Werner Herzog has been in the business of encouraging young filmmakers since famously eating his shoes in a bet to inspire Errol Morris to make his first film in the 70s. In a recent interview on The Business, Herzog offered some more advice to filmmakers.
Herzog declares that, because of the digital tools available today, there are no excuses for aspiring filmmakers to not make features.
Today it is fairly easy to make a feature film for, say, $10,000…earn the money, don’t wait for financiers. Don’t waste your life to promote your project.
Herzog says that he’d rather see filmmakers working for half a year to earn the money to make their films working as “a bouncer in a sex club” or as a “guard at an insane asylum.” He says there are fringe benefits to working day jobs beyond just scraping together money to self-finance films.
When I was in the fiction writing program at Columbia College, we were encouraged to write about our day jobs…the more menial and tedious, the better. Jobs were seen as the source of material for fiction. It’s the drama of everyday life that inspires us as storytellers. Maybe that’s why sophomore efforts by writers and filmmakers are often somewhat tepid: once they retreat to lives on the comfortable side of success, perhaps they lose touch with the source material that first inspired them.
The same is true for film: your menial job can keep “your finger on the pulse” of the origins of story. Herzog echoes this, adding the pragmatism of self-financing to the notion that having experience in everyday life can be more interesting that being isolated in academia or caught playing the financing game in LA. Of the latter, Herzog says:
[chasing financing is]
a waste of time; it’s loss of life, not only waste of life. When you’re into filmmaking, you have to have your finger on the pulse of real life, of real, raw, essential life. So do that: work for half a year and then you can make the film.
And as for the technological advantages of making films in the digital age, Herzog says:
The instruments, the cameras are inexpensive and high-caliber. You can edit at home on your own laptop. So just go out and do it. There’s no excuse anymore, today there is no excuse.
Herzog is famous for making his own rules in filmmaking, and his biggest successes seem counter-intuitive, from Grizzly Man to Encounters at the End of the World, both unique and atypical documentaries. He drifts from nonfiction to narrative film, always changing genres, making his films on his own terms. It’s refreshing to see that he’s passionate about encouraging others to do the same.