January 19, 2015

24 Life Lessons for Filmmakers from Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog has dedicated his life not only to creating uncompromising films, but uncompromising filmmakers as well.

In a career that spans over half a century, the Munich-born director has made it his duty to help guide filmmakers as they navigate the wilderness of their creativity, from eating a shoe for a young Errol Morris to teaching students how to hack film at his Rogue Film School seminars.

Still, there's so more to glean from him; just take a look at author Paul Cronin's book Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed, which features new interviews discussing Herzog’s films. Of course, the pages in-between the covers offer incredible insight into a perplexing cinematic mind, but the back cover contains a wealth of knowledge all on its own. On it Herzog lists 24 pieces of advice for filmmakers that should probably immediately be printed out, blown up, and tacked to your wall. (Or bookmarked if you're just super digital.)

Thanks to Kottke, we have the list here to share with you:

  1. Always take the initiative.
  2. There is nothing wrong with spending a night in jail if it means getting the shot you need.
  3. Send out all your dogs and one might return with prey.
  4. Never wallow in your troubles; despair must be kept private and brief.
  5. Learn to live with your mistakes.
  6. Expand your knowledge and understanding of music and literature, old and modern.
  7. That roll of unexposed celluloid you have in your hand might be the last in existence, so do something impressive with it.
  8. There is never an excuse not to finish a film.
  9. Carry bolt cutters everywhere.
  10. Thwart institutional cowardice.
  11. Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
  12. Take your fate into your own hands.
  13. Learn to read the inner essence of a landscape.
  14. Ignite the fire within and explore unknown territory.
  15. Walk straight ahead, never detour.
  16. Manoeuvre and mislead, but always deliver.
  17. Don't be fearful of rejection.
  18. Develop your own voice.
  19. Day one is the point of no return.
  20. A badge of honor is to fail a film theory class.
  21. Chance is the lifeblood of cinema.
  22. Guerrilla tactics are best.
  23. Take revenge if need be.
  24. Get used to the bear behind you.

These lessons are applicable to pretty much everyone and offer some great advice not just for filmmaking, but for life as well. But for filmmakers they're more than that; they're a bit of light in the darkness. Personally, #20 hit me the hardest, because it reminds me that although becoming an "expert" in an area of film study might be beneficial in certain ways, it's not what will make me the best filmmaker I can be. We should always question. We should always refuse. We should always be pushing the boundaries instead of applying a thicker coat to the lines that have been drawn by those before us.     

Your Comment

15 Comments

Absolutely Brilliant!!! I will definitely apply these lessons to my life as an aspiring Cinematographer

January 19, 2015 at 7:17PM

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Kevin GK Frederick
Cinematographer & Colorist
82

I read it in his voice

January 19, 2015 at 9:07PM

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Me too :)

January 19, 2015 at 10:38PM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

I think #6 rings a bell, at least for me. In an interview with Christopher Nolan, he said he used an artists artwork to model the joker after. The artwork was amazing but really depicted what Nolan was going after. I think artwork should be in there along with music & literature. "We should always be pushing the boundaries instead of applying a thicker coat to the lines that have been drawn by those before us." <-- man that's good.

January 20, 2015 at 1:41AM

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Aj*
Film Maker
77

Number 20 for me is that without failing you can never grow to your full potential. I think you learn more from failed projects than from those that easily achieved. And without failing you'll choose a path that's based on your succes, with less friction, thus restricting new paths to choose from.

January 20, 2015 at 2:59AM

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Lupaie
Media designer
79

I think Herzog's nr.1 piece of advice is -
'whenever you take a shower, always make sure the curtain is inside the tub,'

January 20, 2015 at 8:48AM

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Rob Wilton
DoP
300

Nice quote from 'A guide for the perplexed' but it was actually advice from Conrad Hilton. ;)

January 21, 2015 at 12:20PM

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2, 12, 18, 22.

January 20, 2015 at 9:42AM

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Jamie Hooper
Filmmaker
156

"Ignite the fire within and explore unknown territory." Yes! The fearlessness to pioneer, to be your own reality pilot, has always lit my fire when I see it embodied in others, and it's made me feel ALIVE when I'm courageous enough to blaze a trail myself. Great post, great rules.

January 20, 2015 at 12:30PM

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Excellent advice!

January 21, 2015 at 7:25PM

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404
film maker
91

great read. "There is never an excuse not to finish a film." should be any filmmakers motto.... my first short that I filmed 3 years ago was very close to being permanently shelved until I found the footage recently and decided to fix it up as best I could... it's easy to say "f" it when things aren't going the way we planned but that doesn't mean it shouldnt get finished...

January 23, 2015 at 4:52PM, Edited January 23, 4:52PM

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Luis Garcia
Director/Editor
345

really awesome articles

June 13, 2015 at 6:09AM, Edited June 13, 6:09AM

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Awesome!

June 27, 2016 at 12:24PM, Edited June 27, 12:24PM

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Hi all! I've created a printout of Herzog's Life Lessons. I hope you enjoy!

https://imgur.com/gallery/7gTDJbr/new

July 17, 2016 at 10:02PM

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thanks, got it printed.

September 9, 2016 at 1:11PM

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Unfortunately taking some of Herzog's advice ( 2,9,22) seriously leads to this -

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/midnight-rider-accident-sarah-jone...

December 10, 2016 at 2:51PM

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William Klayer
Director of Photography
1