There are photographers, artists, and directors and then there is Werner Herzog. Very few filmmakers alive today can capture the mystique of this brilliant actor. Each one of his films reflects a portion of his personality. They can be uncompromising, pragmatic, and at some points, down right crazy. Crazy might be a strong word but how else would you explain a man who has a willingness to to drag a riverboat over a mountain for the sense of realism for his film Fitzcarraldo.
From a career that spans over half a century Herzog has been guiding filmmakers along the mazes of their creativity. Though it is just a glimpse on the creative process, the back cover of the the recent book “Werner Herzog – A Guide for the Perplexed” Paul Cronin inscribes 24 philosophies by the famed German director. Some of the maxims apply to life, other to film, but whatever the case they will have you prepared for almost anything.
- Always take the initiative.
- There is nothing wrong with spending a night in jail if it means getting the shot you need.
- Send out all your dogs and one might return with prey.
- Never wallow in your troubles; despair must be kept private and brief.
- Learn to live with your mistakes.
- Expand your knowledge and understanding of music and literature, old and modern.
- That roll of unexposed celluloid you have in your hand might be the last in existence, so do something impressive with it.
- There is never an excuse not to finish a film.
- Carry bolt cutters everywhere.
- Thwart institutional cowardice.
- Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
- Take your fate into your own hands.
- Learn to read the inner essence of a landscape.
- Ignite the fire within and explore unknown territory.
- Walk straight ahead, never detour.
- Manoeuvre and mislead, but always deliver.
- Don’t be fearful of rejection.
- Develop your own voice.
- Day one is the point of no return.
- A badge of honor is to fail a film theory class.
- Chance is the lifeblood of cinema.
- Guerrilla tactics are best.
- Take revenge if need be.
- Get used to the bear behind you.
The lessons learn for Herzog can be applied to everyone. They are great inspirations not just about filmmaking, but about life as well. One of the philosophies that hit me personally was #20 – “A badge of honor is to fail a film theory class”. Not only have I actually done that, but it reminds me that we can lean every artistic aspect of a frame and the emotion it conveys and still not be a great storyteller yourself.
I do agree with Herzog that you should not be fearful of rejection. Rejection, change, failure, the unknown, and sometimes bears, are things we have to deal with as photographers – we just have walk straight ahead, always carry our bolt cutters and always make sure the work gets done. As for the “bear behind you” it is circumstantially literal as it pertains to his film Grizzly Man, is a metaphor mostly about the demons that drive you.
Not to judge a book by its cover, “A Guide for the Perplexed” seems like a must read if you are looking for inspiration.
Article Featured Image from “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” (2010) directed by Werner Herzog