To submit requests for assistance, or provide feedback regarding accessibility, please contact

Arts & Entertainment

Writing a Script

Werner Herzog

Lesson time 09:58 min

Forget the three-act screenwriting structure. Werner reveals how he draws on poetry and Beethoven to inspire scripts that capture his vision in words.

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


Very often, I have had the feeling this whole three act structure that is being taught in film schools is kind of ridiculous. What is a three acts in Aguirre? In the leading character, from a certain point at the end, has to change and has to be a different man. No, not so! Not in Aguirre. Aguirre is bad, and he's only worse at the end. So it doesn't function with me like that. Sometimes there may be something like five or six acts in a film that I have made. I think it's brainless. It's really brainless to structure yourself. And it, very often, is a signature of mediocre films that become very, very predictable. And I don't want to make that kind of films. How do I psych myself up into writing? What I do the day before-- normally the day I start to write a screenplay, I read poetry, but really high caliber Roman antiquity, Virgil, old Icelandic Edda poetry, 1,000 years back, Tung poets from China 8th, 9th century, and other things. And I read and read and read, and I get into this fury of language. And its very, the highest caliber of language. And I know when I start to write, I'm not going to step down below this, or at least I try never step down below this. The second thing is, I play music to myself while I'm sitting there. I play normally it's Beethoven. Beethoven's symphonies are ones that have this dynamic and power, and it pushes me along. And I play it loud. My wife gets crazy when she hears it the sixth time in an afternoon. I'm playing the same Beethoven symphony. But it carries me, it pushes, me, it drags me along. So each one of you who writes has to find his or her own way how to write. For me, it's fast, urgent, high level. And always with a very, very clear idea and vision of a film that's going to be at the end as a result. I can read from Cobra Verde just to give you an impression. And again, this is written in prose not with dialogues. Only recently, I've started to have dialogue inserted in the names of the speaking people. And it starts with an image of heat, the notion of heat. "The light, murderous, glaring, searing. The heavens birdless. The dogs lie dazed by the heat." And now comes a beautiful sentence. "Demented from anger, metallic insects sting glowing stones." who would write that in a screenplay? Yes it is a form of literature. And you can imagine, as somebody who reads this, yes, this is a climate that we have to create on the set. Yes, a cinematographer knows what we have to do. And it ends-- I'll just read a little bit to give you a feeling for the kind of quality of writing and the literary aspect of it. Francisco Manuel staggers towards us. He seems to be confused, murmuring. The slaves will sell their masters and grow wings. I want to find snow during the film. He was frequently speaking about faraway mountains in that there was snow. ...

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 learned that there is still much to learn for me

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

It has given me new perspective on my filmmaking and I love listening to the anecdotes Werner offers.

Really great for learning how to do lean filming and how to stay alive in a competitive and expensive business.


Hedydd I.

The power for me in this type of thinking is showing that there are multiple ways you can go about making films. More importantly, you have to find your own way, your own style.

A fellow student

This is really amazing to hear Werner speaks about alternatives to three act structure. I love this. I'm writing from Johannesburg, South Africa where financiers and television networks are so obsessed with three act structures. But my question is how does one work outside the three act structure?

Mallory G.

I've always struggled with screenwriting. I just don't feel like I have a clear idea of where the story is going. I would love to be a director of photography one day, but sometimes I feel like I'm being told I have to be good at everything to work in film, including writing and directing. Does anyone have insight about this? I think I could direct one day, but I'm not sure I could ever write.

Kerry W.

Basically a vomit draft. I am assuming Werner has mastered the vomit draft. This is something you can do I am sure. It is not something you have toor can teach. You better have your own budget for your film if you are to get away with this. It may be a way to create unique screenwriting or at the least a great novel or book. I find it hard to grasp as a universal formula for great filmmaking. Which is show but don't tell. The art of visual storytelling. Yet it is Werner, so I am still intrigued by his process. I am sure there are tricks of the trade hidden in his class... like a needle in a hay stack.

Kevin P.

It’s reading the comments on here that takes the learning so much further.

Reward E.

It's interesting how a story possesses you. it wakes you up at night, yanks you from an interesting movie and daily hubbub. Yes! reading does fuels the writing.

Jean-Paul M.

I would really like to know what Werners screenplays look like. I mean If he writes it in 4 days, does he have a 90 page screenplay? or is it more of just an outline with some dialogue ideas? does he take that to investors? how does he know if he will full 90minutes of screen time? does he just wing it on set? If anyone knows these answers please help me out as I am super frustrated, and can never really full a 90 page screenplay, and feel whenever I try it just becomes garbage trying to full pages, for the sake of formula. Help please.

Puneet P.

Drawing diligently does📲n't always decipher delicious characters in cinema🎼🙊🎞🙉🎞🙈🎞

Tom S.

Loved this! Nice to see that kind of writing too. Really gives me more ideas and a better understanding of characters problems and behaviors

Philip C.

Anybody know where we an get a copy of his "Cobra Verde"? I would love to read his screenplays written as prose.