It took a little time to get around to week 3 of Werner Herzog’s Filmmaking Masterclass (what with the homework and general life stuff) but I finally made it! That’s the great thing about having an online masterclass. You can take the class at your own pace and fit it right into your own personal schedule.
I didn’t think Werner would touch upon camera stuff when I first started this class but, glancing at the modules covered in this week, I was delighted to see we would be learning the following:
- Set rules: on director’s chairs, video villages, crew size, doing the slate and last looks, defending your actors’ eyeliner, dealing with phones and walkie-talkies, how to schedule shooting.
- Camera shooting strategy: feature cinematography, how to prepare, avoiding excess coverage, shooting in single shots, documentary cinematography, how to set up and shoot quickly, not leaving camera decisions to post, collecting the remarkable.
- Camera cinematography: gear philosophy, operating with your whole body, what makes a great cinematographer, setting a visual mood, momentum over style.
In the third week of this masterclass, Werner does NOT get into the nitty gritty of camera types and lens and equipment.
There are 3 massive lessons on camera strategy and cinematography and yet he doesn’t tell you exactly what to buy or what different equipment does.
But he does tell you to make a pinhole camera for under $10 and limit yourself to taking just one landscape and one portrait photo.
“Before you ask for a state-of-the-art camera,” Werner Herzog says. “Show me a photo you have done with a pinhole camera.”
He gives you a rigorous schooling in the principle of YOU being the most important thing in filming. Not the gear.
Werner regales us with many examples of great filmmakers who made high art without state-of-the-art equipment. For example, Jean Rouch, who made one of the finest documentaries ever, Les Maitres Fous, used a beaulieu camera that was hand cranked and could only do 25 seconds per shot.
At one point in the lesson, Werner stands up and physically shows you his technique for operating at one with the camera. He shows you how to grab the camera and have your elbows solidly tucked to your body. How to be soft and fluid and weave into the scene you are creating.
He reveals his philosophy of zoom shots, flip screens, storyboards, lighting, and more.
Werner Herzog might not tell you the exact details of the equipment to use because…
- He drops golden crumbs for you to follow so you can direct your study yourself.
- In the grand scheme of things, it is not important.
Golden crumbs include directing you to great cinematographers like Thomas Mauch, Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein, and Peter Zeitlinger.
He also goes into great detail (in one of my favourite parts of the course) about how he studied the late medieval paintings of Georges de la Tour in order to know how to achieve the gothic lighting effect in Nosferatu.
Werner talks about aesthetics and momentum and drops golden nuggets of wisdom in literally every single sentence that comes out of his mouth.
All of his lessons are hedged in deeply entertaining anecdotes from the battlefields of filmmaking. When you sign up to the masterclass, you should particularly look forward to Werner’s thoughts on the famous Christian Bale rant and why he is 100% on Bale’s side.
Week 3 of the Werner Herzog Filmmaking Masterclass was extremely illuminating and, of course, I’m now once again mired knee-deep in homework. But I can’t wait for the next week. I’ve peeked ahead and it looks very exciting (stuff about creating characters and working with actors).
Have fun and let me know how you get on. If you need a filmmaker buddy to help out with some of the assignments, drop me a line and I’ll be more than happy to meet up.
Another update will be ready once week 4 is complete!