Arts & Entertainment, Writing

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.

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

Topics include: Hypnotizing actors • Controlling your actors • Over-rehearsing


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 ...

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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