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.