Film & TV

Writing a Script

Werner Herzog

Lesson time 9:59 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.
Get All-Access


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 took lots of notes. learn new ways to shoot with a camera and how to tell a story. It was good. I can wait to use the notes while doing a short films... I cant wait to take more classes and use them.. Master class thanks for giving us a chance to take classes.

The class forced me to look deep into my thoughts and put out of it the nuggets of gold for how to approach directing.

I am tremendously excited and can't wait to start this chapter of my life. this adventurous challenge.

Werner has an unique point of view on filmmaking. And his masterclass is quite unique. I really don't have any excuse not to make a film.


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.

Ketzal M.

So Werner poo-poos the three-act structure? Maybe I have a misunderstanding of that strcture but how can a filmmaker possible make a coherent, compelling, and satisfying film without a three-act structure? Without three acts, it seems to me, you'd be making an avant-garde art film.

Andrea P.

I like the urgency recommendation. Writing fast and furiously, tightly focused on what you're trying to say, especially within a short timeline, automatically culls out unnecessary words. And when you read it back or hear it, you can feel the movement – feel the compact and forceful energy of it. Yes!

Carlos E.

for me Urgency is the willingness to get organized and to force yourself to write.

Thomas T.

Dude, I love this! Ignore the 3-act structure. don't make mediocre predictable films! I love the way Werner thinks!

Alexandra Y.

The method of playing music and writing furiously to get it all out definitely is a naturally furious process to get out the main raw emotions and messages that one may have for a film script. What we need is to connect to the audience- they have to feel just a drop of relevance in what they're experiencing to stick with our story.

Eric G.

The urgency comes with the intention, and then it is woven in with the obstacles. You will find these keys in Sorkin's course if you have an "open pass" for the masterclass series, and I recommend it along with Scorsese's course. Most of all, I truly appreciate his frankness about the legendary "three-act requirement" in screenplay writing. My first screenplay now in pre-production financing is five acts, arguably divisible into three what wouldn't make much sense in a two hour highly intense spy-action thriller.