing resemblance to Lord of the Rings called In the Name of the King: A Dragon Siege Tale. It stars Jason Statham (and -- wait for it -- Burt Reynolds) and clocks in at two hours-plus. (Boll has promised the director's cut "will be much longer.") The second, Postal, is an intentionally offensive comedy about 9/11 and the war on terror. Boll didn't manage to get anyone famous for that one.
But you have to hand it to Boll. Unlike, say, Jesse Dylan, another terrible director, he doesn't have the advantage of a famous parent. He is clearly befuddled by the language of America and the language of cinema, yet he continues to direct films in English. And as hopeless he is behind the camera, Boll has a peculiar genius for getting films made. It's not a total mystery how he pulls this off. In fact, you can learn a lot about the movie business by examining how he games the system.
Get the government to chip in
For years, Boll exploited a tax credit in his native Germany that allowed the financiers of his North American-made films to recoup 50% of their investment. Until the loophole closed in late 2005, it made it twice as easy for him to break even.
Make the video game companies work for you
Boll, who once told an interviewer that he buys rights to video games because "the comic books are all sold," seems poised to milk the gaming industry for years to come. With the exception of massively popular titles like Grand Theft Auto and Halo, many game licenses--and the marketing tie-ins and franchise loyalists they ensure -- can still be had pretty cheaply. Boll's rock-bottom reputation has turned some game manufacturers against him, but he (smartly) stocked up on licenses before word got out.
Talents like Francis Ford Coppola and James Cameron are allowed to break the bank, but guys like Boll have to keep costs down. In Boll's case, way down. This means quick shoots in cheap places, even if it shows (inevitably, it does). Boll makes most of his films in British Columbia; if it's raining out, well, he's not necessarily wedded to the sunny skies called for in the script. And by going after well-known actors last-minute, while they're between other projects, Boll has managed to attach big names (Christian Slater and, most amazingly, knighted Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley, who played a vampire overlord in BloodRayne) to his movies at relatively low cost.
Work the "long tail"
Boll's U.S. box office has been reliably lousy; in today's movie industry, though, the buck no longer stops there. Thanks to DVD and pay-TV sales and foreign box office, Boll has managed to make a somewhat respectable return on movies that might otherwise appear to be total stinkbombs. His films actually do pretty good business in Spain, Italy, Russia, and the Middle East (draw your own conclusions). Also, message-board postings suggest that DVD titles from the Uwe Boll oeuvre are frequently purchased as gag gifts.
Bad publicity? No such thing
Not one to take insults lightly, Boll is known for lashing out at his harshest critics. In 2006, he gained added notoriety when he invited some of them to take him on in the boxing ring. Boll, a former amateur boxer, pounded all four of them who took him up on it -- including one who was 17-years-old. (YouTube footage here.) He recently explained to a British Columbian paper: "It looked like a publicity stunt, but it was not created as a publicity stunt. It was created as a moment of revenge." Brilliantly, it functioned as both. And like all the other controversies he's generated, this one surely introduced him to five potential moviegoers (or renters, or gag gift-buyers, or whatever) for every one it turned against him. And unlike his films, it didn't cost him an ounce of blood, real or fake.