Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Invaded by Images: Part 1

Werner Herzog

Lesson time 08:33 min

Inspiration can come from anywhere, but you have to know how to recognize it—and seek it out. Learn where Werner got the ideas for many of his most famous films.

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

Topics include: Traveling for inspiration • Choosing subjects for a film • Keeping open to the unplanned


Sometimes I keep saying, films are stumbling into me. Sometimes they are like home invaders. There's something in the kitchen. I've used this metaphor quite a few times. You wake up in the middle of the night and you hear something stirring. And in your kitchen, you see five burglars. Uninvited guests. How they crawled in, you don't know. Through the window, through the door, through the basement, you just don't know. But one of them come swinging wildly at you, so you better deal with that one first. [MUSIC PLAYING] Now, let's get serious. Choice of subjects. How do I choose subjects for a film? I can give you a few examples. My first feature film that I made was "Signs of Life". What happened was that as a 15-, 16-year-old I traveled to Greece in order to look into the life's work of my grandfather, who was an archaeologist. I arrived in the mountains to some sort of a ledge in the terrain. And I looked down and what I see is indelibly in my mind. There's a valley, completely flat. And in this valley there were 10,000 windmills. I didn't know that it existed, but actually it was called the Valley of 10,000 Windmills. It was like a field of flowers completely filled with flowers from horizon to horizon-- and all the flower spinning with a strange creaking sound. The moment I saw it, I knew this cannot be. I must be insane. It became the central image in my first long feature film. A German wounded soldier, who is put onto a fortress. He comes across these windmills and literally becomes insane-- lays siege on friend and enemy. And manages to burn a chair and to kill a donkey. And he is actually captured by his own men. This image was something I encountered, where I knew immediately this was big. This was so big that it had to become a center of the story. I didn't have the story yet, but it came later. It fell in place very easily. But it had nothing, originally nothing, to do with windmills. But in fact, it was something physical. Something where I stumbled-- literally stumbled into something. What helps is traveling on foot, for example. You will experience a world in stories stumble into you all the time. The world-- I say it is a dictum-- the world reveals itself to those who travel on foot. [MUSIC PLAYING] "Grizzly Man" is also a good example. A producer, Eric Nelson, visited him in his office in his work place in the valley. And I was showed around. And at the end, I sit down with him at his table-- lots of things on this table-- and at the end, when I took off, I was searching for my car keys. I was standing. And it was not in my pocket. I had misplaced it somewhere on the table. And I was not looking for a movie. I was looking for my car keys. I swear to God. And he thought I spotted something and shoves an article across to me and says read th...

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.

Featured MasterClass Instructor

Werner Herzog

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

Explore the Class
Sign Up