Many film geeks consider Uwe Boll to be one of the worst filmmakers of all time.
During his 26-year-long career, Boll directed 33 films, many of them, such as Far Cry, Alone in the Dark, and House of the Dead, based on video games. He’s produced 53 films, and wrote 20 of them. The movies are terrible, and often wildly offensive—one comedy features a man in full Nazi regalia and black face. But despite their shock value, Boll’s movies are less memorable than the man himself.
One of the most surprising things we learn in in a new documentary on Boll's life and career, Fuck You All: The Uwe Boll Story, is that many of the people who worked with Boll on his notoriously bad films loved working with him, and rate him as a great collaborator. It’s an unexpected twist in the story of many who fought constantly—he once literally boxed a string of his critics—with critics and audiences, and whose late career seemed increasingly like an extended heel turn in wrestling.
The people who worked with Boll, even those he upset, love him. What comes across in the documentary is that Boll is a uniquely talented producer and a terrible writer-director. He was great at raising money, finding actors, and keeping the crew happy, but terrible at putting together the final packaged product.
Fuck You All director Sean Patrick Shaul first noticed Boll’s weird charisma while working as a set dresser on 2013’s Assault on Wall Street, where a security guard goes on a shooting spree on Wall Street after his ailing wife kills herself over medical bills.
“I worked on one of his movies,” Shaul told me over the phone. “I watched him from afar and was fascinated by his work style. I’d never seen a director work like that before. It was both funny and efficient.”
Years later, Shaul was working on a TV show that was filming in a restaurant that Boll owns in Vancouver, Canada, when he got the idea to do a documentary on Boll’s career. “I approached him and we were shooting the next weekend.”
That breakneck speed is typical of Boll, who often shot films with incomplete scripts. Boll shot Rampage, an ugly movie that treats a mass killing spree like something between comedy and porn, in six days using only a six page treatment—not even a complete script. BloodRayne, a video game adaptation starring Billy Zane and Sir Ben Kingsley, started shooting with the first draft of a script that had been rewritten almost entirely by Boll in a few days before shooting.
BloodRayne screenwriter Guinevere Turner (who wrote the American Psycho screenplay) was mad when she saw the film. “Only about 20 percent of what I wrote was on the screen,” she said in the documentary. “But, I got paid for it. All of it. All at once, wired to my bank. Which, I must say, was a deciding factor.”
Shaul said that Boll’s relationship with the crew of his films helped him keep up the pace. “We’d start each day with him telling us when we’d finish, because there was a hockey game on that he was really interested in,” Shaul said. “He’d say, ‘puck drops at five today so we’ll be out of here at four.’ Which is unheard of on a movie set.”
Fuck You All sheds light on Boll’s true talent in the movie industry, the skill that let him make so many movies with so many big name actors, even though they sucked—he was an incredible producer adept at raising money, cutting corners, and delivering a return on investment.
“Each of [his] reviews is getting worse and worse, but his budget kept getting bigger and bigger, and the stars kept getting bigger and bigger,” Shaul said. House of the Dead was Boll’s first big video game adaptation in America. It was a critical failure, but two years later he directed Christian Slater and Tara Reid in Alone in the Dark. Everyone hated that movie too, but two years later he directed Jason Statham, Ray Liota, Burt Reynolds, and Ron Pearlman in In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale.
“Finding the money, that’s the difficult part of filmmaking that not a lot of people see. I think if [Boll] never directed a film and he was just a producer, he would be remembered as a Roger Corman character.”
Corman is Hollywood schlock royalty. He has directed 56 movies and produced 415, bringing many of them in early and under-budget. Similarly, Boll was able to convince investors to give him millions of dollars and enlisted A-list talent to produce spectacular garbage. Corman is still working today and is beloved by the industry. Quentin Tarantino considers him an inspiration. But Boll didn’t cultivate the same reputation, he fought everyone. But the films were almost always financial successes.
“You had to raise the money and spend the money in the same year,” Boll said in the documentary. “So you just don’t have the time to prep and do 18 versions of the script...you have to start shooting otherwise the investors would never have gotten the tax loss on it and the whole investment would fall apart.”
Boll is unapologetic about his run in Hollywood. “The main goal I had in life—making movies—I totally achieved it,” Boll said in the documentary. “I just focused on it and went for it and made it happen. A lot of people can not do this.” Now he owns a successful restaurant in Vancouver, on Canada’s West Coast. “I have enough money to play golf until I am dead, so goodbye and goodbye Hollywood.”
The portrait Fuck You All paints of Boll is one of aggressive opennesses. Boll is a man with a crude and often offensive sense of humor. He doesn’t care who he offends and many of his movies are pointlessly violent, grotesque, and unfunny. But he seems to treats those close to him with care and love. Every actor and crew member Shaul interviewed seems to understand that Boll isn’t very good, but he inspired a bemused loyalty.
“If he called me today and he could pay me scale…anything. I would work with Uwe,” Clint Howard, brother of Ron Howard, said in the film.
“I found him an efficient director and a clear director. That to me is the best combination,” They Live and The Thing star Keith David said.
Finding a good producer who can turn a profit, even if that ‘profit’ is a tax loss, is hard in Hollywood. It’s even more rare for them to get along with actors and crew. Boll’s career, despite the almost universally negative critical reaction, was a fiscal and personal success. But his legacy will always be as the combative filmmaker of bad video game adaptations who literally boxed critics he didn’t like.
Shaul believes that Boll’s reputation is so notorious because his rise occurred at the same time internet culture went mainstream and because he decided to fight back against the critics.
“I think he set himself up as a punching bag to these faceless people on the internet,” Shaul said. “That just followed him around forever. Tons of people make bad movies and they just kind of continue to work silently. But he really faced it head on and really opened his mouth, maybe more than he should have in a lot of cases.”
You can stream Fuck You All: The Uwe Boll Story on Amazon.