From Werner Herzog's MasterClass

Set Rules

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.

Topics include: Shoot times • Slates • Keeping things small and efficient on-set


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.

Topics include: Shoot times • Slates • Keeping things small and efficient on-set

Werner Herzog

Teaches Filmmaking

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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 [INAUDIBLE]. 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 learned so much from Herzog. Love his philosophy and the way he sees film. Hope I can incorporate his knowledge in the way I make films too.

The class forced me to look deep into my thoughts and put out of it the nuggets of gold for how to approach directing.

Interesting. It would be wonderful to actually have access to the Kazan film, like a link to be able to watch it!

Insight is everything. Everyone will have different experiences, and it's wonderful to be able to learn from the successes and pitfalls of someone who has had so many of both.


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.

Thomas T.

I finally heard the first thing I don't agree with, in this lesson. Everything Werner has said has been brilliant, and I have been right there with him; but I do not agree with not looking at the monitor to see what the camera sees. What the camera sees will define the finished product in this visual medium. It's what the audience will see. How could you not watch it? On my sets I have a monitor right next to the camera, within 10 or 20 feet. I find it helps if the audio guy can see where the top of the frame is to keep the boom out of the shot, if the lighting guy can see how the lights look in the camera so he can make adjustments, if the script supervisor can see to keep track of continuity, if the make up artist can see to watch for glare from actors sweating, and so on and so forth. Not to mention, as a director, I am very particular about my shot composition, I have to be able to see the shot so I can compose it the want I want.

Eric G.

It is amazing to me that Hollywood Labor Unions have so many freaking "rules" about how many members MUST be on set or are required for each budget level of project, but there can be ANY amount of idiots on their mobile phones even when shooting. Professionalism has slipped dramatically, no pun intended. I have never worked on a film where the director literally had "his own chair" marked "director." Most all are either beside the camera or a selected close area. (When I directed the short film, Pattaya (unreleased), I stood next to the cinematographer.) I had a director who had a chair made ceremoniously as a joke...doubly ironic as it was for a comedy/farce film about the cliches of films made by film school won several film festival awards. I do not take my mobile phone on set unless I know I will have an important call coming and it is always taken outside the shooting area.

Andre H.

I agree with the master. I love an organized set with a really concentrated crew. Working for this achievement of films. Everyone knows how does it work and the workflow on set is really really important. I'm the same with cell phones and even other things. ¡Saludos desde Colombia!

logan P.

I have worked on many movie sets and they could all benefit from his wisdom on keeping just the essentials. There are so many distractions on today's sets. This is stellar advice guys!

Charlie G.

I feel like Werner has gave me a peak inside a world where production sets are sane, well-tempered places. I've worked on a variety of sets, large and small in a variety of locations, and time again the most enjoyable were the smallest crews in the most challenging places. Fewer cooks in the kitchen, so to speak, is the best way to construct your set. I think his egalitarian approach to directing is refreshing and very insightful.


Thanks for sharing all your RULES. They are all GREAT rules on the set. I shall try them when I start shooting. :)

Timothy C.

Shooting in the Middle East forces me to deal with these things all the time. The talent, visitors, crew...I make everyone with phones get out and I make a no break except for emergency calls rule. Sounds harsh but I deal with mostly influencers and well known people from the region. The GCC is one of the most prolific users of social media in the world so it is a big issue.