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Arts & Entertainment

Working With Actors: On-Set

Werner Herzog

Lesson time 19:45 min

Werner breaks down how he directs actors on set and how to work with the best of the best, including Klaus Kinski.

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


On my set, there are no stars. But whoever steps in front of my camera is royalty. You are royalty. And I say that to the extras as well, who pass by in the background and say a few words and disappear forever out of the film. You have to have this confidence with your actors. You have to put them on a ground, on that basis, where they feel safe. By the way, sometimes it's not good when they feel safe. You have to organize sometimes a moment, where they're kind of confused and perplexed. And I do the slate very quickly. And I say, action, do it. And this moment of fear and insecurity is needed for the scene. So I do usual things sometimes. And of course, sometimes I push them very cautiously. But to the limit, where I can go with them. [MUSIC PLAYING] Being an actor, myself, in a Hollywood film, like "Jack Reacher", there were some reading before. First of all, we would sit around a table and read the entire screenplay out loud. And I've never done that. I've always assembled my actors on the set. And that's where I start to rehearse. And things a completely fresh for everyone, completely. And it's good that I do it that way, because in my films, my actors are always lively. When they are over rehearsed, they loose a spark. It happens quite often. I also noticed that when you do too many takes of the same dialogue portion, you come to a point where from which it all sinks down. It's slowly, slowly, slowly getting more and more boring and lifeless. But some of my great admired colleagues, Kubrick for example, would shoot 80 times the same scene. And probably he had rehearsed it with his actors before shooting started. I do not know exactly, but I assume. So there is no clear path of how you would do it. [MUSIC PLAYING] One thing I would like to say about Marlon Brando. We know that at some time in his life he joined the Lee Strasberg Actor's Studio, which I do not like at all. And I believe-- I personally believe that number one, Brando didn't take it really seriously. And number two, he was much better before he was at The Actor's Studio. And in this happens quite often with actors-- when I work with actors. Those who have been too much into internalizing a role, and motivations, and all this, they're much harder to handle. It's much more difficult to deal with them. And I'm saying that, because very often they are so much into their motivations-- good actors quite often-- and they do not find the light. They move all of a sudden out of the light. And the light is gone and they are in the shadow. And it would need only a tiny sort of movement of your body and you have the light. And you have to teach him certain simple techniques like finding the light, staying in frame, simple things. Sometimes even very professional actors step out of frame and they don't even notice. And I have ...

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.

It's just good solid inspiration. We may fail. We may die. Keep going either way:)

Want to learn all from Herzog! :) Thanks for the opportunity

A master spills out his life long journey, with mishaps and all. Such an invaluable class.

Groundbreaking. A bit too authoritarian on his advices sometimes.


Nik S.

teaching -and then backing it up with a very intense scenes, what a lesson!


Although I agree that being over rehearsed can cause an actor's performance to go stale, which I find occurs more with a play that an actor has been doing a long time, rather than on film, I think the table read is valuable. As an actor, I need lots of rehearsal.

Troy D.

I. Absolutely. Love. Werner. He's got a realistic outlook on dealing with temper tantrums on set, which I've personally dealt with myself during shoots. I made the mistake of sympathizing with these actors, whom in turn only got worse over time. Werner on the other hand seems to care very little about these breakouts, and he either taunts the child or lets them exhaust themselves as why should you waste energy trying to wrangle these beasts? I better pack some chocolate for my next shoot. :)


I love his way of thinking and the anecdote of the Swiss chocolate is hilarious. You have to know your actors to be able to do that. Kinski and Herzog had a love/hate relationship and a respect for each others that led them to make these incredible movies together.

Maros M.

I understand what Werner is pointing out, however at the same time, I am thinking and realizing other important point - that we all have our own world, images, sounds, feelings, vision of whats right/wrong and a movie that comes from inside us reflects it. I do not share same feelings and point of view as Werner H. does, however I can still learn and chose what I want to apply in getting my own vision out. I am saying this, as this lesson provoked in me the response and made me think deeper, what it was that I felt uneasy when watching this one. I do not share the cold aesthetics, but still can learn.

Carlos E.

Dont over rehearse. I get the point. The scene become a set of mechanical movements.


Frank Spillers - Just saw this. Yes, if by trance you mean being in the flow, I totally understand that. It can happen any time. Recently I was singing harmony with someone and I felt it then! But that's not the same as someone putting me in a trance. Maybe it's just semantics. Interesting.

Maram J.

The part on hypnotizing actors is a little extreme, but that's just part of the eccentricity of Herzog. Let's nor forget Kubrick's extreme methods. I loved this lesson. Really reminded me of what I love most about directing, which is working with actors and figuring out a mid-point to get the most out of their performances.


I am so grateful to be taking this class and hearing his words. I am the type of director who sees the whole film and obsesses over every detail of it. I do not have an a.d., just a DP. My DP has to understand my world and see my vision with me in order for it to work. I'm self taught and I do not do things in a regular manner. Great to know that there are others like me and that's ok!

Mónica I.

Creo que la paciencia de Werner está a la vista aguantando a Kinski gritándole por una hora y media para luego tener una perfecta actuación!