Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Teach Yourself Storytelling: Watch Films

Werner Herzog

Lesson time 05:36 min

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

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

Topics include: Film openings • The universal rules of filmmaking


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 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...

About the Instructor

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.

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Werner Herzog

In 6 hours of video lessons, Werner Herzog teaches his uncompromising approach to documentary and feature filmmaking.

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