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Arts & Entertainment

Set Rules

Werner Herzog

Lesson time 15:46 min

In filmmaking, if you're on time, you're late. Be professional: Organize your set to tell the story, not to impress anyone. Forget the director's chair, turn off your cell phone, and stay close to your actors.

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


I think we should move to practical things. Practical things. We have been into ideas and there's lots more, but I'd like to talk a little bit about the most imminent, how to organize a set. Here we have a set. 1, 2, 3, 4 cameras. And I think one camera was up there. It's still up there, which I think doesn't help us very far. But whatever. So how do organize my set in the first place? I'm basically a one camera guy. And I think you still see it around in the film industry. You see it, for example, in that director who makes Batman. His name is Nolan. Is it Christopher-- Christopher Nolan. And I really like him for that. Number one, he's still in celluloid large format, celluloid. Any he's basically a one camera guy. And I like this attitude of focus. I never have a director's chair. I do not like them. I loathe them with your name on it. In fact, I never had one in my life. And it's some sort of a standard ritual, which I do not like. And since I always threw out the idea of having my own chair, normally the actors, or producers, or other people feel embarrassed and they don't sit-in a chair. They say, yeah, but where am I going to sit then? I said, number one, I'm not sitting normally I'm standing right next to the camera. And secondly, if I need to sit, there's some apple box or something next to me. I grab an apple box and sit on it. I also do not have a trailer. It's one of these other status symbols for directors, which sets certain hierarchies. And if you have a trailer everybody in the crew, the heads of department, the actors are constantly fighting and squabbling about the size of their trailer, and the air conditioning in it, and the plasma screen in it. And it all somehow disappears. Of course, actors have to withdraw and they should have their trailer. I personally do not need it. And I waive my right to have a chair or a trailer. And I'm doing very well on a set, so I have no problem not having that. During lunch break, I normally join the a camera truck, the guys there, because normally they have the best beer. I would not like to have the so-called, video village, a play out on video. It's very, very distracting. I have been at a set of a Hollywood movie when I was shooting "Bad Lieutenant" in New Orleans. And Forest Whitaker, who was shooting only two blocks away from us, sent somebody. Oh, come over. I love your films and let's have a talk and so. And I arrive at the set. And there's a video village I bump into that first . 30 people looking at screens. And you only see-- excuse the expression-- you only so asses. You just only-- nothing else. And everybody is staring at the screens. However the actors were very, very close by and you could have watched the actors live. And I think the impression that you get when you really ...

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.

I'm fall in love the films and i like artists,real artists like Werner Herzog

It's a mile wide and an inch thick, but it's incredibly effective at understanding one master's perspective, and gives the tools to build your own.

I have learned that I need to find my own style, and making movies is the best film school of all. Werner Herzog is a genius.

So much of Werner's class applies to all art forms, I found it all to be wildly inspirational as a painter.


denis P.

it's refreshing to watch his humanity coming through. He has opened up much over the years and it is an encouraging lesson of learning how to deal with yourself and others.

Dylan H.

I guess I have painting myself into a corner. Most of my cast and crew are friends. It can make things challenging at times, but it has it's upside, too.

Darrin T.

How invaluable these set rules are. Out of all the film sets I have had the pleasure of being on, I would have to say only a few were so disciplinary. Thank you Herr Werner.

Daniel C.

Got a question: Werner says he doesn't like to use storyboards - that's it's the coward's choice - but he doesn't explain why that is. Does anyone have a take on this point?

Deborah S.

I agree with your rules. Beginning at the very end of 1999 (Y2K) I brought the first film to the states from China. I met with the Director. He refused to speak with me because he was not used to having a woman in charge (I was Ep and Producer) I told his wife that there would be no way for us to begin shooting since he would not agree to the rules. I was surrounded by Union heads for both the production and the actors, On the third day, I brought a bank President with me. I explained that the bank would not release his funds unless he agreed to the rules and furthermore, all of the government agencies like he FBI, local Police and the Immigration folks insisted that he must speak with me, sign the agreement or they could return to China. The silence in the room was almost deafening. I stood up and offered my hand to the Director who could suddenly speak English. I gained his respect and from that time forward he knew I could shut them down if they wasted any resources and did not adhere to the contract we had already agreed to. Rules are the foundation of success, not matter the medium. In the end he thought he could cancel his distribution agreement and have access to all of the seats at festivals or foreign or domestic release. I called the distributor and told him what happened. He sent the suits the next day to get the first reels and left him with second generation footage. I made sure the bank paid everyone that day. It just so happened the was the last day of production. The suits arrived and took the reels. The director or Mr. Hot stuff, was only able to release in Laos, Vietnam and parts of China. Rules are put in place for everyone’s protection. Lessons are the most valuable keys one can accumulate for success.

Deborah S.

Thank you for your comment about trailers, needless chairs and other butts, and I want that and I Need that. I come from the old school of minimal use of surrounding objects of potential distraction and instead, use your imagination. Sitting on an apple box is fine by me. I also think the Directors actions can be of inspiration to the crew as well as the actors. Your class is deeply refreshing to my mind.


This is so different from a lot of advice out there. Keeping things pared down to essentials and being precise seems like a great approach. I worked with a very small crew (not out of choice, but necessity) and it was much easier to handle than when my friend made his short with a much larger crew. There were far too many voices, distractions, noises, and it slowed everything down. Sage wisdom. Really enjoying these classes so far!

Nik S.

love it, just love every lesson of these simple, effective and traditional advises. I am a commercial model for 21 years, distractions on set became much bigger, clients, agencies and people from the production company are working constantly on their notebooks and are on their phones. Being quiet and not moving while rolling used to be sacred, but it's more distracting nowadays.

Sydne H.

Werner makes some great points about having an effective crew and day of production in this lesson - I can't relate more to the importance of cell phones being at a distance. I've had the opportunity to work on several sets so far and the level of passion and efficiency has a distinct difference between those that are attached to their cell phones and those that come to make the project happen.

Husain F.

Herzog is very down to earth whilst having a strong personality. He is truly a unique individual and filmmaker.