Werner Herzog deletes all of his unused footage when he's done making a movie. Why? 1: Storage takes up too much space; and 2) "A carpenter doesn't sit on his shavings either."
This means that he doesn't have the option to go back and re-edit films. "I accept all my errors, and my films have many of them." You have to accept that the "child has a stutter, a squint, a limp."
The great filmmaker delivered many gems and to a packed house of filmmakers and aspiring filmmakers at the Directors Guild of America on Sunset Blvd Saturday morning. He was warm and seemed pleased to be there, almost like a grandfather passing down wisdom to his grand kids. "I hardly ever wear a suit and I do it for you here," he said. "Because we are all colleagues, we are all filmmakers and I want to show you respect." I sat in the front row and hung on his every word.
An editor with a bad habit of dawdling, perhaps the best wisdom I took away from it was about editing. "Editing HAS to be fast." Herzog delivered the final cut for "Bad Lieutenant" just 2 weeks after he was done shooting. "I always look at the footage only once." He puts either 1,2, or 3 in the rarest cases exclamation marks next to timecode and then knows that the footage with 3 exclamation marks will be the movie. Simple enough. "I've always been a quiet, steady, focused worker," he says.
Herzog's idea of efficient shooting and editing comes from his time experience as a producer. He understands the value of time and money. However, this is a riskier way to make movies. "You have to know what you're doing." As we know, Herzog does. While shooting "Bad Lieutenant" he would check in with the line producer every day after set to see how the cash flows we're going. He eliminated "safety thinking" on things like having a custom costume for a background actor who doesn't even appear...and eventually this thinking made made him deliver the film $2.6 million dollars under budget and 2 days under shooting schedule. "You have to take money seriously," he says, but "The more important thing is that you are taken seriously by the producers."
Herzog talked a lot about his new documentary "Into the Abyss," on capital punishment- a subject close to his heart. "I respectfully disagree with capital punishment," he says. He is a believer of life in prison without parole. Herzog says that though he lives in the US with an American wife, he will not become an American citizen because he will not be a citizen of a country that allows capital punishment. Moderator/ Journalist Stephen Galloway of the Hollywood Reporter asked Herzog a few times how working on this movie must have affected him emotionally. Herzog spoke steady, and did not appear jolted during his answers.
Other gems from the lecture include:
"Independent cinema doesn't exist. It exists only for your Christmas movie at home. All the rest depends on money." He talked about how he may start his own distribution company and the crowd cheered.
Herzog is a resident of Los Angeles and loves it. "For work, I have to be in the city with the most substance. For finances it's New York, for oil Huston but for everything else, Los Angeles."
"I have a reputation of being insane which is kind of weird because I'm clinically sane."
"Travel on foot that's where you start to understand the world and you start to understand life."
"I am not a journalist, I have conversations. I have to find the right tone right away. I am just the echo of what's going on"
For aspiring filmmakers who can't find a job in film yet, Herzog suggested, "Look for self reliance. Work where there is real intensity of life. Don't work in an office, work as a bouncer in a sex club. As a guard in a maximum security prison, and make your money for your film that way."
At one point while talking about a character in "Into the Abyss" Herzog used the phrase "national treasure." [Though he's not an American citizen] it struck me as odd to hear him use this phrase without referring to himself. It was very clear to me who the national treasure in the room is.
After a Q&A Herzog stayed around a while as fans buzzed around him. And then he was gone.
This is a late re-post of my film blog over at fest21.com.
A Note from the Author
2 years ago