The Rogue Film School: Meet and Greet
Whilst on the 16.27 train from Clapham Junction to Crawley many peculiar thoughts entered my head. First of all, why Crawley? Werner Herzog had chosen the furthest hotel from Gatwick Airport for his first European and third-in-all Rogue Film School, a hotel that happened to sit on the fringes of this town. Secondly I had to remember to breathe as I found myself reliving the moment the email fell into my inbox with the subject heading, ‘Congratulations!!!’
I happen to recall that in the moment of receiving that email I had been in a pub, somewhere in Edinburgh, with, as a coincidence, the director of photography of the film that I entered The Great Flood, Scott Ward, and one of the editors of the film, Fiona Reid. Within that second all sound faded out of my cacophonous conscious state and all sight focused on the wording of the email, I looked to them pale as coconut milk and asked, ‘Should I go?’
On the train to the Friday evening’s Meet and Greet I found myself re-enacting that moment over and over. I looked around at my fellow train passengers, and in doing so a surge of euphoria entered my body recognizing the fact that I had been chosen as one of sixty others seemingly sufficiently rogue enough to be asked to attend this unique opportunity.
Arriving at the hotel I asked reception where the Rogue Film School was taking place. Anxious anticipation now provided a false state of bravado. I darted towards the desk where only two people sat still preparing and organizing our passes. To the right hand corner of my eye however, a figure lurked in a dark grey suit. He turned in a flash, Werner Herzog stood there and I almost bumped in to him head on. He smiled, extended his arm and asked ’Hello, who are you?’ in that ever so distinct voice. ‘Marcelo de Oliveira,’ I mumbled, shaking his hand. ‘We’ll be five minutes,’ said Bernie, the coordinator of the seminar. ‘Oh, sorry,’ I said before quickly turning around and rushing for the bar with other sheepish looking Rogues who had experienced a similar fate.
Expecting my fellow Rogues to be mostly British and European I was incredibly surprised to find a table by the bar filled with people from all over the world. A heavily tattooed denim clad guy from Los Angeles named Rich sat next to me and immediately asked, ‘Are you in a band?’ Things were becoming distinctly Herzogesque.
Finally Bernie announced the start of the proceedings and herded us into the secluded bar where canapés and drinks from the bar followed our registration. Werner individually introduced himself to each Rogue, his notes attached to him so that he could specifically talk to each individual about their submitted film, whilst also finding out a bit more about them. ‘You are the one who went to Patagonia?’ he asked upon my turn whilst his eyes gazed at his notes. I nodded, wide eyed and in complete silence, ‘I really loved the photography of your film,’ he said to me as emotion in the form of elation, a quivering jaw and a general bodily shaking sensation took hold (as I’m sure it did to my DOP later upon hearing this compliment). ‘I am trying to make a film about dying peoples of the world but no one is interested in funding it at the moment,’ continued Herzog. A thousand thoughts raced through my head, should I leap into the abyss and go for a co-production? Should I see if he would like an assistant? Should I volunteer all my knowledge in order to help him and be a researcher? ‘Oh yes, I know, it’s tough,’ said I picking on a prawn canapé.
With the canapés almost devoured Werner made an announcement regarding the nature of the next three days, he instructed us that he would show clips from his films as well as some of the films we sent in. As Werner continued to introduce himself to the other candidates I would see his instantly recognizable face come into focus between my fellow Rogues from time to time. Surreal and strange were the feelings shared amongst us in between beers.
Marcelo de Oliveira is a filmmaker and sound designer who graduated with an MFA at eca. His graduation film, ‘The Great Flood’, granted him a place at Herzog’s Rogue Film School, earlier this year.
Day 1: Read, read, read, read.
I wanted to be as far forward as possible to be able to see Herzog’s every muscle move in his face, to observe every movement, to completely concentrate and to listen. My notepad quickly opened, my pen at the ready, my only purpose to be attentive and to write down everything he uttered.
Werner entered the front of the room and took control of the microphone, a screen hung behind him and a projector fanned in front of him. Two speakers dangled either side of him. He welcomed us and began with his Rogue Film School mantra, ‘I will say this again, if you want to be a film director you must read, read, read, read.’
Forge, steal, pick locks…
Werner launched straight into his European Rogue Film School by delving into two topics advertised on the website: lock picking and document forging. However, he counselled that he was not trying to encourage illegal activities, but as a filmmaker one had to be prepared to step across the borders. ‘Film school,’ he stated, ‘will not teach you that we have a natural right as filmmakers to steal a camera or steal certain documents.’ He reminisced upon the stealing of a camera whilst at Munich Film School on which later he shot Fitzcarraldo, amongst others. Werner took out and passed around a brochure explaining how to pick locks. He recalled picking the locks of various summerhouses around Germany when he decided to walk around the country’s border, taking shelter in these rarely used homes in his quest to connect with his country. ‘Patience is required’ he informed us, ‘as is being tactile.’
Moving on to the forging of documents, Werner recounted one experience during the filming of Fitzcarraldo in Peru in 1981. Whilst having difficulties with the local authorities in a remote part of the jungle, a wharf that had served as a port for the ship in the film had been attacked many times and often burnt to the ground due to an ongoing border war. Military coups kept popping up, soldiers would fire at them and Werner could not move on with his filming further down the river. So he explained how he went up to the military camp to speak to the commander in order to allow him to pass.
The commander asked to see a permit in order to let him continue on his way up the river. Werner said he needed to return to Lima in order to fetch it. ‘This story was an entire fabrication’, he roared above the laughter. Of course he did not have this document so upon his return to Lima, Werner forged the document whilst stamping the parchment with any stamps that he could find including a couple of German ones he had with him plus the addition of two fake signatures for that extra authentic aesthetic look.
Upon his return to the camp Werner showed the document to the commander who promptly stood up, adjusted his uniform, clicked his heels, saluted and instructed him he could move on. ‘Be street smart in filmmaking,’ he wryly commented to us. ‘Be prepared to do unusual things, it is encouraged.’
A hushed room, it’s silence merely broken with the deft tones of scribble, scribble, scribble. Already swept away by his insights, with a wrist writing evermore furiously than a bush fire in a gale, a grin pinned between my ears showed no signs of abating. Looking around the room it seemed I was not the only one enjoying this experience.
Sound Sound Sound
Now onto the more serious side of filmmaking, Werner began with a topic that seemed to surprise most in the room: sound. Yes my fellow filmmakers and Rogues, sound. Werner showed us the first of the films he had selected from our entries as examples of work that were open for him to constructively criticize, a film called Traum im Traum. It was an animation with specific attention to detail in the sound and a simple story aimed at children. Werner spoke about the art of being a boom operator and in doing so how I thanked the angels of film. He reiterated how boom operators move and how they are aware of the movement of the camera. Perched in a type of figure that resembled a cross between a rave dancer and a praying mantis, he adopted the pose of the lesser-spotted boom operator. ‘It is a very important craft’, he stated to us. He continued over the course of the morning to delve into the importance of a director paying attention to sound, how important collecting wild tracks is and how important it is to build up a catalogue of sounds. Werner spoke about the intensity of recording ambiences. Sound is a particular type of awareness and you need a cornucopia of sounds. He concluded by announcing that he really likes fanatical sound recordists! Before I could don my Che Guevara sound recording outfit he roared, ‘Bring life into your films through sound.’ This is cinema heaven, I thought.
Music, admitted Werner, is his other great passion. ‘Establish a feeling for space’ he told us, ‘do not just use the panning of a camera in order to achieve this, you can also use music.’ Sometimes, he confided, he has the music before he has the film. This was the case in Fitzcarraldo, in White Diamond and, more recently, in Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Werner spoke of the pace of the music whereby he insists in sitting in the studio live room with the musicians from where he can direct the flow of the music.
Not a festival of placid admirers
Although easy to gasp in wonderment in his stories and be floated down the enchanting stream of his enigmatic presence, not in any way was this a Werner Herzog festival of placid admirers. I imagined him to be in some cauldron surrounded by over affectionate yet ravenous people all wanting their share of him. Scrutiny and questioning from my fellow Rogues was relentless. He was questioned intensely and under minute detail over some of his filmmaking decisions throughout the course of the seminar. In this instance the well-informed crowd laid siege to the scene in Grizzly Man where Herzog is seen listening to the tape of his protagonist’s death. We do not hear the audio on the tape, a decision that was scrutinized by the Rogues. Werner maintained his principles that he wished to preserve the dignity of somebody’s death. A vacillating debate enthused over the use of intense footage in today’s films, for example in showing executions on the Internet. ‘YouTube has a dangerous side of revealing everything. Develop your own framework of values.’ There, the principles of Herzog, the man himself, appeared to be laid bare. He took the comments in his stride yet respectfully countered what others were saying. Werner re-iterated that this was his way of doing things and that he was in no way preaching to us as to how we should make our films. On the boundaries of what you show in documentary film Werner asked us to think about how far do we go? What do we show? He summed up by reminding us that we must form our own ethical perspectives, as he is not Moses.
‘We should not be the fly on the wall. We should be the hornet that stings.’
On finding characters for documentaries he offered some interesting insights into working on the fly. Werner sees a quest in someone who pops out from the screen and becomes very human. ‘How do you introduce a person within a film’, he questioned? It is a very difficult thing to do. The film Encounters at the End of the World was made on the run. There was no time to properly research much yet he managed to persuade the seemingly un-persuadable. ‘There is no art of persuasion, only knowing the hearts of men,’ he explained. ‘People who touch you will make you want to listen to them,’ he stated whilst looking far beyond us into perhaps an abyss of experience.
Much is staged in his documentaries he told us; they are feature films in disguise. We search for a deeper truth in cinema. There is, ‘an ecstasy of truth – something that is beyond the sheer facts, something that points beyond the image itself. Guide the audience into this. These are moments of illumination.’
With that he galloped into yet another provocative statement, that he is ready to do battle with the cinema verité believers and will do so at any opportunity. ‘Cinema verité is the cinematic answer to the 60s’ he professed. ‘Today we have a huge onslaught on reality. Everything can be manipulated. Realities have shifted to the reality of brands and virtual imaginations.’
Werner implored us to move away from the facts and do something different. In Werner’s case it is through the ecstasy of truth. ‘Move away from sheer facts as they do not contain truth. Only truth can create illumination.’ With a battle cry against those who follow cinema verité Werner rallied with passionate eyes, ‘we should not be the fly on the wall. We should be the hornet that stings. Seize the opportunity to be a filmmaker. You are not a slave to be fact based. We are filmmakers. We shape the film. We are not slaves to the material. We are directors. Go absolutely and completely wild.’
Filled with the ecstasy of the truth and drunk with the desire to really go wild, stomachs rumbled, lunch beckoned and our first break of the day came as if it had been days since that early breakfast.
How do we beat the TV system?
During the afternoon session we were introduced to the real world, specifically personified by Werner’s friend and Channel 4 commissioning executive, David Glover, to talk to us about how to obtain a TV film commission. I could see why Herzog was a friend of this seemingly standard TV commissioner when Glover fired straight into a question for all of us; ‘how do we beat the system? How do we make the types of films that we want whilst adhering to the broadcasters demands? Some documentary proposals felt like essays’ he said, ‘make sure the proposition is clear and appealing.’
Werner asked him what he looks for in a character. Glover responded that he had no real answer; it is his deepest fascination of a character that lures him towards him. Something hits him hard in the guts that this film has to be made. In feature films it is similar, never leave the protagonist out of sight.
With the concept of being illusionists fresh in our minds, the illusion of time played with our notion of the time. 6pm had come to pass and the end of a memorable long day resonated with the many echoes of that distinguished Germanic voice. My notebook bulged with words from that intense mind whilst my wrist ached from poorly trained frantic writings. The bar beckoned and with the fellow Rogues we unwound, mentally exhausted, whilst letting the information of the day settle with the aid of a second pint.
Day 2: Being a lion tamer
The morning session began with an unexpected occurrence, an occurrence that sublimely facilitated the forgetting of the Fitzcarraldean trial that was reaching Crawley train station first thing on a Sunday, whilst engineering rail works shut down the entire local network. There was, of course, the other painful recollection that it was indeed early on a Sunday morning. Werner began the day with the reading of the passage of the horse’s death from Virgil’s Georgics. His eyes gazed at the manuscript with intent yet they burned wildly, completely transfixed in the text. Werner read the passage with that distinct accent of his whilst we hypnotically stared, captivated in a long gone moment in time. He explained how Virgil saved his Antarctica film. Arriving with no notion of what he would find Werner stepped onto the South Pole, looked around and thought ‘We will do it like Virgil!’
‘Yoga will not make you into a great filmmaker as it empties out your thoughts’
Digressing somewhat into the notion of the outdoor spirit, Herzog encouraged us, film students, to do constant sports, particularly physically challenging ones. For example, we should try boxing or basketball, the choreography of which is good for understanding cinema, he said to a surprised audience.
With that Werner changed direction into the topic of producers. ‘I never stick to schedule and I finish much earlier,’ he proudly pronounced. ‘Try to see the film from their point of view’ he said; ‘do not go over budget and deliver on time. Do not, for example, produce a cut that is over 4 hours long. If a director cannot deliver the film then you are an incompetent director. The film will be wrestled away from you. At least earn your money for your film. Then you will understand the necessities of budget, financing and marketing.’
‘Directing is practical. It’s an endless chain of humiliations, banalities, and you have to be a lion tamer out there. If you are not the lion tamer you may not make a film on time, to budget, nor make a good film.’ Must remember where I put that whip, those boots and the top hat, I thought.
‘Yoga will not make you into a great filmmaker as it empties out your thoughts’ he bluntly stated to scattered gasps. In provocation Werner asked, ‘Do we need to declare holy war against yoga classes?’ Werner championed the opposite of emptying oneself of meaning and thoughts, ‘You do not always have to understand all the ramifications of what people are doing. There are limits to understanding. Dismiss pre-conceived ideas in a documentary. Only find out what drives these men. Go there and make sure the camera does not fail in extremities.’
In Antarctica there was no clue as to what would happen but he went there with some order. Werner underlined that he does not believe in writing scripts for documentaries.’ This only creates dead films as seen on TV’, he said. He does not need a proposal for TV, though he will write one when it is needed. He does it reluctantly however, and is pushed to do it if it is necessary. Otherwise, he said, be cautious of scripting a documentary.
Werner probed us about character finding, how do you fall in love with someone and blindly follow him or her around? How do you introduce your character and bring the audience to like your protagonist? He showed us the beginning of Viva Zapata where Herzog claims that you cannot achieve any better than how Brando’s character is introduced to us. At the start of the film the other Mexican workers hide Zapata from the audience and yet, when he is revealed, you cannot help instantly liking him and it’s not just a question of camera positions.
Editing, commentaries and funding
Seamlessly adjusting his thoughts onto editing, Werner advised us not to shoot a large amount of material. Editing is related to what you are shooting. For example, Werner has never been a slave to continuity. ‘Material of great substance will always fit together. Be relentless with your footage. You have to be able to throw out a scene. Throwing away a scene is hard but it is the fate of filmmaking.’ Werner recalled how he was very careful with his raw stock, as he was conscious of the expense. Poverty and a question of filming in barefoot in the past affected his expense, but even now he tries to be disciplined and economical with his footage. He had thirty hours of footage for Cave of Forgotten Dreams. ‘With digital technology you can edit as fast as you can think’, he warned. ‘This is dangerous. You can make too many versions and become lost in parallels.’ Editors may be surprised, as may those who like to edit in their own space, to note that Werner always sits with the editor except if there is technical stuff to do.
Commentaries can be an art form per se. There were wild commentaries in Grizzly Man and in Antarctica. He underlined that he tries to say something intelligent. He has no problem in being opinionated yet he stepped in to say that he is not totally wild about commentary. Interestingly enough he mused on being a character in his own films. ‘It is not too healthy to become a character in your own films – it becomes embarrassing. The joy of storytelling is throwing yourself in it, it is healthy to look at yourself with a sense of irony.’ Admitting he often makes up quotes at the beginning of his documentary films Werner summed up, ‘Think the unthinkable, go anywhere when making a film.’
Before the afternoon break Werner spoke about how hard it had become to find funding for his films in today’s climate. However, his determination to follow the topics he thought were achievable showed no sign of waning. Werner’s current project, a documentary film about inmates on death row, is not too expensive to film yet he confessed to us that the proceedings of this Rogue Film School seminar were to be invested into this film. A Rogue in the audience roguishly exclaimed if we were therefore all owed a credit on the film. Thunderous laughter resonated in the room, Werner laughed and smiled but without any further comment he moved on. By no means though did this seminar give the impression that it could feel comfortable sat among the ever- increasing ranks of gala fund-raising events by previous prime ministers or CEOs. There was passion in what was said and shared by Werner. Yet the fear that many of my fellow Rogues felt, that this would just be a session of anecdotes and memories, also failed to materialize even if some of the more biographical questions from the floor could have encouraged that type of seminar.
During the coffee break, I went up to Werner to tell him that I liked the idea of my fee going into his latest project. I reflected that I had wondered what would be happening with the money. I also commented that it was a shame that we could not choose which of his projects these funds could be applied to, as I would have preferred to have my money funding his dying languages project. Werner replied that right now the climate does not wish to know about endangered human species whose cultures are almost extinct. The TV channels, he mustered, merely wish to see films about fluffy animals. There was an air of resignation in the sound of his voice that perhaps reflected his perception that this project, although perceived as an incredibly important aspect of humanity to document, was as doomed as the people he is trying to film. His words resounded the saddest point of the seminar for me, that a filmmaker with the experience and achievements of Werner Herzog cannot find funding for a film that he is so passionate about. It was perhaps a little naive of us to assume that a legendary filmmaker such as Werner Herzog could just brainstorm an idea one moment and make it happen the next. That look of resignation upon his face brought my general mood back down to that of the real world, even if only for a moment.
Wild imaginations and the passion of people from within
With the end of the break, Werner announced that the guest speaker would be Dr. Clive Oppenheimer, the volcanologist from Encounters at the End of the World who he met up a volcano in Antarctica. He had come to talk about wild imaginations and the passion of people from within. Him and Werner dove into a discourse about the fragility of human culture and civilization. They delved into the world of volcanic eruptions and pondered with great excitement and depth into how 74,000 years ago the population of the human race became decimated to as low as between 2-10,000 people due to the huge volcanic eruption of Mount Toba in South East Asia. Humanity was almost at its end. Fascinated in their personal, yet public imaginations, it seemed as if they were lost in their topics cocooned within a certain childhood splendour and curiosity. These conversations led Werner to step out from their world for a moment to ask us in the audience to imagine what would happen here in the UK if all the power were to be cut off, ‘after 2 weeks there would be pandemonium!’ he exclaimed.
Day two did not quite finish at that moment but continued in my mind, past the now traditional post class bar session and onto the 21:34 train from Crawley, elatedly musing upon the power of the human mind, it’s wonderment and our desire to tell stories even if these desires were slightly tarnished by the realities of financial restraints.
Day 3: Constructive Feedback
Our final day began with yet another strong note of caution. As if the previous evening and night had itself merely been an illusion, Werner jumped back into commenting on commentary and advised us to take it easy with text that is overloaded with too much depth. ‘There are moments when you can depart far from the text’, he said. He gave the end of Cave of Forgotten Dreams as an example.
The commentary moves into the abstract form of perception with the albino alligators. Only once the audience is comfortable with the subject can you go wild but it is important to anchor it well. The audience has to be taken by the hand and guided through the film.
Werner then delved back into the staging of moments in documentaries. For example, there is the scene in the Kinski documentary where we are taken on a visit to his old house, which was all choreographed. The basic pattern of the trip was rehearsed. ‘Sometimes it is better to come as a surprise but here it was right to set up the scene. The real surprise renders the best effects but this is not only always the case. We must sometimes be quick to take drastic steps in order to solve a problem.’
‘Be cautious about festivals’
Turning the focus onto film festivals Werner delivered a scathing attack on the culture of film festivals. He called for a climate of cinema, ‘You have to get a film out to audiences. A movie is not alive unless it is played in front of audiences. Pay attention to what is going to happen with your film. There is a problem with film festivals. Today there are more than 4,000 festivals in which there will be an average of 4 good films. Out of 20 films up for awards at Berlin recently, 15 were garbage. Festivals have become dangerous. Only festival people see the film – there is no distribution. It is appalling that a film comes to life in the incestuous festival circuit. Be cautious about festivals.’
Suspicious of the climate that reigns at festivals, Werner described how Sundance was a complete disappointment. Sundance has 3,600 submissions but it was full of younger people talking to him about film. ‘You meet young filmmakers who talk to you, but they just put on a show about how good they are. They don’t talk about the style of a film, their aim is how quickly they will be signed by a studio. It is a dangerous life of festivals. Beware of this secondary type of culture which circles around its own navel. They are too structured around cliques. You have the duty to find the distributor, to get the movie out there. Don’t neglect it.’ In a post session moment we Rogues mulled over his festival musings, a relief seemingly apparent as conversations agreed that these words were refreshing to hear at a time when film festivals appear often the only way for filmmakers to have their work screened. I recalled how having The Great Flood screened at a certain festival felt frustrating as the people who wished to view the film were often in other meetings over funding at the time of it’s showing on the big screen. Perhaps the funding of films and the screening of films should be held at different times, or even at different festivals? The Rogues pondered this and on the randomness of festivals in particular when a film can be rejected one year from a festival only for the same film to be accepted the following year at the same festival. Surely there must be a better way, we gathered without forming any real conclusions.
‘When an actor can milk a cow, there is something solid about them…’
It was now deep into Monday afternoon and the feeling that the end of this illustrious, illuminating seminar was definitely apparent gained just a hint of momentum when Werner began to talk about the longevity of film directors. ‘Very few directors survive longer than 15 years’, he stated. Filmmakers are very much in danger of being broken by the system. ‘Filmmakers don’t end well. Orson Welles for example had a very short life in cinema. You have to look at those who disappear. Very often it is about ego. They are lured into the abyss by earning too much money. If you are successful the system rewards you, if you are not the system punishes you. What can save us from this force? We are illusionists. It is best to do nothing other than be illusionists. If you have no other legs to stand on it can break you. When an actor can milk a cow there is something solid about them.’
‘Raising children brings you down to earth, do something different. It’s a good attitude to know how to handle a Kalashnikov. A man should know how to handle a hand grenade.’ There followed an exchange of views from various women in the group as to should women also know how to handle a hand grenade. Feeling the nature of his audience, Werner pushed through with his point, ‘You have to take it that you may be disconnected from your peers. Try to look beyond the profession that you are doing. The moment for me came after working on one film after another, for 10 years no one wanted to see my films. I was very lucky as I had a mentor and she said ‘film history is not going to allow you to quit’, and with that she munched on a cookie.’ With that and in wry defiance of his critics Werner uttered, ‘I’ll plough on doing my films because I know you’re all wrong.’
‘I am trying to make a film about dying languages but people are only interested in making films about fluffy animals at the moment, I envy you.’
Post coffee Werner set his sights on some more of our films. Some great examples of cinema were shown including animations, a trailer for a fabulous looking German winter set thriller made by Wim Wenders’ assistant editor, a cinematic black and white LA road movie starring a bunch of rock drummers made by Rich, the tattooed musician, and an Italian styled B movie with plenty of blood, guts and action. Werner took each film and criticized the flaws with dignity whilst singling out what he thought worked well. He advised where the film could be improved. For example, he examined the choreography of the actors in a wonderfully conceived single shot short drama whilst critiquing the director’s choice to over rely on her monitor specifying that directors should be watching the action instead. He also reflected upon the good acting performances of the two protagonists in Megan from South Africa’s short film about the misunderstandings of love.
It was a requirement for each filmmaker to come up to the front of the class and stand next to Werner after their film had been showed. Megan sat herself back down next to me flushed from the experience of having had her film critiqued by Werner. Those of us around her passed on encouraging comments yet before too much comfort could have been afforded to her Werner called up the next person for his critique. ‘The next film I’d like to show is The Great Flood by Marcelo de Oliveria, where is he?’ That stern gaze scoured the floor of rogues. Reluctantly I raised my hand, ‘Ah, there you are, can we show it please?’ he called to the assistant at the back of the room. The lights wilted in the room as I feared the wrath of Herzog.
‘Can you come up here to the front please?’ The previous five minutes having felt like five seconds. Staring out to my fellow rogues I noticed the uncontrollable shaking of my hands. ‘Can you tell us how you came to find these people?’ My voice trembled with humility and fear. I told him how I went in search of the story of the spirit of noise that was not true in the end. He said, ‘do not worry about that’. I tell him of how difficult it was to go to Patagonia and the problems we faced in filming. My explanation summarized before Werner interjected, ‘There is great serenity in your film, it is deep with serenity. There is a good pace and rhythm, keeping to the rhythm of the pace of the footage and not pushed in the edit.’ He added to the other rogues that there is too much quick editing and not enough attention paid to the pace of the footage. Thank you Fiona and Josh, I thought. Werner then asked, ‘Did you do your own voice over?’ I humbly nodded, eyes down expecting retribution, ‘Stick to doing your own voice overs and I say this as someone who does his own voice overs.’ As the reverberation of that comment faded away within my mind I felt myself becoming incredibly emotional. Werner’s sentiments were the echoes of thoughts previously reflected by my father who, at that moment, had been very ill. Finally, with the shaking now spread to my toes he looked me in the eye and told the audience, ’You have been to this place where there are only fourteen people left in the world and their culture will soon be lost. I am trying to make a film about dying languages but people are only interested in making films about fluffy animals at the moment, I envy you.’ With that he ushered me back to my seat, I sat back down, my head spinning. My body trembled like someone walking barefoot for days in the Antarctic winter.
A final handshake from the man, a final smile, a perfect postscript
Back down on Earth, a book and individual certificate signing signalled the end of the session. We were called up in groups, a final handshake from the man, a final smile, a perfect postscript. So the curtain came down on the thoughts and insights of Werner Herzog. His reasons for conducting his own seminars are very clear; his mistrust of the traditional film school mixed with the desire to share the experiences of a maverick filmmaker, one who goes it alone when necessary. Now in his third outing of the Rogue Film School and perhaps his last for a while, his desire to share the craft of filmmaking that is changing quickly and yet celebrate it as an art form was clear. Could it be that he is out of touch with the new ways of filmmaking in an over saturated digital world, or is it that he has truly mastered his craft in a way few others have? Interestingly no one mentioned 3D. Whatever the answer, for me this experience was one that constructed new inspiration deep down; an experience that felt down to earth and truly rogue.
In the bar for the last time with the last pint, we Rogues mulled over why this had been such a unique experience. Werner Herzog’s convictions and his stoic belief that he is on the right path stood out, as did the extraordinary insights into how he makes films. When Werner told us to look into the hearts of men, I assumed I would be looking elsewhere. However maybe I ended up looking into my own heart. Perhaps this was not new confidence, just a reaffirmation.
I shall walk on foot whenever I can, I shall look into the hearts of people when looking for a character in my next film, I shall not be a slave to facts, and my first film document has already been forged with complete success…
With gratitude and dedicated to Jader de Oliveira.
For more info on ‘The Great Flood’ please visit here.