Notorious German Director Uwe Boll’s ‘First Shift’ Faces Claim Over Unfair Labor Practices

Uwe Boll, it seems, is back.

The notorious German director of Rampage, Postal and Far Cry has wrapped production on his new film, First Shift, a New York cop drama set over an intense 12-hour shift of a veteran NYPD officer and his rookie partner. It is Boll’s first U.S. film in five years, since 2016’s Rampage: President Down.

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Gino Anthony Pesi (Shades of Blue) plays the veteran cop, with Kristen Renton (Sons of Anarchy) as the rookie. First Shift shot on location in New York and is currently in postproduction at Tunnel Post in Los Angeles.

Unlike many of the films in his oeuvre, from Seed (2006) and Postal (2007) to the Rampage trilogy — movies that indulged in extreme, graphic onscreen bloodshed — First Shift, Boll says, will show his kinder, gentler side.

“It’s an action movie, and there’s a side plot involving the mob, but it’s a lot less violent than my other films,” the director tells The Hollywood Reporter. “There are maybe three to four gunshots in the entire film. I’ve had movies with hundreds.”

Gino Anthony Pesi stars in <em>First Shift</em>.
Gino Anthony Pesi stars in First Shift.

Part of the film’s plot also revolves around a lost dog — played by Pesi’s own pet, Tango — the two cops rescue and transport in their cab over their extremely long shift. “I thought people need a more feel-good film right now,” Boll says.

Not everything about the First Shift shoot was feel-good, however. IATSE, which represents stagehands and crew in the entertainment industry in the U.S. and Canada, filed a complaint, on March 13, with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming “unfair labor practices” on the First Shoot set. The claim, a copy of which was sent to THR, accused Ari Taub’s Brooklyn-based Hit and Run Productions of violating the National Labor Relations Act by “interrogating” and “threatening” crewmembers on First Shift who wanted to make the low-budget, nonunion shoot a union production. Neither Boll nor his German executive producer Michael Roesch are named in the claim.

A spokesman for IATSE said the charge was filed after the union received complaints from First Shift crewmembers detailing safety concerns. At issue, according to one of the crewmembers who contacted the union, and verified by Boll and Roesch, was an incident when Taub brought a prop gun to the set, alarming some of the crew. The gun was not part of the shoot. Boll said he decided to use only rubber guns and squibs on First Shift and to add gunshots in postproduction, partly in response to concerns following the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the Alec Baldwin Western Rust in 2021. The event ended without incident and the prop gun is not mentioned in the March 13 claim.

Instead, according to Boll and Roesch, a small number of crewmembers on First Shift demanded to be put on union contracts — the film was set up as a nonunion production with nonunion employee contracts — and threatened strike action to shut down the film. The union claims the crewmembers were trying to organize and were “threatened or otherwise intimidated” to prevent them from doing so, actions that, if true, would be violations of the National Labor Relations Act, which outlaws any attempt by employers to “interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees” if they want to unionize.

Contacted by THR, Taub denies all charges against him and his company and says he will be taking legal action against the complainants. The crewmember who contacted THR claimed to have forwarded emails and voicemails supporting the intimidation allegations to IATSE, but the union declined THR’s request to access these materials, saying they were part of the ongoing investigation.

“What we can clearly say is that at no point was there a set safety issue,” said Roesch in an email to THR. “We did not use even a single blank round in the entire film. All shots will be digitally added in post. All shooting days were completed without incident and without overtime.”

Kristen Renton and Gino Anthony Pesi star in <em>First Shift.</em> Both actors have defended Boll against allegations of irregularities on set.
Kristen Renton and Gino Anthony Pesi star in First Shift. Both actors have defended Boll against allegations of irregularities on set.

Boll says the charges are “completely baseless” and aimed at defaming him and sabotaging his film. He forwarded to THR an email exchange between himself and a representative of animal rights group PETA, which had received an anonymous complaint claiming the dog used in the production was not being properly cared for. The exchange includes emails from Pesi and Renton to PETA stridently denying those allegations. Pesi, noting that the animal is his own pet, writes that he is “disgusted” by the claim and alleges that those responses are from disgruntled former crewmembers who, after failing “at extorting Uwe Boll in flipping the production [from nonunion to union], have been doing whatever they can to sabotage what little left we have to film on this very modest, low-budget project.”

Uwe Boll, the filmmaker, is a divisive figure. Fairly or not, the director has been disparaged as “Germany’s answer to Ed Wood” for his low-budget genre films, with video game fans in particular unable to forgive him for his creaky adaptations of hit games House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark and BloodRayne. The Razzies once gave him a worst career achievement award. In 2006, Boll notoriously challenged his most vitriolic film critics to face him in the boxing ring, fighting — and beating — five reviewers in direct combat.

But through more than 30 movies, the complaints were about what happened onscreen, not on set. While no one expects Boll will win an Oscar any time soon, his work ethic and prodigious rate of production have earned him at the very least a grudging respect within the independent industry.

The legal issues on First Shift have not discouraged Boll, who says he is deep in preproduction on at least two other films: one that he plans to shoot in South Africa next winter; the other an ambitious, $25 million period crime film, Ness, based on the final case of Eliot Ness, the special agent made famous as the man who took down Al Capone, as shown in Brian de Palma’s The Untouchables (1987). As with First Shift, Boll is planning to direct and produce both through his Event Film shingle, with Michael Roesch executive producing.

After a short break from filmmaking — during which time he opened and operated Bauhaus, a high-end German restaurant in Vancouver, now shuttered — Boll says he’s back for good.

“I’m working hard to get eight or nine more films made, over the next 10 years or so. After that, I can retire.”

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