Film & TV

Documentary: Making the Conversation

Werner Herzog

Lesson time 14:37 min

Werner discusses his techniques to "crack a human being open." Learn how to make your subjects comfortable, identify with them, and capture their humanity.

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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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I'm a little uncomfortable with the term interview because I'm not a journalist. I do have conversations, and normally I'm not very well-prepared. Very often, of course, I know a lot of the background of a person. Or in Death Row, I know the entire first reports of homicide detectives-- a case file, sometimes 1,000 pages-- but nothing that really pertains to what I'm going to speak now on camera. I do not have a questionnaire, I do not have a piece of paper with a catalog of questions. I have to try to get into a deeper dialogue very, very quickly early on. And normally I do not speak to the persons before, so that things still remain fresh. I do not have anything like a basic standard question that brings me to the essence of a person. I don't have it, because you have to somehow be aware that every person has his or her own structure and her own value system and her own vision. So you better explore what's coming at you, and you have to react very quickly. I try to have my people whom I'm covering in the film not doing a statement for a camera. And in Grizzly Man, for example, the coroner-- who speaks very eloquently and really in a very, very strange, intense way-- I had him on camera, Dr. Fallico in Alaska, in Anchorage. And he, in front of the camera, starts to speak about deaths and his findings as a coroner. And I stopped him within 30 seconds and I said to him, you're not here in front of a jury, we're not in a courtroom, you're not the expert witness. You know what? You studied this case, you had the remains of Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard on your table, you had them. And this was something you had to deal with as a person. So I want to see a human being that speaks to me. I said, did you understand that? And he said, yes Werner, I know, I think I know. And I said, let's roll it one more time. And he goes on camera and he's wonderful. In the case of Timothy and Amie, what I had were body parts. Just the visual input of seeing a detached human being before my eyes makes my heart race, makes the hair stand up on the back of my head. Particularly in combination with the contents of a tape, an audio tape that is the sound portion of a video tape. And when I find out from other investigators that the shoes nearly placed at the entrance to a tent, and the cap left on a camera so that the visual part could not be recorded-- yet the tape is running so that we can hear the sounds of Amie screaming and the sounds of Timothy moaning, it tells me that this event occurred very, very quickly-- suddenly and unexpectedly. I clearly can hear her screaming stop and go away-- maybe run away, there's a lot of background noise. Timothy is moaning, and I hear Amie beating on the top of this bear's head with a frying pan. And Timothy is saying run away, let go, run away, run away, Amie. Run away. Amie had a great deal of conviction. ...


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.



Reviews

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

A master of his craft. Herzog's class is incredibly engaging and provides insight to what has made him so successful throughout his 55 yr old career.

Firstly thank you to all Masterclass team for this class experience. It's was nice to hear the way Mr. Herzog thinks and shares his knowledge. Now is in our hands... and our pockets. :)

It was honestly refreshing just hearing his "Just get up off of your ass and make the film" approach. His pragmatism and the war stories from the trenches of film making are ones that I will carry with me.

It was wonderful experience to hear straight from the legend. It gave me a great insight about the documentary film making and film making as a whole. He has opened up the window to see things in a very different way.


Comments

Liz Bahena

Listening to the doctor recount the audio of Grizzly man is so freighting and can paint an image in ones head. an awful way to go.

Eric G.

Finding humanity if filmmaking is often the key element in the craft. As the legendary Sanford Meisner said (paraphrased) to all new actors when he described the actor's craft, he said, "Real acting (film making) is living truthfully in an imaginary world." Werner is master because he knows this and how to capture it. Well done.

PHIL

The King of Docs, Errol Morris. https://www.thebroadcastbridge.com/content/entry/1804/errol-morriss-interrotron-works-wonders-for-documentary-interviews https://www.thebroadcastbridge.com/content/entry/1804/errol-morriss-interrotron-works-wonders-for-documentary-interviews

Gordon & Sam W.

Astounding and powerful. Such crucial insights about finding ways to connect with people, to get them to really think, and open up, and talk to them on a level that's beyond what they're used to reeling out day to day, and instead getting through to what they really think and feel.

Jim S.

I once made a documentary for a small Quaker church with only about 30 members, who ran a home for women who had just gotten out of prison. Most had been in prison on drug charges and many had lost their children. The church had a program to help them get jobs and cars, learn to manage their finances, and get away from the relationships that had led to their problems. Even though I saw these women at church every week, there were many heart-wrenching stories that I did not know and am so glad that they felt comfortable telling them to me. One women eventually met a man who had gone through a similar program and I was very happy to film their wedding.

Dan S.

I noticed, at the start of the footage of the death row preacher, his lip quivers. He was primed to reveal an emotional truth but was personally and professionally guarded against it. Werner's question about the squirrel seems, on the surface, to be nonsensical but he must have heard, in the preacher's golf course story, a hint of agency: the preacher was able to stop his cart to avoid the oblivious squirrels. Their blunder didn't cost them their lives, but, in a few moments, he'd witness humans whose blunders (rather than their inherent evil) would cost them theirs. And, he made the connection himself: he could not stop this loss of life through his actions. Then, professionally, he regains his composure, and is honest: "I wish I could." Werner's sideways question nudges the preacher down this path, artfully and with a deep understanding of human nature. Wonderful!

Mindaugas Ž.

There is something deep in this person and personality, indeed. Something very powerful.

Irv K.

Wow such powerful filmmaking. This is a great insight into how a director can see into and reveal human nature and all of its beauty.

Gippsland G.

My Lordie...cracking open a human being to reveal his humanity? This is a sacred moment. I teach Ethics to my students (16 year olds) and I show them 'Dead Man Walking' ...and through it I open up for them the moral transcendent approach to ethics. It is an approach that does exactly what Werner teaches here: you treat the person as a sacred mystery, you wait for the truth and the reality of that person and his situation to reveal themselves. You don't prejudge anything, but allow the moment and the issue to crack itself open...by asking THE QUESTION that might draw it out. I often use Pompey the Great as an example. Faced with the task of cleaning up a piracy problem that threatened to bring the Empire to its knees, Pompey takes the first steps by dividing the Mediterranean into 24 squares and puts generals in charge of each. Now he could have just used brute force and chosen to smash each pirate nest right from the start. But he doesn't. He asks the QUESTION just like Werner's squirrel question. He asks: what do these pirates want, what do they need, what is their humanity? And the answer that revealed itself was this: they need security. As a consequence, he put this to them (the pirates) this alternative: Rome gives you a choice--land for your security, or destruction. You choose. And in a remarkably short period of time he broke the back of the sea and land piracy emergency. It would become the 'Pax Romana' for which Augustus took the credit! LOL Nikolai Blaskow

Drew V.

that ability to not know someone and elicit that type of reaction out of them is truly an art. great lesson