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Arts & Entertainment

Negotiation Skills

Werner Herzog

Lesson time 08:06 min

Film is an art—but it's also a business. Werner shares his insights into the industry to help you learn how to protect your stories.

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


When you're negotiating a budget with financiers or production companies, you really have to know what you are doing. And you really have to tell them what they're getting into. You have to be completely candid, otherwise the problems will accumulate massively. And I'm always trying to keep attorneys out of discussions. It was very interesting, the discourse I had with Avi Lerner, Millennium Films for the Bad Lieutenant. And I met him for the first time in my life and he was with an entourage at five. And I was alone. And I asked, is there an attorney here? And one said, yes, I am the legal counsel of the production company. And I said, could you please only listen in? I don't want to chase you out. Listen in, do your counseling afterwards. I do not want to have attorneys negotiate. That's the end of everything. I never, and I advise you, never ever, ever, ever let attorneys negotiate. You negotiate yourself, or an agent may negotiate if you're not feeling right to negotiate yourself. The attorneys are poison for negotiations, and everybody knows that. Sometimes, in my very last film, on the Internet, I only had a handshake. Like in the old days, a handshake. And those contracts more solid in all, every single case I've only functioned on a handshake. If you have a 140-page about your directing, you know this spells disaster. And it always, the longer the contract gets, the more you are prone of running into trouble. And everybody predicted to me, this will end in a failure. You cannot deal with such a beast of the industry. And I said, let the beasts come. They are human beings. And they also have some sort of vision. Deal with them. Be responsible. Make yourself familiar with the legal basic concepts. It's not that you have to learn every term. You have to understand the concepts. You have to understand legal terms. You have to know what you are getting into. You really have to know. I had a contract offered, where it said I'm here work for hire. And I said to the attorney, work for hire is unacceptable for me, because it means that I have absolutely no right. I can be fired at any moment and replaced by anyone at any moment. My footage can be used, because I have nice landscapes, they can be used in a perfume advertisement, for example. It can be butchered. It can be spliced into YouTube clips. You can do anything you want. And the attorney was sitting in front of me. And he just was cooked completely frozen. I said, can you at least nod? He did not even nod. But I knew if I signed worked for hire, it meant a lot of consequences, where you have no position at all. In my discussion with Millennium Film, I said to them, and it was already 6:00 PM. I said to them, those other things that I need to have in the contract. Who is my cinematographer? I h...

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.

The class with Werner has taught me to slow down and let the story unfold, each project has its own identity and personality. I am the conductor, not the instigator.

I have learned more than I can put into words. I find myself one step closer to fulfilling my dream to direct after studying and visiting with Mr. Herzog. I have a deeper appreciation of who he is as a director. Kathryn

He has a very unique way to approach the story and his own way to look at the project. I enjoyed very much and learned about documentary making in natural way; and learned how he delivers this to the audience.

Looking forward to hearing from one of the best documentary filmmakers of all time!


Hedydd I.

Loved this lesson. It is so rare to see the 'artistic' directors talk about this. This has been touched on in talks by producers but to hear it from a director like Herzog is beautiful. Also read the comments if you haven't, a lot of gems in this comment section specifically.

Jon Y.

The biggest reason that you should become your own producer is you get to keep your film, make it the way you want and maintain position, control, and all rights (except for what you are willing to give away). The skills required to be a successful producer are not for everyone as you need to be business savvy, an excellent negotiator, salesman, but it's worth knowing as much as you can about these very important subjects to at least protect yourself.

Billie C.

The one reason people in the industry have agents is they do not know how nor desire to negotiate for themselves. You will be respected by negotiating yourself. Enjoy it rather than dread it.

Deborah S.

Always be honest. It is the best policy. Lawyers drag the process out. We must be the negotiator, otherwise you never learn.

Christa A.

What an absolute treasure Werner Herzog is. I'm just in awe of how candid he is in this lesson. He has confirmed so many of my beliefs though because I'm new to filmmaking I've been told so many times "that's not how this is done." It was wonderful to have so many of my gut beliefs confirmed by him. Thank you!

After seeing Fitcaraldo and Burden of Dreams I always wondered how Herzog managed to keep the investors interested, especially after losing Jason Robards and Mick Jagger, being in the middle of war, and suffering through a drought. His skills in negotiating must be extraordinary.

Eric G.

Mr. Herzog hits the nail every stroke on this lesson. Attorneys have a specific function in business to protect the rights of their clients...However, too often in their quest to earn their "billable hours" fees, they see themselves as some zealot charging forward like Mel Gibson as Lord Wallace in Braveheart shouting "Pay me!" About a year ago my studio had an offer to fund a slate and one of the films' screenplays is based on a best selling novel. The author is a close friend and we had that marvelous "handshake agreement" Werner talked about regarding the rights to use his book for the screenplay. When the offer came, a "rights options agreement" was requested by the investors and my friend's attorney started insisting we pay the "industry standard" $25,000 fee before she would issue the agreement. Ultimately, it badly stressed what had been a great friendship, but we proceeded without the agreement. Since then I learned to go with much more simple documents like Memorandums of Understanding and Letters of Intent. As a producer, you have to know what is involved at ALL levels legally, and all levels budget-wise. That is why I always do my own budgets regardless. Then I can negotiate in earnest with an understanding of how it all works together.

Iacovos L.

I really liked this lesson. I feel it's something that is rarely touched upon by other directors, so it was great getting to hear his point of view and his advice.

Sydne H.

I completely agree with Herzog here - if you have a fire within you, somehow the universe brings it all together and makes it work. People can feel your passion and power and strive and will be eager to work on a project you're not only enthusiastic about, but also enthusiastic about them being a reason the ride turns out so magnificent.

Manuel B.

I totally agree when you have fire within you, you will find a way to make it work