Arts & Entertainment

Documentary: Dealing with Human Beings

Werner Herzog

Lesson time 11:31 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.

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Topics include: Respecting ethical boundaries • Speaking like a human being


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 It was filmed by many amateurs, and you do not publish it.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...

About the Instructor

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.

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Werner Herzog

In 6 hours of video lessons, Werner Herzog teaches his uncompromising approach to documentary and feature filmmaking.

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