Arts & Entertainment, Writing

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.

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Topics include: Writing to Beethoven • Writing with urgency • Modifying scripts on-set


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. ...

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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