Film & TV

Teach Yourself Storytelling: Read

Werner Herzog

Lesson time 17:04 min

If you want to master storytelling, don't just watch movies. Werner explains why reading is key to becoming a great filmmaker and shares passages from his mandatory reading list.

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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Read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read. You have to read because you develop a sense of storytelling. You develop a sense of flow of something. You develop a story, just even if it's completely remote from what you have read, all of a sudden, something sprouts out of it. Just very recently, I'll give you an example, I read about Winston Churchill in his early days when he's 19 or whatever. He was in Parliament and from the other side of the aisle, a woman-- I think the first female Member of Parliament, she had a very screechy unpleasant voice-- shouts across the aisle, Mr. Churchill, if you were my husband, I would put poison in your coffee in the morning. And he, without missing a beat, shouts back, Madam, if you were my wife, I would drink it. You see, it's so beautiful and it will linger. Maybe it will pop up as something similar as a dialogue. Maybe it will pop up as a sequence somewhere. And this is something completely overlooked. I see film students at very prestigious film schools and nobody of them is reading. They just don't read. And they will all be filmmakers, mediocre at very best. They will never make a great film. And you can tell some of the truly good, great filmmakers are people who read. Errol Morris, for example, he reads voraciously. Terrence Malick, he reads, reads, reads. Francis Ford Coppola, he has his own library. Recently, I've been in closer contact with Joshua Oppenheimer, who made The Act of Killing, one of the most important films that you've seen in the last 25 years. He reads, reads, reads. So it's my encouragement to everyone, just read. [MUSIC PLAYING] I was intrigued by Edda poetry, 1,000 year old Icelandic poetry and it's just unspeakably beautiful. There's a very, very beautiful translation of it by Lee Hollander. And when I was in Iceland, it was all snow and snow and my hosts said, ah, we can take you anywhere in Iceland. We have four wheel drives and I looked around. It looked boring and I said, no, I should do that in summer, going around. What else would you like to see? And I said, I would like to hold the Codex Regius, a crumpled little codex, a parchment, handwritten codex in my hand. And I actually had the privilege to be brought down into an atomic bomb safe, a bunker, under the central bank and I was shown it and I held it. And recently, I held it again. I even filmed it. And it was such an incredible experience. It's like the Dead Sea Scrolls for Israel. You hold it in your hand, you emerge, and the barber gives you a free haircut and the pastry baker gives you his best pastry and you have to taste it. It's that kind of thing and a physical approach to it. This awe to hold it in your hands, it's priceless. Some of it probably pre-dating the writing down, maybe something even 500, 600, 700 years earlier. And it begins with the ...

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.

Great second class, He's so approachable and humble. I have watched older films before but now I am really excited to dive in deeper.

Herzog is an icon. He gives key insights into transforming from a mediocre filmmaker. My favorite of his promotions is to read. You don't need school.

Great thoughts and experience shared but with great common sence and deep knowledge about the art and craft

I feel privilege to have access to high quality poetic intensity , this is what we should be looking at in our artistic endeavours .



I've downloaded an entire new browser, in case that works better, but VIDEOS DON'T LOAD only very rarely, even then the image doesn't match the voice. Fix it! It's a serious bug that doesn't happen to me on any other website! I haven't been able to watch a SINGLE CLASS since I've signed up for masterclass. I'm so madly annoyed!!! Not a single class loaded properly!!! I use safari and now google chrome. Tried it on ipad pro, on macbook air and macbook pro as well, because I was that patient for months, but this is MENTAL, get your code together!!!

A fellow student

Excellent advice, just to read and expose oneself to different stories, plots and dialogue!

Dorian D.

I came to Werner Herzog, first and foremost, through 'Fitzcarraldo' and Les Blank's 'Burden of Dreams,' the documentary about the gonzo, over-the-top filming of Fitz, an Irish rubber baron in the Peruvian jungle with the infuriating Klaus Kinski playing the lead. It isn't simply art imitating life, but art reliving through every excruciating pore of its being. It is so thoroughly absorbing that watching its maker wax rhapsodical over Brando's stilted performance in 'Zapata' left me shaking my head. Then Herzog gets into a famous Winston Churchill tit-for-tat whose setting he has completely transformed in his mind. The actual [purported] exchange occurred when Nancy Astor told a 38yrs-old Churchill, "Winston, if I were your wife I would put poison in your coffee." To which he retorted, "Nancy, if I was married to you, I’d drink it.” In Herzog's recap, it's a 19yrs-old Churchill getting into with the strident, first female member of Parliament, showing how quick witted he was [even though it was derivative]. Made me wonder why no one ever ran a fact check by Werner.

Brittani P.

Dont you dare fix your accent! I I love your voice! I'm not even a filmmaker, I'm a writer. But I'm watching your class because I love your movies and documentaries.

Kacee D.

Over the past several years I read a book every month and this year I have been reading books from the 1800's and they are totally different than books of the present age as they have more descriptions. Very well written


What a pair of fancy glasses! They snap open and click back together from the front, so interesting.


I wonder what Herzog would say about using "The hero's journey" concept by Joseph Campbell as a "structure" for the story - and would that correspond to the universal rules Werner Herzog mentioned?

A fellow student

Reading is like working out. Something which we all should do. We have the time and sometimes put up a wall. I am this or I am that so I can not do that right now. Going to read right after finishing this video.

Deborah S.

When I was a child, I was seldom allowed to mingle with others outside of my immediate family. As soon as I began to read, I found an exhilaration that tempered my loneliness. Then, came the large reel to reel that my sister and I used to record the dialogue from virtually every Cary Grant film and then we moved on to films that were on late at night. We were completely overcome with the possibilities of what each of these films would mean to our developmental abilities. My sister preferred writing about the films, I wanted to shoot them, act in them, do Voice-Overs and what ever else came to my pre-teen mind. The Twilight zone and Playhouse 90 became the examples of how I wanted to express my own stories. I have many stories now. Stories that include trials that few have survived. What those trials gave me was insight and deep motivation to tell my stories with film. I am pleased I will have a like minded mentor to guide me further into what I desire to complete next.

Rob H.

I found it more about finding a voice, not just telling a story, but doing so with depth. Looking inside your character or subject matter and bringing forth complexities and small details that not only show the story on the surface, but a detailed view of the featured facet within their life.