From Werner Herzog's MasterClass

Teach Yourself Storytelling: Watch Films

Werner teaches you the importance of careful film analysis by deconstructing the opening scene of Viva Zapata, starring Marlon Brando.

Topics include: Film openings • The universal rules of filmmaking


Werner teaches you the importance of careful film analysis by deconstructing the opening scene of Viva Zapata, starring Marlon Brando.

Topics include: Film openings • The universal rules of filmmaking

Werner Herzog

Teaches Filmmaking

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You should know you have to deal with someone who has not learned how to make film. I'm self-taught. In fact, during the end of the Second World War, Munich was bombed and I was only two weeks old, and my mother and my brothers were displaced. We fled to the most remote mountain valley in the Bavarian Alps. So I grew up without even knowing that cinema existed. I didn't see films until I was 11, and I only noticed that something like cinema existed later when I was in Munich during my adolescence. I saw Tarzan, and Dr. Fu Manchu, and films like that. Of course, what would be very highly advisable is watching other films. It's not really my thing. I've never watched many films. I see three, four, maybe five films, sometimes at a festival a little bit more. But I know, for example, all the French film directors from the Nouvelle Vague-- Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer, Louis Malle, and so on. I was sitting in the cinematic, watching three films a day. Foreign films without subtitles. Like the illiterates, I had to learn how to understand a film and a story anyway. It started for me with a very primitive film when I was 14-- Dr. Fu Manchu. And I noticed it was one of these [INAUDIBLE] pictures, that in a gun battle, a guy was shot from a rock and he somersaults through the air and disappears in the ravine. And 10 minutes later another gun battle. And all of a sudden, I see these three seconds of the same guy doing the same kick in mid-air. And I knew there was something fake. I always thought it was true what I saw. And I started to tell my friends-- there was something, didn't you notice? In this other gun battle, the same guy was shot down from the rock again. And nobody had seen it. And I started to see things, films a little bit like this. How was suspense created? Very, very important. How do you do that? Hitchcock is a good one, but not the only good one. How do you follow a character and sometimes lose a character, and still have him in the back of your mind? How do you analyze-- I hate to use this word-- but how do you analyze the flow of a picture in the technical means with which it was made? And what I see very often in film schools-- even a very selective group of young people who go to film school, when you are into the very prestigious ones, for them, film history starts with Star Wars. They've never heard of Viva Zapata!, they've never heard of David Wark Griffith in the silent era. Never. Anything. They have not heard of Bunuel, or whatever. So, see films. I'm speaking to filmmakers-- future filmmakers. You have to watch films sometimes first with awe. You just are floored by it. But then see it again, see it again, see it again, and try to figure out how it was made-- technically, internally, in terms of story flow and all these things. And this precision of understanding the fl...

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've been a student of Herzog my whole life as an aspiring filmmaker. This class nicely and entertainingly distills his unique point of view.

Wonder class. Thank you so much. I learned a ton about the craft.

Thank you all and in particular Mr. Herzog for making such an illuminating and challenging course.

I learned that there is still much to learn for me


Kyle V.

A slow pace is highly underappreciated in cinema today in my opinion. Think of 2001: A Space Odyssey or even a film like Alien where every long pause and space allows you to take in what's on the frame and build suspense/anticipation for the next moment.

Amadeus M.

Beats and breaths are some of the most refreshing scenes on film today, in my opinion. I'm excited by the prospect of there being more of a faith in pacing in the future.


With regard to Lesson 2 assignment, I find that many (older US films and) foreign films dig much deeper with regard to the human psyche, the spirit of humanity and relationships between people. For example in Au Hasard Balthazar (French, 1966) and La Strada (Italy, 1954), I find themes of the cruel ways that people can treat one another to be so over-bearing they are haunting, though in different ways. In The Red Balloon (French, 1956), (hmmm, again strong themes of inter-relatedness, and again with odd objects such as in the other 2 aforementioned films, - here a balloon, the other two a donkey and a quixotic girl), there is so much breadth and flow to the film that one is exhilarated and uplifted too. I guess this is what Werner is talking about when he says that in looking at what moves us, we will find what we hope to express as well. :)

Sydne H.

It really struck a cord when Herzog discussed a huge difference between films now and films back in the day in regards to the allowance of breaths in the story flows & cuts. The pacing in films now are so action centric, quick paced and in your face constantly and I wonder if that's due to an increasingly short attention span rate. I've noticed myself that when talking with younger generations (kids roughly (6-12) about pop culture classic 80's films, they emphasize that they're boring and slow and quickly lose interest. On the other hand, I know several people older, including myself that prefer stories that allow time to dissect what's happening and predict future moments. Do you think as our society ages and the younger generations become our filmmakers, that we'll lose the breaths within our storytelling?

Pato C.

It's very exciting to hear Werner's wisdom on filmmaking, gold. Just pure gold.

Jacob G.

This was eye-opening and telling with regard to flow, space and time to breath, and "race ahead." I see now how many films today do not allocate space for the viewer to breath and start building their own story. As Mr. Herzog says, "... it's all cuts and action, action, action... " Some thing to consider when crafting film or cinema of any kind or duration. I will most assuredly attempt this.


What I got out of Mr. Herzog's class is that the flow of the story is critical, and the various elements like: giving space to the viewer to have their own sense of creativity in building a parallel movie; introducing the protagonist; building empathy and likability with the protagonist; building tension and suspense; and other universal aspects of storytelling which he will be talking about, all of these elements must fit in the flow of the story; and it is this story flow that creates the film and its world.

paul R.

Its healthy to have a rich knowledge of film, from all cultures. A foundation from these old masters can only encourage better film making today. Nice One Werner! ps the notes are bang on too.


For Hieu Hynth comments a few ago, Lets attempt to be a little more matter what time of the lunar cycle it may be (a joke). I want to learn and anticipate from Werner. Deep (and over convoluted) subugating into an array of side issues... is (perhaps) better suited for Hitchcock! In The Birds you have to look fairly deeply to understand that the main character desires the outcome. Lets hang her! And sue Albert Hitchchock. I am reminded of the scene in Good Will Hunting...culminating in the spoken phrase "I got her number, how do you like them apples?" This after a wind -up within which someone has learned a little in a college class--and wants to milk it. Contrary to the previous comment, the film Zapata was no incident of "Blackface"--period. At that time, if you could get Marlon Brando for your film, regardless of whether there were genuinely other actors of color "available" still would have been fiscally irresponsible to impress yourself and a much more minute number of others-- and come up with a vastly less noticed film, and let your investors down big time. Consider the period within which this was made! Please! This cavaleer knowingness and..."certainly" does not any sort of a career make, DIG? These Thought Trees, built on knee-jerk instant gratification response interior dialogue "consideration" will leave the amateur...Lost in Space. You may (at this juncture) feel totally sincere, and I get it. Things will never be as simple as your quip--but I defend your right to say what you feel from your-- I dare to say-- rather personal, POV. You may wish to take on more expansive, current realities about things like...the Abyss.

Katolina K.

Its difficult start watch old movies when you never watched. I would like to see him rode on watching again and watching again and watching again. Take times and prictis. Do you thing we can practis it also on new video?