Silver Screen, Gold Disc

Silver Screen, Gold Disc
Uwe Boll and the German Tax Code

Allen Varney | 23 Jan 2007 11:00
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Waaaay down with Jack Thompson and StarForce copy protection, German filmmaker Uwe Boll occupies the lowest circle of the gaming community's pantheon of demons. Though many producer-directors across the decades have made unwatchable films, the work of Dr. Boll (he has a 1995 doctorate in literature from the University of Cologne) has inspired in many gamers a singular contempt.

There are two main reasons. First, Boll strikes close to home; he has relentlessly chosen to adapt popular computer and video games:

" House of the Dead (2003; Rotten Tomatoes score 4 percent, Metacritic 15 percent)

" Alone in the Dark (2005; Rotten Tomatoes 1 percent, Metacritic 9 percent)

" BloodRayne (2006; Rotten Tomatoes 5 percent, Metacritic 18 percent)

" and forthcoming films based on Dungeon Siege (as In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale), Postal and Far Cry.

Second, perhaps more important, Boll is unrepentant. He cannily exploits, not to say "revels in," reviewers' aggrieved reactions. In September 2006, in a highly publicized stunt christened "Raging Boll," the director challenged four film critics to boxing matches in Vancouver. Having chosen his opponents for their lack of training, Boll (an experienced fighter) handily defeated them all. He plans to include footage from the bouts on the Postal DVD.

Like that of his companion devils, Boll's work provokes heated condemnation in gaming forums, as well as on film hobbyist sites such as BollBashers. Noting his dismal and declining box-office grosses - BloodRayne grossed less than $3.6 million worldwide - bewildered viewers often ask, "Why do people keep funding his movies?"

Thus - uniquely in the history of film - consideration of Boll leads quickly and naturally to a discussion of the German tax code.

***

In 2005-06, Edward Jay Epstein wrote the "Hollywood Economist" column for Slate magazine. His April 25, 2005 column, "How to Finance a Hollywood Blockbuster," showed how Paramount financed the second Tomb Raider movie, budgeted at $94 million, for only $7 million out of pocket. The rest came from cable and overseas sales, and most of all from wealthy German investors seeking tax shelters. Epstein has documented movie financing at length in The Big Picture: The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood (Random House, 2005).

In Epstein's articles, and similar pieces in Forbes and the Los Angeles Business Journal, we discern an explanation for Uwe Boll's career.

Tax shelter accounting can be tough reading. To make it worth your while, I'm giving you 100 million euros. The catch is, you must become a native German investor.

Having just made 100 million euros, you have only moments to celebrate before your German tax accountant tells you the bad news: You're in a 45-percent tax bracket, so you must pay the government 45 million euros. Ach! That leaves you only 55 million. Can nothing be done?

Now I - a high-flying Hollywood movie producer, well tanned from California's summer sun - visit you. For 90 million euros, you can have the copyright to a film I want to make. To encourage native cultural industries, your country's German Tax Fund makes film production costs immediately tax-deductible. You'll write off the 90 million as an instant loss and pay taxes only on the 10 million euros left.

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