Werner Herzog’s Rogue Rules for Life: Part Three

There is an economy of your soul. That’s the greatest takeaway from my time with Werner Herzog at his Rogue Film School, from which I deciphered his Rogue Rules for Life and/or Filmmaking. To get a glimpse inside the filmmaker’s mind and philosophy, read Part One: Your Habits & The Craft, and Part Two: Your Audience & The Industry before diving into the final Part Three: Your Soul, below.

Your Soul

1. Truth and Fact are not the same thing.
2. Be cautious naming Truth.
3. Abandoning your dreams is abandoning yourself.
4. Be prepared, but always be open to surprise.
5. The most important experience is life experience.
6. You have to live with rejection, and you will encounter it at every step. But you can’t let it stop you.
7. The film culture and discourse that used to exist is gone; we are orphaned. You must create your own film culture if you want to stand a chance at creating anything of depth.
8. The world reveals itself to those who travel on foot. If that now seems impossible, find ways to embody this philosophy.
9. You must at some point get acquainted with your own fate.
10. Be on the move; be going somewhere. Initiative is everything.
11. A filmmaker is inherently and utterly lonely. You must actively fill yourself with substance. Not even cinematographers and actors can keep you company. Accept this, but do not seek out loneliness; you are not a monk.
12. Have a companion and raise children. Never lose touch with them.
13. The capacity of your soul must remain intact. There is only so much you can bear before your soul is compromised. This is the “economy of the soul”.

Werner Herzog’s Rogue Rules for Life: Part Two

Unveiled below is our second installment of Werner Herzog’s Rogue Rules for Life and/or Filmmaking: Your Audience & The Industry. These “rules” were recorded mostly verbatim and interpreted by me, while attending the filmmaking master’s Rogue Film School in Munich this past March. Check out Part One: Your Habits & The Craft, and standby for next week’s third feature, Your Soul.

Your Audience & The Industry

  1. The industry is against you.
  2. Festivals are self-serving entities.
  3. Distribution systems are all dysfunctional.
  4. You can no longer look to the media for meaningful discourse.
  5. “Creative Directors” in advertising = “vile yuppies”.
  6. The industry will destroy you if you aren’t vigilant.
  7. Become more intelligent and imaginative than the system: It is cowardly and stupid.
  8. You will waste your life waiting for people to give you money and/or permission.
  9. People will only consider giving you money once you’ve built your own momentum.
  10. Content is King. If your content is good enough no one cares about the minor imperfections.
  11. Do not allow playback or video village; only the camera assistant should look at a monitor. Everyone else should be focused on the live action.
  12. During production, it is the director’s job to keep the discourse meaningful, even during the lunch break.
  13. Film budgets are typically overinflated and fraudulent. The two primary things that make a film expensive are A) shoots days and B) size of crew. A big crew makes you clumsy, while a small crew makes you efficient.
  14. Actors are deformed by the Lee Strasberg method. It is the worst.
  15. Avoid the disease of over-explaining things to actors, encourage them to enjoy it. In “Bad Lieutenant.” Herzog told Nic Cage to simply enjoy being bad
  16. Big stars aren’t sacred cows, they need to be corrected sometimes too.
  17. If your actors aren’t ready, stall for them. Don’t allow anyone in their eyeline other than cameraman. (Christian Bale was completely justified in freaking out.)
  18. As the director, you should do the slate and be the last person between your actors and the camera.
  19. In documentary, observe a real events then become imaginative with how to present them in the film.
  20. Audiences are always anonymous, but you must develop a rapport with them.
  21. Within the audience there is always a parallel, separate story that only happens for them. This is how a film is capable of becoming transcendent. Leave room for it.
  22. When all is said and done, what matters is what you see on the screen and what you bring out for the audience – especially in the way you dismiss them from the theater.
  23. Virtual reality is stupid; Zuckerberg will fail.

Lena Dunham & ‘GIRLS’ Cast Stand By Stanford Sexual Assault Survivor

Lena Dunham and her GIRLS cast join the debate—err, rage—growing over the Brock Turner rape case. It’s important to use his name so that people remember what he did, long after his brief prison sentence is over. His father can defend him, he can hide behind the elite Stanford institution and his impressive swim times, but he—Brock Turner—is a rapist.

It would be easy to think that 2016 has been a good year for women. Love it or hate it, the fact that GIRLS exists as brazenly as it does, not to mention Broad City, is an indicator that women are being represented on screen with more range than in the past. We have more stake in our own voices now than ever, right? And Hillary Clinton isn’t just a token female politician to hide corporate agenda behind, right? We should revel in our tiny victories where we can, right? Us women should feel proud, represented, heard. Right?

And yet, we still live in a culture that protects rapists. Many of us, if not most or all of us, live with a growing sickness in our stomachs that makes us want to both scream at the insanity of a culture and system that betrays us and keep ourselves quiet enough that we don’t ourselves become targets for anti-feminist hatred.

Brock Turner’s survivor is not silencing herself. She’s one of millions of women who will continue to rise, rise and rise again.

Dunham posted this video on Twitter, noting: “I dedicate this to the brave survivor in the Stanford case who has given so much to change the conversation.”

Werner Herzog’s Rogue Rules for Life: Part One

When I attended Werner Herzog’s Rogue Film School in Munich this past March, I had no idea he would be offering a $90 virtual version of his wisdom through MasterClass shortly after. The honor of being “chosen” for his in-real-life seminar may be a nice ego boost and a great way to meet filmmakers from all over the world, but it’s also a significantly heavier blow to the wallet.

While I believe any form of Herzog learning is valuable, being told directly to my face that attending the most prestigious graduate film school in America would be a waste of my time and money was priceless after a few weeks prior having to defend my values in the face of blatant sexism during my interview at said institution. In that vein, I am compelled to share a dissemination of his expensive knowledge here. It certainly can’t hurt the state of cinema or of our collective souls.

Most great advice is useless until some real life experience makes it click. So let these marinate a bit. One of the most notable things about Herzog is that his approach to filmmaking and life are the same. It’s what gives his films and his presence their stinging charm.

And with that, here is the first of three lists outlining Herzog’s Rogue Rules for Life and/or Filmmaking, as interpreted by me (mostly verbatim). I’ve broken the lists into Your Habits & The Craft, Your Audience & The Industry, and Your Soul.

Your Habits & The Craft

1. Read constantly.
2. Do what is doable.
3. Complaining is not allowed.
4. It is rewarding to take revenge.
5. Break the rules but don’t get caught (when it’s also breaking the law).
6. You must learn the heart of man/woman and you cannot do that in film school.
7. Do not go to film school.
8. Read poetry before you write a script.
9. Don’t be a fly on the wall; be a hornet that stings.
10. Three-Act structure should die.
11. Do not overcomplicate the camera.
12. Facts inform; truth illuminates.
13. Keep the flow of long takes.
14. Ask unusual questions, and ask them spontaneously.
15. Don’t waste footage; know what you’re doing.
16. Avoid sentimentality.
17. Go into the forrest and record all night to understand sound.
18. You should be able to step in for your cinematographer or sound operator.
19. You must know the heart of men by looking at their faces. This is how you break the ice. Be courageous in making introductory statements; your subjects need to bond with you so that they trust you and follow your vision.
20. We must alway strive to improve our filmmaking. The “why” is irrelevant.
21. Too many questions and too much research can be paralyzing; you must be spontaneous too and go after things “like a wild beast.”
22. If something is fascinating, film it. Don’t get stuck asking why.
23. If people aren’t giving honest interviews or performances, stop.
24. Introduce your leading character so that the audience is immediately on their side.
25. You must cultivate an incredible passion for your object of observation; and with that observation must be a level of depth.
26. Always leave space for pondering the meaning of our world; the audience needs time to step outside the timeline and reach forward and backward in their own minds.

Privy to the Veneer of Things in Lynch’s ‘Mulholland Drive’

In the Nerdwriter‘s video essay on David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, we dive beneath the veneer of things and discover how the legendary director plays with and manipulates our expectations to dizzying effect.

“Not content with the dreams Hollywood has been feeding us en masse for decades,” narrates Nerdwriter, “Lynch uses cliched expectation to move us into the space film has yet to go, showing us the dangers and the hopes of believing.”

At 15 years old, Mulholland Drive remains unmatched in its squeamish sex-appeal and its drawing of parallels between acting and amnesia. Lynch, for whom much of the story came to while practicing Transcendental Meditation (before it was cool), has always been reluctant to discuss interpretations of the film, but admits he considers it a love story. A twisted, masturbatory love story…

The Violence of Business Cards in ‘American Psycho’

If Australian Psycho wasn’t enough for you, check out the original American Psycho director Mary Harron narrating one of the film’s greatest scenes. Herron describes, for the New York TimesAnatomy of a Scene series, the violent masculine urges lurking beneath this suited exchange of business cards. Never has card stock and lettering been so anxiety-inducing. Everyone’s the same, the cards are practically identical, yet the rage growing beneath Christian Bale’s pore-perfect face, at the mere thought of inferiority, is palpable.

Werner Herzog Does the Internet in ‘Lo and Behold’

A few months ago I sat in a Munich conference room with Werner Herzog listening to him talk about, among other things, his upcoming documentary, Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World. He shared anecdotes about interviewing Elon Musk (“It was hard to get any human emotion out of him”), and the semi-staging of the monk shot – a “happy accident” that was both unplanned and essential. That’s just the kind of mysterious magic his films are known for. I was at his Rogue Film School, famous for including lock-picking in the syllabus. But beyond the anarchy he encourages, in filmmaking and in life, the real pleasure of Herzog is in hearing him talk about things he’s enquiring into, because he embodies the zero-fucks-given mentality better than anyone.

In the trailer for Lo and Behold (below), it’s clear Magnolia Pictures is counting on audiences heading to theaters for the iconic filmmaker himself as much as for the à propos subject matter. “The internet is a manifestation of evil itself,” says one woman being interviewed, while another man postulates that future generations may evolve beyond needing any human interaction or companionship altogether. Nothing will depress me more today than that sentiment. But if I have to hear about the downfall of humanity via technology, it’s Herzog’s voice I want lulling me into the seemingly inevitable. Lo and Behold hits theaters August 19.

And for the record, Herzog thinks Musk’s Mars plan is idiotic.

Gillian Anderson and the Would-Be James Bonds

Gillian Anderson as James Bond? The English bred actor, of The X-Files and the BBC’s The Fall (and the current star of Broadway’s Streetcar Named Desire), has been thrown in the ring as a contender for the next wave of Bond films, thanks to a poster twirling around Twitter (above). She tweeted “It’s Bond, Jane Bond. Thanks for all the votes. (And sorry, don’t know who made poster but I love it!) #NextBond.” There’s already a petition to make this happen. As of this writing, 6,368 people have signed it.

Before we spill our lemon peel martinis and invite the fanboy wrath, it’s important to note that Idris Elba (The Wire, Luther, Beasts of No Nation) has endured rampant speculation for years about courting or being courted for the role once Daniel Craig steps aside (which he might despite being offered 68 million euros for two more films). White Brit Tom Hiddleston’s name has also been thrown in the mix, but it’s Jamie Bell (of dancey pants “Billy Elliot” fame) that’s most recently been in talks for the role. Given young Bell’s resemblance to Craig, it suggests the franchise may be taken into origin story territory.

Of both Anderson and Elba, Scott Mendelson smartly writes “I would rather (if I have to chose just one option) see these actors not fighting for one would-be action franchise but rather getting their own action franchises on (relatively) equal footing as the 007 series.” This rings more sensible, given that our nostalgia for Bond my be akin to our nostalgia for a lot of things that are bad for us that we still cling to, like misogyny and overdone franchises.

File this with the stacks of arguments for women and minorities to be given equal screen representation, in case Anderson and Elba’s charisma alone isn’t reason enough to give them their own iconic characters to play. Hell, we could even make them a team. If we’re going to have franchises, shouldn’t they be led by actors we can fall head over heels for? You can’t separate Indiana Jones from Harrison Ford, but years from now our current franchises and their shoe-fillers will be forgotten.