CreativityMedia Production

Director Werner Herzog on Filmmaking

I’ve been reading the fascinating book “Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed.” I’m a huge fan of the enigmatic German filmmaker, especially his approach to documentaries. Since I’ve been involved producing “The Insanity of God” and “Let Hope Rise: The Hillsong Movie” documentaries have been on my mind a great deal. I particularly love Werner’s advice on breaking into the industry. I only wish I had heard this after graduating from college:

“The best advice I can offer to those heading into the world of film is not to wait for the system to finance your projects and for others to decide your fate. If you can’t afford to make a million-dollar film, raise $10,000 and produce it yourself. That’s all you need to make a feature film these days.

Beware of useless, bottom-rung secretarial jobs in film-production companies. Instead, so long as you are able-bodied, head out to where the real world is. Roll up your sleeves and work as a bouncer in a sex club or a warden in a lunatic asylum or a machine operator in a slaughterhouse. Drive a taxi for six months and you’ll have enough money to make a film. Walk on foot, learn languages and a craft or trade that has nothing to do with cinema.

Filmmaking — like great literature — must have experience of life at its foundation. Read Conrad or Hemingway and you can tell how much real life is in those books. A lot of what you see in my films isn’t invention; it’s very much life itself, my own life. If you have an image in your head, hold on to it because — as remote as it might seem — at some point you might be able to use it in a film. I have always sought to transform my own experiences and fantasies into cinema.”

How many of you followed that advice early in your career?  Or like me – WISH you had?

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  1. I took an editing/directing class from Werner in college. Though his viewpoint is dark (and anti-God,) I appreciate how his interests don’t stop at filmmaking; He embraces all arts. He’s also aware of the world at large but hones in on his viewpoint in such a way where you cannot remove Werner from his work. He has a strong presence in person (and of course an unforgettable voice.) If we all trademarked our work with who we are as he has done, I believe we would have a much richer content pool instead of an excess of cookie cutter films. — Side note: he also has an awesome course on Masterclass if you want to learn more of his whole process; first thing he says is don’t waste time getting a film degree haha Something I KNEW he felt at our school and it was just funny to see it confirmed.

      1. I will never forget it. 🙂 The class was part of editing Death Row. His work process is so simple compared to the zillion rules we’re taught (that are valuable, but it’s still good to know it’s healthy to break them!)

  2. This is a good advice Phil. thanks for sharing. I think not knowing this, I have somewhat followed his advice in my past 20 years. When I was in Austria as a refugee, I experienced every moment of what it meant to be a refugee. and living among them. Soon I had a story to tell, but no money. I wrote it, I invested all my savings and with some friends help shot the movie on super 16mm film. I didn’t have the money to telecine the reels, so I just developed the negatives and came to the US. it took me 3 more years to save and raise money for telecine, film transfer, edit and finally it was released to select theaters (becuase it was in Farsi). By then I had spent close to $60,000 on the film, and thank God all of that came back tfrom the box office sales.
    Phil you have been at our studio in Burbank. But as you know, we started from a small bedroom, where it was considered a music studio and editing room, as well as work office 🙂
    The important thing is to START moving forward at wherever you are, and with whatever you have.

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