It’s easy to get lost in the chaos of making movies — to lose your perspective and vision, but legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog shares a very simple thought to inspire and activate you.
Herzog has a reputation for being a great advocate for new indie filmmakers, even going so far as to make good on a bet to eat his own shoe when his friend, and novice director, Errol Morris, finished his first feature. As the Munich-born director has said time and time again, a sentiment that really isn’t all that unique among both the most celebrated and the most obscure filmmakers, that there are absolutely no excuses for not making films. However, he certainly has some strong opinions about which actions, activities, and attitudes cultivate strong filmmakers, like reading, which he explains in the following Indiana University interview, and at the center of it all, other than reading, of course, is life experience.
Read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read. If you don’t read, you’ll never be a filmmaker.
This quote might be one of the most inspiring reflections on the craft I’ve read in a while. (Of course, this is my own humble opinion.) It comes from Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed, a collection of interviews with the director François Truffaut once called the most important director alive. The excerpt, culled by Brain Pickings, is a bit of a walk, but it’s really, really worth it.
The best advice I can offer to those heading into the world of film is not to wait for the system to finance your projects and for others to decide your fate. If you can’t afford to make a million-dollar film, raise $10,000 and produce it yourself. That’s all you need to make a feature film these days. Beware of useless, bottom-rung secretarial jobs in film-production companies. Instead, so long as you are able-bodied, head out to where the real world is. Roll up your sleeves and work as a bouncer in a sex club or a warden in a lunatic asylum or a machine operator in a slaughterhouse. Drive a taxi for six months and you’ll have enough money to make a film. Walk on foot, learn languages and a craft or trade that has nothing to do with cinema. Filmmaking — like great literature — must have experience of life at its foundation. Read Conrad or Hemingway and you can tell how much real life is in those books. A lot of what you see in my films isn’t invention; it’s very much life itself, my own life. If you have an image in your head, hold on to it because — as remote as it might seem — at some point you might be able to use it in a film. I have always sought to transform my own experiences and fantasies into cinema.
What’s the center of the filmmaking universe according to this Herzog quote? Life — and our experience of it. Creating works of cinema is essentially human beings expressing their experience and/or interpretation of life, but if you’re not out there living it in an active way, then you may not be bearing the fruit you could be. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the slow trudge we find ourselves powering through — the realization usually comes on a random Tuesday at 1:37 in the afternoon. Maybe you’re at a dead end, uninspiring job. Maybe you’re spinning too many plates. Maybe you’re not even fully aware that your inspiration is being swallowed by the ever-widening mouth of routine, crushing the unsuspecting one by one forever with its unyielding, insatiable jaws.
But, if living life is Herzog’s prescription, I’d say it’d do you some all-around good to fill it. I received some excellent advice from a friend last night, who, though not a filmmaker, is a world-class liver of life.
Take the random bus. Get lost. Be afraid. See where you end up. Keep going and try to make the best of it. Be delighted. And blissful. And euphoric. Thank yourself for having been brave enough to take chances and not stop even when you were scared.