Signing up for the Werner Herzog Teaches Filmmaking Masterclass was a no-brainer. I’ve just finished Aaron Sorkin’s Screenwriting Masterclass, which I got tremendous value from. I’ve got ambitions to become a filmmaker. Plus… It’s Werner Herzog! I don’t know how they did it but Masterclass managed to add another world class artist to their already impressive oeuvre (along with the likes of Kevin Spacey, James Patterson, and Christina Aguilera).
To be upfront, this review contains affiliate links. I loved this masterclass so much that I wanted to make it one of the few products I officially recommend. I wrote this review before promoting it and this review certainly is not paid for but I’ll get a commission if you buy based on my recommendation, which I then use to keep this site up and running.
If you don’t know already, Werner Herzog is the filmmaking genius behind such works as:
- Encounters at the End of the World
- Cave of Forgotten Dreams
- Aguirre, the Wrath of God
- Nosferatu the Vampyre
- Rescue Dawn
- Grizzly Man
Check out this gorgeous piece of filmmaking from Encounters at the End of the World (2007), which was shot with just a two-man crew:
Or this scene from Rescue Dawn (2006) in which Christian Bale eats maggots. And how did Herzog get Bale to eat them? He ate them himself first, showing his dedication to capturing this moment on film:
So the big questions: what was the first week of Werner Herzog’s Masterclass like? How did it compare to the Aaron Sorkin Masterclass? And would I recommend it?
Werner Herzog Teaches Filmmaking Masterclass Review (Week 1)
I’m only one week into Werner Herzog’s Masterclass and I am blown away.
I thought Aaron Sorkin’s Masterclass was great but didn’t expect Herzog’s Masterclass to match the quality. But it definitely does and even exceeds it in some respects (sorry, Aaron, I still love you).
The Masterclass company has quickly become one of my favourite companies of all time and they are without a doubt going to continue to get a steady stream of my money as long as they keep providing such immense value (I already have my eyes on the James Patterson, Kevin Spacey, Hans Zimmer, and Annie Leibovitz Masterclasses for when I’m done with this one).
So what makes the Werner Herzog Masterclass such a good investment?
You’re putting down $90 so you want to know you’re getting a fantastic product for your money. Rest assured, this is a phenomenal course and if you have even the slightest interest in making films, giving your creativity a boost, or seeing into the mind of one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, the course is worth it.
This is just some of the stuff I’ve learned in the first week of the seven-week course alone:
- How to learn storytelling through watching films: how to open a film by studying the work of Elia Kazan (Herzog deconstructs the opening of Viva Zapata!), how to learn the universal rules of filmmaking by engaging with foreign cinema (e.g. studying the silent era of Germany, the films of Iran, cinema novo from Brazil, or neorealism from Italy).
- How to learn storytelling through reading: learning editing from Icelandic poetry, learning how to become your subject by reading books such as The Peregrine, how to condense and abbreviate by studying Virgil.
- How to write a script: how to psych yourself up to write, how to use your screenplay to set the tone on set with cinematographers and actors, how to change dialogue in the spur of the moment, and how to write with urgency and precision.
- How to finance your first film: how to budget, how to be self-reliant, and how to reduce the cost of shooting.
It is also surprising to note that Herzog never went to film school himself. He scorns film schools and was self-taught by engaging with the greats (e.g. he mentions the directors of the Nouvelle Vague: Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer, Louis Malle). And yet he is an incredibly inspiring instructor.
Herzog has this perfect blend of actionable, practical advice and rejuvenating inspiration. His passion leaps from the screen and makes you want to gobble up the entirety of world cinema right then and there. He makes you want to go out and make tremendous films on a shoestring budget. He makes you want to live and capture the soul of the world.
After just the first week of the Werner Herzog Filmmaking Masterclass, my own writing has benefitted from a palpable surge in productivity and quality.
Herzog talks about how he psychs himself for writing a screenplay. He says he does not typically write screenplays in longer than 5 days. He wrote the screenplay for Aguirre in just 2.5 days. Most of that time was spent writing on a coach full of drunken football players (he was goalkeeper at the time) who were chanting obscene songs. Werner himself was drunk and talks about how he kept typing away on his typewriter and even puking on it. He talks about how he typed the screenplay during the football match halftime. Extraordinary stuff.
I loved hearing about how Herzog psychs himself up by reading tons of high quality poetry – Virgil, the Icelandic Edda, Tung poets from 8th Century China – and then he sets himself the challenge of meeting that same quality. He also plays loud, powerful, dynamic music – like Beethoven and Wagner – to urge himself along.
I also loved hearing Herzog go in-depth about all things budget-related. He talks about how you can finance your own first feature film for under $10,000. Money, according to Herzog, is “cowardly, stupid, and slow” and you can get by on less.
You’ve got to be your own producer if you want to get things up and running. You can’t wait for a film studio to hand the chance to you. They never took Herzog seriously so he decided he had to finance and produce his own films. As a result, he has always been incredibly budget-conscious and this quality has saved him over and over again. He has never gone over budget. In fact, six times he was under budget. This benefitted him massively in Bad Lieutenant because he stipulated in his contract that if the film gets made under budget, he gets a bonus.
Werner Herzog’s Masterclass Homework
It’s funny, isn’t it? You always hated getting homework at school. But when you invest in a course with a filmmaking master like Werner Herzog, you hope you get a ton of homework.
Well the Masterclass doesn’t disappoint on the homework front either. You get A LOT of homework.
When you buy the course, you get the one-on-one videos with Herzog himself, in which he gives you assignments, and you also get a 37-page accompanying booklet, which gives you even more homework assignments. In short, you have plenty to do. And the homework assignments rock. They’re fun, they’re challenging, and they’re perfect for taking your filmmaking abilities to the next level.
I’m currently knee-deep in the first week’s homework, which includes me diving into Japanese cinema (from Akira Kurosawa to Makoto Shinkai), reading A LOT, watching A LOT, writing, and, of course, filming.
Who is the Werner Herzog Masterclass perfect for?
I recommend you check out the Werner Herzog Masterclass if….
- You are a beginner filmmaker (I fall into this category and am getting a lot of value from the course).
- You want to work in film in any capacity (screenwriters, actors, composers, editors, cinematographers will all benefit from taking this course).
- You love films and fancy studying them under the guidance of a master.
- You’ve been feeling stale and uninspired recently and you want something exciting to propel you forward again.
- You love Werner Herzog.
Who is the Werner Herzog Masterclass NOT for?
If you are already a super advanced filmmaker, this masterclass probably isn’t for you. Although I would think that most experts in their field are continually renewing their skills and would jump at the chance to learn something from Werner Herzog.
If you prefer courses that go into minute details (e.g. what cameras to use, how to do different shots, etc.), this course also probably isn’t for you. I still have another six weeks of this course left so perhaps Herzog will touch on this stuff. But so far it’s just been incredibly inspiring.
If you don’t have $90. Seriously, don’t go broke for an online video masterclass. If you can’t afford the class, just keep studying films any way you can. Get a library card, read, watch, make your own films. Buy the course when you can afford it. I’m sure it will still be around for a while.
That wraps up my Werner Herzog Teaches Filmmaking Masterclass Review for Week 1
If you’re a filmmaker, film-lover, screenwriter, or storyteller and you’re looking for a solid investment that is highly educational, motivating, and entertaining, give the Werner Herzog Masterclass a try. You’ve got nothing to lose (Masterclass have a 30-day money-back guarantee) and a ton to gain.
Now I’ve got to get back to my homework so I can move on to Week 2. I can’t wait!
Read my other Werner Herzog MasterClass Reviews:
- Werner Herzog MasterClass Week 2
- Werner Herzog MasterClass Week 3
- Werner Herzog MasterClass Week 4
- Werner Herzog MasterClass Week 5
November 2017 Update: Now, for $180, you can get access to the entire MasterClass course library with the All Access Pass. This is a total non-brainer and incredible value for money. Just check out their line-up.