Chapter 3 of 26 from Werner Herzog

Teach Yourself Storytelling: Read


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.

Topics include: Mandatory reading for filmmakers • Virgil • Icelandic poetry • Becoming your subject

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.

Topics include: Mandatory reading for filmmakers • Virgil • Icelandic poetry • Becoming your subject

Werner Herzog

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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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. You’ll learn storytelling, cinematography, locations, self-financing, documentary interview techniques, and how to bring your ideas to life. By the end, you’ll make uncompromising films.

Watch, listen, and learn as Werner covers every aspect of filmmaking, from pre-production to distribution.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Werner will also critique select student work.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

It´ s my first masterclass, and it´ s amazing how much I learned. I´ m really exited that my next film will be way better just because I´ ve received a class from one of the greatest.

I like Werner. It was wonderful. I like Masterclass very much.

I'm the oldest student - 85 - I've traveled the seven continents, camera in hand, and written Wonderlust - Wondering While Wandering. This next!

simply amazing, so poetic. I wouldn't change a dot.


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.

Charles B.

I am very sad by this emotional tone in this class. Werner is enamored, he loves negativism. He loves the grotesque. I am really not interested in knowing more about the negative, I am interested in knowing more about the positive. I watched his Klaus Kinski movie Fitzcarraldo. This is an amazing movie, and it is about a Spanish Conquistadorean trip into the Amazon to find Aztec or Mayan city of Gold. They fight disease, they have an official assassin who kills whomever is contrary to leadership, the natives kill off more of the conquistadors as each act of the movie comes and goes. It is an exercise in futility. And ends dismally. I followed Klaus Kinski's works in the years afterwards. More negativity. I am not even sure I want to finish this class because he is wallowing in so much negativism.


I’m really bad in story telling but I can show u a story , how can I develop that skill ? And what are the top 3 techniques to introduce a character ? If the film let’s say was about Alzheimer ?


What are the key characteristics qualities a person must have to be able to creat the side dialogue in who ever is watching ?

Carlos E.

His advice to constantly read makes real sense. I imagine it is like storing ideas without knowing it.

Carlos E.

I like very much the idea of sending a strong message with the opening scene. It seems that the mind sets itself for whats next. Its like the opening in the series Lost with jack’s Face and then the pandemonium around.

Bryan F.

he is a great storyteller... he tells good stories about storytelling. He makes me want to hear stories and learn stories and tell stories. As they say in Iceland, Impressive

Phuong N.

Storytelling is an essential skill of a filmmaker. You learn this skill by reading a lot and observing the world. Through your eyes and mind, you develop a sense of thinking, rather than passive feeling.


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 ...