Film & TV

Documentary: Dealing with Human Beings

Werner Herzog

Lesson time 11:32 min

There are lines you should not cross. Learn from Werner's experiences filming Grizzly Man and Into the Abyss, and how to get to the heart of your subject quickly.

Werner Herzog
Teaches Filmmaking
In 6 hours of video lessons, Werner Herzog teaches his uncompromising approach to documentary and feature filmmaking.
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There are no clear rules. Nobody has clear rules ever established. But of course, you have to find the borderlines yourself. And it has to do with your position in the world, and your ethical interior. And you have to really apply it. Maybe for some people, the boundaries are a little bit further back and more advanced in it. But however, I would really respect-- in "Grizzly Man," the person who had been eaten by a grizzly bear is not around anymore. He cannot defend his position. But the ethical boundary-- there's an interesting moment in the film, where I was somehow pushed by both a production company, and the network which was going to show it, and the distribution company to address what was known in public-- that there was a tape of the moment when he was attacked, and eaten, and mauled by the bear, together with his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard. And I said, I'm not so sure whether this should be in the film, but let me address it in the film myself. I filmed myself from behind. This is the moment where I'm listening, and you see me only halfway from behind. I did not want to shoot to be in the film. There should be only my voice. But here-- that's the only moment where I'm actually listening. And we are zeroing in on Jewel Palovak's face. And she reads from my face that this is horrifying. And what I heard is beyond any description. Can you turn it off? You cannot-- you cannot have this in public. [SOBBING QUIETLY] Jewel, you must never listen to this. I know, Werner. I'm never going to. And you must never look at the photos that I've seen at the coroner's office. You do not have in public, for example, people who jumped from the Twin Towers during the attack on 9/11. It was filmed by many amateurs, and you do not publish it. I've never seen it, and it should stay undercover. You do not need to see it. And what I do here-- in the shock of the moment, I advise her, you should rather destroy this. Never listen to it. And she slept over it. My advice was really stupid, and she was much more prudent. She just separated herself from that tape and put it in a bank safety deposit vault. There is such a thing as a dignity in the privacy of your own death. And there's certain things that are untouchable. You just don't even think about it. You have to have it in you. And if you don't have to have it in you, you shouldn't make films. [MUSIC PLAYING] If I can't turn around a person who is unwilling, of course, you have to accept it. But sometimes, in my films-- "Into the Abyss,"-- there's the father of one of the two murderers-- Delbert Burkett. And he's also incarcerated, and pretty much for life. And he knows it. And he steps in front of the camera. And I ask him very quickly, very painful questions. And he says, you know what? I can't really talk about it. I can't real...

Capture the spectacular

When the legendary director Werner Herzog was 19, he stole a camera and made his first movie. 70 films and 50 awards later, Werner is teaching documentary and feature filmmaking. In this film class, you’ll learn storytelling, cinematography, location scouting, self-financing, documentary interview techniques, and how to bring your ideas to life. By the end, you’ll make uncompromising movies.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

To be able to look at things from may different views.

I enjoyed this class a lot. Herzog just does things his way and I love that about him. Great lessons. I learned a lot. Thanks!

Werner Herzog is one of those persons which doesen't talk to say something thats sounds nice. It has much more a deep philosophical implication.

Gems in the Desert I love the desert... finding arrowheads, petrified wood, etc., adds highlights to the experience. I found many gems in this course,


Kris S.

Wow! <3 I´m in tears and VERY moved. Werner ich liebe und schätze dich unfassbar!!!

Alla P.

Год назад смотрела курсы, тогда была возможность переводить титры на русский язык. Сегодня продлила курс и обнаружила, что теперь нет такой возможности. Или я не знаю как это сделать( Подскажите, пожалуйста

A fellow student

Werner speaks about interior ethical boundaries - probably one of the most important concepts of the entire course.

Carlos E.

It is so important to respect people’s feelings. This is really an important aspect of documentaries.

Carlos E.

I find that these detailed lessons can really make you look for the best, not simply get the story but to project the feeling as well.

Andre H.

It is very motivated the way to go to the people, to the humans. It is very important to understand especially when you are recording a documentary and you have an investigation about, just to feel the moment, to understand the person in front of the camera and to highlight your most sensible side.

Lois B.

I really liked the way Herzog interviews this person who, hearing about his crimes, we think he must be some kind of monster. I used to work treating juvenile sex offenders. Reading their files they sounded like monsters but meeting them they were just persons. Its a mystery, what causes one person to commit horrible crimes and another to try to prevent cruelty.


YES, films are all about different emotions, feelings and experiences of HUMAN BEINGS.

Ryan L.

That bit from Grizzly Man is so haunting. Even being unable to hear the tape, seeing such a famously crazy awesome guy as Werner Herzog nearly brought to tears by it, with his hands shaking as he takes off the earphones, tells you all you need to know.

Brett B.

I think the lesson here is that no matter how "monstrous" our crimes or misdeeds, or the crimes or misdeeds of our subjects, they are still human, and for that, we need to treat them with dignity. There are some things that should not be shown or shared. I tell my students all the time, "No matter how you feel about someone, they are a person, and they are going through some sort of struggle. Be kind to them." We, as filmmakers, are to tell a story, not judge. In the glass castle which I have built for myself.....enough said. Whether you are spiritual, or religious, or just think karma is a bitch, we don't have to be the cause of someone's ill feelings, or contribute to the dealing of another's "bad hand." Hard stories are great stories, but again, be dignified.