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 ...

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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 loved this class. I learned so much from Mr. Herzog. He made the class fun to learn and his passion is infectious

Well, I didn't want my time with Werner Herzog to end. So, I'm just going to have to visit this series, again. I'm sure every time I hear it, I'll find something I missed while pondering what I just heard. He's the real deal. No BS. Thank you, Werner Herzog and thank you Masterclass.

It's a amazing insight of the filmmaking experience and it gives you confidence on making your own films and getting great advice from a legend.

A genuine and generous sharing of personal experiences that encourage the hearty and brings everyone down to stark realities that artists in other realms realise clearly in the first person. It should work for pragmatic idealists. I have been there and I am grateful that the master suffered similar let downs. Yet he encourages pilg


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.

The Peregrine is about stepping outside of time. Be-ing. Observing. It is about great prose. Werner shares his appreciation of American ID shows and the pacing of narration...of the words ability to hold us in the moment...great narration leads us, like the penguin, to a place of unknown. His narration in Grizzly Man creates a narrative flow that does two things; we see Timothy's story, and Werner's world view. In Grizzly Man Werners narration is as seductive as Timothy's images.

Brian K.

I finally finished The Peregrine. I didn't like it. I understand why Herzog holds it in high regard, but for me it was an excruciating slog to get to the end. I'm worried that in this internet age, my attention span has deteriorated. I hadn't read a book in a few years and I was not ready to jump right into The Peregrine. For such a short book, it's boring, repetitive, and uncomfortably intimate. Instead of a plot or story, we're able to get lost in the mind of an obsessive birdwatcher. JA Baker is essentially Patrick Bateman but instead of business cards and Huey Luis and The News, it's birds and bird carcasses. It's honestly kind of horrific. I get why Herzog likes it... Maybe I will revisit it one day.


Like him I learned film making on my own, and I still do better myself and my craft through these Masterclasses. It is refreshing to see how inspired and passionate someone with his experience can be.