Guardian, CNet, Slate, IndieWire are reporting Werner Herzog, the world famous director of over 70 films including dramas (Rescue Dawn, Queen of the Desert, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans) and documentaries (Grizzly Man, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Into the Abyss)), is offering an online filmmaking course later this summer on the online training site MasterClass.com.
To this reporter, Herzog has long been seen a great mentor/teacher after watching the 19 minutes short film “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe” (YouTube video link) some years ago. Werner and Oscar winning Errol Morris may simply see each other as just old friends. This reporter personally sees Werner as mentor/teacher of Errol. Having “shoe eating” friends in our lives is sure a great way to inspire/push aspiring filmmakers/anyone to achieve more! (time code 8:18 is the start of the shoe eating moment)
Have a look of a brief promotional trailer about the course where interested potential students can learn about the online master class.
And here is an annotated Lesson Plan #1 – #6 for Werner Herzog’s filmmaking MasterClass:
Lesson 01 – INTRODUCTION
Hear from the master, a self-taught filmmaker who’s battled the impossible to tell his stories, on why he now wants to inspire future filmmakers to be good ‘soldiers of cinema’.
(Reporter’s note: Have a read of “Werner Herzog on Being a ‘Soldier of Cinema’ and the Relative Nature of Facts (Q&A)“, THR, 8/15/2013 by Alexandra Zawia)
Lesson 02 – TEACH YOURSELF STORYTELLING: WATCH FILMS
Werner teaches you how to watch films critically to learn from them, giving us an example of how to learn how to open a film from one of his favourite films of all time.
(Reporter’s note: In an Open Culture 2014 May article “Werner Herzog Picks His 5 Top Films“, a few free to watch films are shared online. Werner has high praise for D. W. Griffith (1875 – 1948) known as the “inventor of Hollywood”.)
Lesson 03 – TEACH YOURSELF STORYTELLING: READ
Reading opens up new worlds and gives you a new perspective to approach storytelling. Werner highlights the importance of reading, and gives you mandatory reading.
(Reporter’s note: Werner recommends reading The Warren Commission report (also known as “Report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy”. You can download the whole report as a single PDF image file (81MB) from gpo.gov page using this link. The online HTML text version may be easier to read for some people.)
Lesson 04 – WRITING A SCRIPT
A screenplay is not a screenplay until you see the whole film in front of you. Werner shows you how to write a script to inspire everyone to make the film.
Lesson 05 – FINANCING FIRST FILMS
Werner teaches you how to overcome the excuse of not having money for a film. Learn how to finance your first film and make it for $10,000.
(Reporter’s note: Werner has talked about working in any job for half a year to save up enough money to make films. To quote an IndieWire interview “Werner Herzog Says Independent Film Is a Myth (and 7 More Good Ideas From the FIND Forum Keynote)“:”My answer is just roll up your sleeves and work where there’s real intensity of life. Don’t work in an office. Work as a bouncer in a sex club. Something like that. Work as a guard in a maximum security prison. Earn the money and then make your film, no matter what.“)
Lesson 06 – NEGOTIATION SKILLS
Learn how to negotiate in a tough industry and to have the confidence to fight to tell the story you want to tell.
Lesson 07 – LOCATIONS
Werner’s films are set in some of the most beautiful (and dangerous) places in the world. Learn the importance of location scouting, and adapting to your environment.
(Reporter’s note: Werner is known to be willing to go to some extreme measure to continue shooting in some locations despite obvious danger. In one incident fondly retold by Werner in this two hour long video “An Evening with Werner Herzog“, posted Sep 30, 2010 by University of California Television (UCTV), he actually got challenged for his permission to film in a location one time. He then proceeded to produce some beautifully forged documents a few days later for the officials. Yes, the permission by the “president” was a fake!)
Lesson 08 – LEADING THE PLATOON
Inspire your crew, and lead them down paths that they’ve never been on before to tell the story you want to tell.
(Reporter’s note: Watch the clip “Werner Herzog on why he makes films” especially starting at 0:23. You will see a giant steamship being pulled up to the mountain top for a film Werner was shooting. One of the many cases that perfectly illustrates the theme of this lesson.)
Lesson 09 – SET RULES
Organize a set to tell the story, not to impress anyone. Forget the director’s chair and focus on making a film.
(Reporter’s note: Werner is known to deliver films on budget or even *under* budget. In one case, he told the film studios/film financiers that he doesn’t need a director’s chair with his name on it, nor a driver, etc thus saving money from the film budget.)
Lesson 10 CAMERA: SHOOTING STRATEGY
Keep it simple and be confident – don’t shoot coverage. Learn how to best use the camera to make the best film possible.
Lesson 11 CAMERA: CINEMATOGRAPHY
Learn how to work with cinematographers, play with light, and learn how to use the gear yourself.
Lesson 12 – CAMERA: COMPOSITIONAL TECHNIQUES
Werner discusses various camera techniques he learned from various films and how he uses them in his films.
Lesson 13 – WORKING WITH ACTORS: CREATING THE CHARACTER
Learn how to work with actors by example – Werner creates the character starting from the audition process through wardrobe.
(Reporter’s note: Werner himself is an actor in some films and has done some voice over work too. Have a watch of the 20 minutes short film “Plastic Bag” by American director Ramin Bahrani. The film is much more fascinating to watch than the title suggested and the director was praised by Werner in one of his talk.)
Lesson 14 – WORKING WITH ACTORS: ON-SET
Werner breaks down how he directs actors on set from his various films, and how to work with the best of the best, including Klaus Kinski.
(Reporter’s note: According to Wikipedia, Klaus Kinski “appeared in more than 130 films, and was a leading role actor in the films of Werner Herzog, including Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), Woyzeck (1979), Fitzcarraldo (1982), and Cobra Verde (1987).”
Fitzcarraldo “portrays would-be rubber baron Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, an Irishman known in Peru as Fitzcarraldo, who is determined to transport a steamship over a steep hill in order to access a rich rubber territory in the Amazon Basin.” Yes, thesteamship in this clip!)
Lesson 15 – SOUND AND MUSIC
Work with sound and music to transport your audiences to new worlds. Werner discusses his methods to learn how to work with sound, and to work with composers to tell the story.
(Reporter’s note: This reporter will be very surprised if Werner doesn’t talk about his 1992 documentary “Lessons of Darkness” which, if this reporter is not mistaken, has beautiful and yet haunting images and music plus some very sparse voice over by Werner himself (“virtually devoid of commentary” according to Wikipedia). Watch thistrailer of the film and see for yourself.)
Lesson 16 – EDITING
Editing begins on the set. Werner’s methods are unique, and will give you a practical way to cut through the footage to make a beautiful film.
(Reporter’s note: Don’t shoot way too much footage would likely be an advice as he “berates wannabe directors who shoot hundreds of hours of footage for later editing, warning them that film-makers “are not garbage collectors” according to the Guardian report.
Lesson 17 – INVADED BY IMAGES
Inspiration comes from anywhere, but you have to know how to recognize it and how to seek it out. Learn where Werner got the ideas for many of his most famous films.
Lesson 18 – DOCUMENTARY: NONFICTION STORYTELLING
Learn how to find the subject of your documentary, and tell the best story that your audience will remember for years to come.
(Reporter’s note: In 2010, this reporter collected and posted videos of Werner and Errol Morris chatting at TIFF. It is amazing how much one can learn from watching two master documentary filmmakers chatting.)
Lesson 19 – DOCUMENTARY: INTERVIEWS: PART 1
A master interviewer, Werner discusses his techniques to make your subject comfortable, and how to shoot the conversation.
Lesson 20 – DOCUMENTARY: INTERVIEWS: PART 2
Werner continues his discussion about interviewing to show you how to make your subjects open up to you and reveal what they have never revealed before.
Lesson 21 – DOCUMENTARY: TRUTH IN NONFICTION
The ecstatic truth – Werner uses facts to create the most beautiful fiction. Learn how to tell the story you want to tell by creating the ecstatic truth.
(Reporter’s note: “Ecstatic truth” may be hard or even “too hard” to swallow without getting sick or serious indigestion. Werner’s 2000 documentary “Wings of Hope” (YouTube) was a very personal film as it explores “the story of Juliane Koepcke, a German Peruvian woman who was the sole survivor of Peruvian flight LANSA Flight 508 following its mid-air disintegration after a lightning strike in 1971.” You see, Werner’s “reservation was canceled due to a last minute change in itinerary.”
Quoting Wikipedia and confirmed by Werner in one of his video talk, “Koepcke’s dreams, as described in the film and shot in documentary style, were invented and scripted by Herzog.” Ecstatic truth? Well, this reporter is not buying into the idea yet.)
Lesson 22 – CAREER STRATEGY
Learn how to deal with rejection, how to teach yourself filmmaking, and get your films seen by audiences around the world.
Lesson 23 – A LIFE IN FILM
The life of a filmmaker is fraught with doubt, rejection and constant battles to survive. Learn how he did it, and how to survive in an impossible industry.
Lesson 24 – CLOSING
Werner leaves you with the words of a medieval mystic, and wishes you luck on your journey.
This article is cross-posted to examiner here , here, and here by the author. It should be noted that the post that you are reading here has a lot more extra details and updates that the examiner versions don’t have (including the following additional videos).
P.S. Here are a few videos that worth a watch.
Jonathan Demme interviews Werner Herzog (Museum of the Moving Image, 2008)
Cinema Café: Werner Herzog and Joshua Oppenheimer @ Sundance Film Festival 2016 (about an hour long)