Last year I took Aaron Sorkin’s Masterclass, which I absolutely loved and still reference to this day while writing my screenplays. As far as Masterclasses go, it set the bar very high, and I’ll admit that when I took subsequent classes – namely David Mamet’s and Werner Herzog’s – I wasn’t sure if they would quite reach that same level. After taking all three though, I can confidently say that they’re all incredible in their own right, and each for very different reasons.
What makes Werner Herzog’s class so strong (amongst other things) is his perspective as a full fledged filmmaker. He isn’t simply a director, or a writer, or a cinematographer. He is truly an all round filmmaker, that has a mastery over his craft in virtually every respect. Not to mention, he is fully self-taught and literally built his career from nothing by creating projects and generating opportunities for himself.
For this reason alone, I know the DIY filmmakers out there working on their own micro-budget or self funded projects will be able to relate to what he has to say… As will filmmakers working on a larger scale projects that understand the importance of a do it yourself attitude. So with that in mind, I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you on Herzog’s Masterclass, from the perspective of a fellow DIY filmmaker.
Before we jump in, I’ll also quickly note that while Masterclass is a partner of NoamKroll.com, I never review any product or service that I don’t fully believe in, and would never recommend any product or service that I can’t get behind 100%. All thoughts below are completely my own.
WERNER HERZOG’S MASTERCLASS
If you’ve taken more than a couple Masterclasses, you know that no two are alike. While all of the classes offer video modules, assignments (which are optional), and the ability to connect with fellow students, the content and style of each class varies significantly.
With Herzog’s Masterclass, the lessons are very conversational and informal, which I really like. Of all the 26 lessons that are included in his class, not one of them feels “actionable”, and I mean that in the best way possible. Often times, online courses offer a step by step breakdown of “How To Do X, Y, or Z”, which may work well with certain topics, but is often too rigid for others. Had Herzog’s class been shoehorned into that sort of box, I think it would have completely lost it’s magic.
The very reason this class works so well is because it puts you in the room with Werner, and allows you to absorb his wealth of knowledge on all things filmmaking, as if you’re having a one on one conversation with him. The majority of the lessons simply consist of Werner speaking directly to camera, touching on everything filmmaking, including: screenwriting, financing, sound recording, working with actors, negotiating contracts, camera techniques, and career strategies, amongst so much more.
To say that Werner Herzog covers a wide array of topics in this class would be a massive understatement. He effortlessly floats between the creative, technical, and business sides of filmmaking, both narrative and documentary, always delivering his message through the point of view of a self-made filmmaker.
Every filmmaker has their own path to success. Some write their way in or work at an agency. Others PA and work their way up the ranks. And a few – like Werner Herzog – are truly self taught and ultimately have found success by getting out there and doing it themselves. This is why I personally relate to this class so much, and why I’m sure many of you will feel the same.
Take the writing process for instance, Herzog talks about how he likes to write extremely quickly, sometimes finishing a screenplay in 5 days or less. The reason? Because the screenplay is just one part of his process. It’s not the end of his journey, it’s the beginning. He isn’t writing scripts with the intention of optioning them or selling them, he’s writing them to make them.
And in a way, as I read between the lines of his lessons delivered in this Masterclass, it really feels like his process is all about speed.
He writes, shoots, and edits in record time, and seems to get the best work out of himself by doing so. This process undoubtedly is what gave him the ability to learn so much on his own. He wasn’t afraid of making mistakes or failing. He understood that failure was part of the process, and without going through the motions time and time again, he would never learn… So he worked, and worked, and worked until he began to achieve the creative success that he was looking for. And now he has a prolific body of work to show for it.
While the broad strokes of many fundamental constructs like this are explored at length in his Masterclass, there’s also a ton of nitty gritty practical advice embedded in his lessons too. For example, in one section he outlines the specific methods he employed (such as running his own sound) to successfully produce and direct feature films with the smallest crews imaginable – sometimes as little as 2 people – which went on to compete in the Academy Awards. On a similar note, he goes into great detail on his philosophy of slating every take himself, which is essentially unheard of for a director of his caliber.
One of many other examples of practical advice can be found in Lesson 10: Camera Shooting Strategy. Here, Herzog speaks to a topic that I always find fascinating – Coverage. He explains why taking a minimalist approach to camera coverage works wonders for him, and how shooting a maximum of 3 or 4 takes for each scene allows his actors to stay fresh, and his crew to wrap up early on most days. These anecdotes represent just a handful of the countless practical tips that Werner generously and thoroughly speaks to throughout the class.
Another part of the Masterclass that I really loved and want to highlight here, are the last few lessons, in which Herzog speaks to the realities of working in film and building a career for yourself. He touches on tactical career strategies, methods for handling rejection, and the importance of taking control over your own career. These sections were particularly inspiring and re-assuring to me, as Herzog’s words of wisdom answered many of the tough questions I often ask of myself when trying to navigate my place in this business.
As you can likely tell, a lot of ground is covered in this Masterclass. Far more than I can even begin to explore in this review… So for my fellow do-it-yourselfers out there, I can’t recommend this class highly enough.
I took the class last week for the first time, and couldn’t help but binge-watch every one of the lessons in less than two days. That’s not how the course is intended to be taken, but once I got started, I couldn’t stop…
Part of it is the way in which Herzog delivers his message. He couldn’t be more passionate or enthusiastic about what he does. He’ll sometimes hop out of his chair in the middle of a lesson to demonstrate something – like how to cradle a camera while shooting handheld. And don’t even get me started about some of his battle stories, which I won’t even attempt to re-iterate here!
It really was such a joy to watch this master at work, and to absorb his unparalleled words of wisdom on the craft of filmmaking. So for those of you looking to sharpen your skills across the board, there is no one better to learn from. Hope you enjoy!
Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!