Lunch with the Montgomery Fellow: Werner Herzog

On October 3, 2013 by Grad Forum

montgomeryfellowherzog_thumbnailOn Wednesday, September 18, a group of graduate students from various departments joined the Montgomery Fellow, Werner Herzog, at the Montgomery House for lunch. Herzog is a German film producer, director, and actor. He has produced, written, or directed more than sixty films, such as From One Second to the Next.

Herzog led a discussion with the graduate students, focusing first on the issue of visual perception. He presented a very interesting issue for discussion: dealing with radioactive waste. Currently, if an area contains dangerous chemicals, signs are placed in the area, and the general public then avoids that area. However, some radioactive waste, typically generated by nuclear power plants, could last for hundreds of thousands of years. He questioned how we will be able to communicate the location of this waste to people 200,000 years from now. Languages may change enough that modern-day warnings may be incomprehensible in the future. Participants agreed on the need to develop better ways of communicating with other cultures that may not understand current languages and signs.

Students then questioned Herzog about his work. When asked how he develops his ideas, he said that it is difficult to describe. “Films stumble into me,” he explained. He mentioned that he does not base his decisions on what to work on by looking at the current “hot” topics. Rather, ideas simply come to him, and he is able to quickly sense whether an idea is worth pursuing.

The discussion concluded with advice about filming techniques and filmmaking in general. Herzog explained that he hardly ever uses the zoom function on the camera and prefers filming action scenes from left to right. He also mentioned that how you organize the timing of the events in a film depends on what culture you are targeting. If you are targeting an American audience, he suggests that the timing of the film should be quick. On the other hand, audiences in Iceland and East Asia often enjoy his slower-paced films. When asked how he develops characters, he observed that he has never developed a character, but that he pictures his characters right away. He advised graduate students who want to become filmmakers to read a lot in order to develop their creativity.

The session was very interesting and introduced a novel perspective on communication and filmmaking. Graduate students enjoyed the opportunity to meet and talk with a renowned filmmaker.

by Gilbert Rahme

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