Asked by Michael Madsen’s “people” how much he would pay for an interview with the actor about his work on Uwe Boll’s 2005 picture BloodRayne, local indie filmmaker Sean Patrick Shaul offered $100. He didn’t hear back. Madsen’s participation would have been nice, but Shaul still ended up with plenty of folks willing to dish—in ways you wouldn’t expect—about the man universally reviled as a pox on cinema itself.
“I think he might actually be one of the best producers ever, if not the best director,” Shaul says in a call to the Georgia Straight. “I don’t know how you get people to give you money after you’ve done, say, 15 movies that have progressively been called ‘the worst film ever’.”
Shaul is being a tad disingenuous. His portrait of the pugnacious Vancouver-based director, F*** You All: The Uwe Boll Story—which premieres at the Whistler Film Festival next Wednesday (November 28)—makes it fairly clear how the man behind House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, Attack on Darfur, Rampage, and some 28 other critic- and viewer-despised feature films managed to keep working in the industry when the forces of the cosmos were all seemingly arrayed against him.
Shaul’s film takes us right back to Boll’s childhood in Germany, where his wild personal contradictions were evidently forged between the abuses levelled by Dad and the affection he received from Mom. Thus we arrive at the fascinating creature who famously shitkicked five film critics crazy enough to accept his challenge to enter the boxing ring with him in 2006 but who also appears here as a loving husband and father, not to mention an award-winning restaurateur and epicurean (Boll owns Bauhaus in Gastown), and a man who commands the deep loyalty and affection of almost anyone he’s worked with (Madsen excepted, presumably).
Shaul observed Boll’s unusual style while working as a crew member on the director’s 2013 release Assault on Wall Street—he was particularly impressed that the day’s shoot always ended whenever a hockey game began—but he didn’t know what to expect from an up-close encounter, confiding to a friend prior to pitching his documentary idea to Boll that he was expecting to meet “the type of guy that’ll punch me out in his own restaurant if I say the wrong thing”.
Instead, after they bonded over their mutual hatred of Terrence Malick movies, an enthusiastic Boll turned out to be “just the nicest guy”.
“The whole time we were making this movie, he was over-the-top accommodating,” Shaul says. “And he completely respected me as a filmmaker. But then he’d say something crazy during an interview and we’d be like, ‘Oh, yeah—Uwe Boll.’ ”
Indeed, F*** You All won’t disappoint anyone looking for a good dose of Boll’s uncensored belligerence and almost magical indifference to whatever the rest of the world thinks.
“At the core, he’s just honest to a fault,” Shaul suggests. “That’s Uwe Boll in a nutshell. He just can’t keep his mouth shut. So when someone pisses him off, bad career move or not, he will call them out on it and make it very public.”
He inspires the same sort of honesty in his friends and collaborators. Blubberella star Lindsay Hollister is particularly frank in her assessment of the man, both personally (“I don’t think he’s all there…”) and as a filmmaker, while adding that she’d work with him again in a heartbeat. Ditto his close compadres Michael Paré and the great Clint (brother of Ron) Howard, both approaching 20 years inside Boll-wood. Howard cheerfully recalls on camera that he once saw his friend shout “Cut, print” without ever glancing up from the boxing magazine he was absorbed in. These people clearly revel in the man’s extremes.
And those extremes are really something. In the earlier part of his career, Boll’s punchy temperament surfaced in his insistence on making video-game adaptations in the face of unprecedented fan contempt and an actual petition to make him stop; later, it manifested in the compulsion to push buttons with pedophile jokes, movies like 2011’s Auschwitz, or putting poor Brendan Fletcher in blackface for Blubberella. (A very fine actor and another good friend, Fletcher gives his anguished account of that unhappy caper in F*** You All.)
“Postal was very important to him,” Shaul offers about Boll’s demented but apparently quite personal feature from 2007. “Because it’s the craziest one. It offended the most people. It’s his political views boiled down into an insane comedy, although it’s hard to even call it a comedy. But there’s no other movie like it. The first time I saw that movie, I was horrified. Totally offended.”
Beyond all that, the fact remains that Boll was determined from childhood to become a filmmaker (seeing clips from his 1991 debut, German Fried Movie, is weirdly thrilling), and he did it by entirely outpacing a system bent on destroying him. He also persuaded, among many others, Sir Ben Kingsley, Burt Reynolds, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Statham, and J. K. Simmons to do it with him.
“He worked out this amazing formula,” Shaul explains. “He’d shoot a lot over Christmas break or during the hiatuses of various shows, and call them right at the end. ‘Can you work in two weeks?’ ’Cause he knows if they’re answering the phone, they aren’t working right now. So, yeah, J. K. Simmons was probably ‘Sure, I’ll come up to Vancouver for a couple days and a paycheque. Why not?’ ”
For a hundred bucks, Michael Madsen could have sat on his ass and trashed the guy. Instead, we’re treated to the rather bracing sight of long-time Vancouver producer and Brightlight Pictures chairman Shawn Williamson—who certainly doesn’t need to die on this particular hill—describing the now-retired filmmaker as “a visionary”. Or, as Shaul elaborates: “Everybody told him no. And the more he did it, the more they told him no. And he still made 32 movies.