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5 Brief Lessons From Werner Herzog's Film School

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire September 10, 2011 at 3:41AM

When Werner Herzog's "Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life" premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday, the director surprised many audiences by confessing that he had no protocol for interviewing prisoners on death row. He speaks to one of them in the film, but will soon complete a four-part mini-series for Investigation Discovery with more. Budding filmmakers might think Herzog makes the job look easy.
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When Werner Herzog's "Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life" premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday, the director surprised many audiences by confessing that he had no protocol for interviewing prisoners on death row. He speaks to one of them in the film, but will soon complete a four-part mini-series for Investigation Discovery with more. Budding filmmakers might think Herzog makes the job look easy.

But even if he doesn't prepare in a conventional fashion, he still has a unique modus operandi, which he has shared with select crowds for his traveling Rogue Film School over the last few years. The weekend seminar, which has occurred around the country, provides unique access to Herzog's way of seeing the world. He shared with indieWIRE a few essential lessons from the program.

Who said anything about watching movies?

I tell them to read, read, read, read, read, read, read. Only those who read own the world. Those who are on the internet or watch TV too much lose the world. I give them a required reading list that has nothing to do with cinema. I tell them to read Virgil, to read Latin. To read Latin is to understand the genesis of our culture, of the Western world.

Herzog will watch your required film submission for the School. Even if it's not good, you may still have a shot.

In my profession, you have to know the heart of men…There are so many young people who want to learn from me. I try to give a systematic answer to this by admitting them to my film school. I'm the one who watches every single thing that's submitted as an application. Sometimes, I'll take a young man or a woman who made a bad film because it might have some spark of interest to me.

There's a reason the title of the film school includes the word "rogue."

I teach them how to pick locks. A filmmaker should know how to open a closed door.

Buy some hiking boots.

It's important to walk, irrespective of the destination, because the world opens up itself to those who travel on foot.

Don't expect him to analyze "Fitzcarraldo" at great length.

I cannot tell you how to see my films. I can't be the judge of them.

This article is related to: Features, Interviews, Into the Abyss