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Arts & Entertainment

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.

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

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 have especially enjoyed reading his book "Conquest of the Useless" and his advice on reading as much as possible.

Excellent, very documented and professional. Thank you very much.

I believe i am in the right place to give a kick and catalyze my Filmmaking dream to reality

Surprising. Funny. Insightful. I had to watch right to the end. How about a "Werner" sequel?


Yasser M.

I am facing issues with video not playing continuously. Very Irritating. Have to wait for it to buffer ever few minutes...

Hedydd I.

I really like how he dissects and shows his thinking through film scenes. I think there is something to be said about not watching a lot of modern films. Watching a lot of cinema is crucial, but it doesn't have to be modern. Sometimes it's better to watch things you know are of good quality and only go and watch the films you hear people say you MUST see. Good way of only watching high quality cinema.


"i've only watched 4 or 5 films, maybe one more at a film festival" and you think this will be a good teacher? imagine if a painter said that, "i've only seen 2 or 3 good colors, maybe one more at an artshow, i think it was red" someone simply being old doesn't mean they are qualified to explain anything. i'm just taken aback, get people with a passion for a craft if not professional expertise. in general hobbiests are the most skilled, professionals a close second. and third are people with a cursory knowledge of a field because they find it strange and delightful at an abstract level. don't get people who know nothing about a field. stop getting people who are allergic to films to talk about film making or pensioners on the street playing chess with pidgeons to talk about poetry. if you simply camp out a movie theater and randomly select people, you will see people who have seen half a dozen films, maybe more. "i have not learned to make films" >.> look at the title of the class.


Is anyone having trouble with the sound? Does anyone find it overtly compressed, giving a strange feedback/tinge at certain points when Herzog speaks. I don't hear it when he shows clips. This seems to happen particularly on the right speaker. I'm watching the lesson with a pair of ADAMS speaker with a Scarlett pre-amp.

Oreoluwa S.

Hi all, I would love recommendations for really good foreign movies to see. Thanks!

Billie C.

I learned early on when I started directing not to hire people who went to film school as they rarely are able to think outside the box and many of them always said they could not do it the way I wanted it done because film school had taught them differently. So I ended up not hiring film school grads since early on I had to fire over 300 film school grads and hire crew who thought outside the box and were willing to learn, feel and enjoy the art of cinema.

Calif C.

Thank you Werner. Unfortunately I did pay a fortune to go to a film school, I was very disappointed by the film school in many ways, but at the same time it gave me a lot of opportunities to do things I will never have done if I stay home. But I still spent a lot of time watching films. I think filmmaking cannot be taught, you can only explore and do it. I did learn what to NOT do, but havent quite clear what should be done to order to make a great film.

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. :)