Want to enhance your screenwriting abilities? In This Werner Herzog Masterclass review, I have discusses everything.
You’ll be surprised at how obsessive this class is! I took the Werner Herzog masterclass a few months ago when I was just stepping my foot in this arena.
And now all these weeks later I want to share my review of the Werner Herzog masterclass because I have made tremendous progress since I took it, and even now I often go back to the lessons.
I will in detail discuss all the structure and content of the class and ask all the common questions like is the Werner Herzog class worth it? What makes it different from the rest? How long does it take? It goes on. I can ascertain that it will be a great learning experience.
Overview Werner Herzog Masterclass
Werner Herzog is the legendary filmmaker who has delivered amazing films like Grizzly Man, Fitzcarraldo, and Nosferatu the Vampire, before. The fact that he has learned he knows, by himself, makes him particularly significant, making students intrigued to learn from him.
So, this Werner Herzog Masterclass offers a unique opportunity to learn from one of the greatest filmmakers of our time.
What is MasterClass and how does it work?
I am really fond of the idea behind masterclass as often aspiring individuals struggle to find the right place to learn from.
The masterclass was launched as a platform back in 2015 to gather established professionals from different fields to come forward and share their experience and knowledge with people.
It is a paid platform for learning but most of the time the cost is worth it because the knowledge shared is worthwhile, moreover it stays with you as masterclass gives lifetime access to a class once you’ve bought it.
What is better than learning from the best? However, it is recommended to consider reading the review of the class before taking your pick.
Werner Herzog Masterclass Review: My experience
You always tend to think there is so much you know about your subject of interest until you realize there is so much more to explore. It is what happened to me in this class.
Werner Herzog has an ocean worth of knowledge to share about so many different aspects of filmmaking, editing, understanding the chemistry, etc, it leaves you in awe.
Personally, loved that I was able to grasp a lot of and learn from an expert which otherwise would cost me a whole semester in college and tons of homework and assignments. So, if you’re going to this class, it’s a sweet treat!
Werner Herzog Masterclass Summary
I am sure you want to know the review and understand what the class has to offer in detail to decide if you want to take it. I’ll begin with a summary of what you can expect to learn:
- Teaches analysis of all aspects of filmmaking
- Discovering your styles and techniques
- Important leadership lessons
- How to get your cast right
- Building connections with the team
- Ensuring strong vision
- Building your fundamentals
- Funding it and how
- Edits and how to get through them
- Career talk
Let’s dive into the details
Werner Herzog Masterclass Course Structure
First and foremost, the good thing is that the entire class is divided into 25 lessons, each focusing on a unique aspect of filmmaking. These lessons are approximately 10 minutes each and six hours in total. They are titled as follows:
- Teach Yourself Storytelling: Watch Films
- Teach Yourself Storytelling: Read
- Writing a Script
- Financing First Films
- Negotiation Skills
- Leading The Platoon
- Rules on the Set
- Camera: Shooting Strategy
- Camera: Cinematography
- Camera: Techniques
- Working with Actors: Creating the character
- Working with Actors: On-Set
- Invaded by Images: Part 1
- Invaded by Images: Part 2
- Documentary: Making Conversation
- Documentary: Eliciting Difficult Stories
- Documentary: Dealing with Human Beings
- Documentary: Truth in Non-Fiction
- Career Strategy
- Life as a Filmmaker
Let’s take a closer look at what each of these lessons is about
To begin with, Werner Herzog introduces himself and raises the question of survival. Survival in this industry. He’s the man who has advertised his capability through his work and managed to stay relevant amidst/against the diversity all these years.
The ultimate goal for him is to be a good soldier of cinema, just as he wants the students learning from him to be, he mentions.
I admired the way he very humbly speaks of his position as a teacher since his course of learning was self-taught. It gave me the confidence to visualize the possibilities that I could create for myself with proper learning.
Teach Yourself Storytelling: Watch Films
The act of storytelling without actually narrating it using words is an art in itself. It’s not an art that can be excelled in a day’s time. Werner says, sometimes as aspiring filmmakers, you have to see a film analyze it well, not one, but multiple times.
He gives his own example of how he grew up in a situation of chaos and did not have exposure to movies until he was almost 11.
Although when he did start seeing films he learned to analyze and look at them from different perspectives. After all, you cannot deliver a great film unless you’ve figured out how each aspect, be it technical, internal, or the characters, is integrated into the film.
Teach Yourself Storytelling: Read
Where do we usually hear the best stories from? Either the films or books, right?
After briefly talking about teaching yourself the facets of storytelling by analyzing movies, Werner Herzog goes ahead to teaching storytelling through reading along with some good examples. He puts a lot of emphasis on reading as reading sows the seeds of understanding the flow of something.
Writing a Script
Werner begins by mentioning that he’s not all in for the popularly taught three-act structures. In his opinion, this structure is restrictive and will most likely make your work predictable or mediocre.
While sharing the tricks that work for him to psych himself up, if you read between the lines, he stresses the importance of finding something that will drag and push you to write. It can be music, poetry, or reading.
Some key points he shares in this lesson are about:
- How he does psych himself up to write
- Finding the source of inspiration
- Discovering your style of writing
- Setting the right tone through writing
I liked the part where he shares a snippet from Cobra Verde to give a better impression. Cobra Verde is one of his screenplays written as prose.
Financing First Films
Making a film sounds glamorous but starting off can be rough on the pockets. Apart from factors like the story, scriptwriting, finances matter a lot.
Especially with first films, the big question of money is raised often.
What I learned from this particular session is that in order to make money follow you, your project must prove to be worth it. A project or the film is often judged by its dynamics and the story, and producers are not often against first-timers, but the process is not easy going.
If nothing works, you have to step up and be your financier, raise your own money and manage the budget. When your budget is well managed, a bonus cash flow always follows.
Would you ever invest your money into something you know nothing about?
In this lesson, he shares great advice on how to get your producer or financier to be on board with you. Negotiations play a big role in this process, second in line after familiarising your producers with the project.
A pro tip he shares in this lesson is to usually leave attorneys out of the negotiation, rather just make yourself familiar with the basic legal concepts and terms surrounding a contract before stepping into this arena.
This kind of knowledge goes a long way and saves you from being tricked, irrespective of being a beginner or experienced individual.
I never thought much into the location’s aspect before but from Werner, I learned the importance of directing locations as landscapes just as you would direct your fellow actors.
The location could be a normal landscape but its dynamics are something you control as a director. To do this it’s important to understand the essence of it.
To emphasize more on this, he takes the example of Aguirre that was shot in Machu Picchu. To achieve what he envisioned for the scene, he familiarised himself with the essence of the location on all fronts.
For instance, the local difficulties. All this was filmed in one shot! Kind of left me in awe to hear about it.
Leading The Platoon
Werner rightly says that no one better than you can understand the chunks of the project. Because your vision is intense, the authoritativeness will come to you instinctively. The combination of vision and authority will keep everyone on your side.
From my understanding of this lesson, authority in this context does not refer to you as the King, he mentions that his ears were always open for remarks or suggestions from the cinematographers and actors, and the people. Authority doesn’t necessarily come from yelling, it comes from
- Decision making
I found this to be great advice. It really makes you reflect on the importance of binding a diverse group of people together so much that they all walk away satisfied with the work at the end of the day.
Rules on the Set
Rules, Rules, Rules! So important!
Werner talks about how it is a responsibility to make sure that your set is not a museum of chaos and I couldn’t agree more.
He shares some of his unique but interesting rituals like being a one-camera guy, not having a director’s chair or a trailer that usually set others by surprise.
The personal references in this lesson are a great help in getting to know the tantrums that can occur on a set and dealing with things that are unforeseen. For instance, taking it upon you to dissolves differences and disputes for the sake of smooth sailing.
In his words, a successful shoot day is derived from the creation of a dynamic that ensures a good working environment.
Camera: Shooting: Strategy, Cinematography, and Techniques
It’s amazing how this subject is spanned over three different, elaborate lessons. Werner is quite particular about the things he likes and the ones he doesn’t, for example, like I mentioned before, he’s the guy who will use only one camera.
Shooting is not just moving the camera around, it’s a strategic process. This is the part where a good understanding of positioning and moving comes in handy. Werner is not exactly the ambassador for the idea of storyboards, “lifeless shoot”, he calls it.
He tends to keep the actors on edge with the organized cuts. It helps him because then the actors try to do it in a single shot. That’s the strategy!
Speaking of Cinematography, he believes it’s silly to change your equipment according to the change of times. I mean sure, it’s not all that bad to do so but in his opinion, there are some unsaid rules that the cinematographers must be aware of as a part of their profession.
The key points include being aware of the projection lines of your lens, or what is a part of the frame with a particular lens.
This is a great section to expand your understanding because it makes use of practical clips for demonstration of his words. My key takeaway from this section was to learn how to strategically plan your shoot, and how to keep everything minimal. Saves you time and money!
He focuses on having an understanding of orientation. He shares some great tips like staying behind the axis with your camera while shooting a conversational sequence to avoid problems of disorientation.
He says, (and his previous work is evidence) that the audience must not be lost and left wondering where they are during the shift of scenes, such should be the orientation and camera techniques.
Working with Actors: Creating the character
What is a good story without casting the right people to do justice to your writing?
If the chemistry of your actors is right, not just with each other but even with the scene as a whole, it will send your project places! As a filmmaker, there are situations where you are expected to show personal bias, but he says in front of the camera everyone must have an equal chance.
You have to be the protagonist, during selections, there are moments where you just KNOW! You know who is it that has it in him, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a big, popular name.
To spot talent and integrate it into your project is not something that can be taught, it’s unique and eventually, you develop an eye for it.
Working with Actors: On-Set
Werner refers to his actors as “royalty” in front of his camera. As the director, you have to strike the right balance between creating a safe space and at times inducing insecurity for a scene. Sounds odd but I found this to be great advice.
He mentions that he pushes his actors only to the point where he can go with them, to build this kind of relationship with your actors is of utmost importance.
From a filmmaker’s point of view, in these two lessons, I learned that you don’t have to submerge under the pressure of picking a star power, all you have to do is pick the right talent and have confidence in them but, at the same time push them to give their best and not slack. Phew! It might take me a while to be good at this.
Sound and Music
Sound is a key aspect that deserves just as much attention as camera or lighting would so that it is remarkable. You have to learn to manage your sound and music to produce the best results.
I did not find this section as enlightening as the others. The knowledge was good, and so were the suggestions but the learning scope was not up to the point but I guess that’s okay.
He does focus on some points that filmmakers tend to forget like the importance of aligning the mood of the scene with the sound. All in all attention to details of the sound and music must be paid because it might not be verbal literally but it speaks to the audience figuratively.
Often during the edit, you realize that the structure of what you thought was a good scene, gets altered. He talks about how the nature of the scene must be in sync with the flow of the narration. What a great piece of advice, I thought!
He mentioned that he maintains logbooks, and I think that’s a habit I am going to adapt to, for sure. This practice helps him keep track of certain footage that are so strong that he wouldn’t want to let go of them in the final cut. I think these are great tips during the course of edit along with getting the right feedback.
Invaded by Images: Part 1 and Part 2
This is another section where he speaks about a lot of experiences. Ideas are not planted, they often approach you in the most unnatural ways, you just have to keep an eye out for them. Mostly traveling help. It exposes you to new physical possibilities to build your film upon.
He says that there have been times where he did not stop to check how relevant the image is to what he is narrating because it does not always have to be.
I am not sure how to put this, this section did not delve into the details of teaching but it was also nice to know about ideation from such a perspective.
Documentary: Making Conversation, Eliciting Stories, Dealing with Human Beings & Truth in Non-Fiction
Since he’s popularly known for his documentary films, masterclass has dedicated 3 lessons to it. In this section he teaches that while making documentaries, you must establish a connection with your subject, you need to have multiple points of view to formulate a good outcome.
Do a thorough case study before starting. Moving on, there is a certain degree of how involved you can be with the story, and these boundaries must be established.
Maintaining professional decorum is also very important. Discipline must be maintained and you cannot be sobbing from behind the camera, he says. I found this section to be a bit opinionated as everyone can have a different approach to filming documentaries.
My key takes from this section was:
- Be aware of the background of the person
- Maintain ethical boundaries
- Maintain professional discipline
- Career Strategy and Life as a Filmmaker
These lessons were a good blend of some practical knowledge and relatable experiences. Some of the most helpful tips were about managing money and reducing costs when you are filming or looking for inspiration, even.
The real talk he does in this section was very valuable, something I would go back to listen to even in the future. Things don’t come easy in this profession; you should be prepared for rejection and humiliation, he says.
He gives some motivation to put the best foot forward in any case, and keep learning and growing internally.
Werner Herzog Masterclass Review: Pros & Cons
Learning from the legend himself
The diversity of the topics
Good understanding of creative process and rules
Ample of examples and demonstrations
Inspirational real talk
The workbook, PDF, and elaborated Q&A
Some concepts were too abstract
Too opinionated at times
Bias towards his approaches
How much does Werner Herzog Masterclass cost?
Masterclass generally has two payment options, they are:
This is a single payment of $90. It gives lifetime access to the course you have picked. This is inclusive of all the workbook and PDF material that comes along with it. You can access it anytime you want.
This option honestly provides great value for money but it is only viable if you are planning to take multiple courses over the year. It costs 180$ and gives you full access to all of its courses over the period of one year. You can take your pick and get unlimited access to the course.
If you’re heavily interested in one or more topics, this is a great way to learn more and to expand on a range of sub-topics.
Werner Herzog Masterclass Review FAQs:
Is it worth it?
Considering the amount of knowledge it imparts, I’d say it is.
Is it only for documentary filmmakers?
No. Although it is his area of expertise, this class covers other important aspects from a generalized point of view too.
Do you need any pre-requisite to begin the class?
There is no basic requirement as such, this is the learning phase. He himself emphasizes the importance of using existing tools
Can I buy Werner Herzog’s MasterClass by itself?
Using the MasterClass “gift” option, you can purchase the course on its own. The course is only $180.
Conclusion: Werner Herzog Masterclass Review 2022
To sum up my review of the Werner Herzog Masterclass, I would recommend it if you are a beginner because it is a good compilation of the lesser talked about as well as the popular aspects of filmmaking.