Munich Abroad, Werner Herzog is the most famous German film director. He is the man who shot with Klaus Kinski “Fitzcarraldo” at the Amazon. The one in front of the camera ate his shoes. He also had success as an actor, voice actor and writer. He will receive the European Film Prize in early December for his life's work. But the price comes at the wrong time, says the 77-year-old duke in an interview with the Handelsblatt: “I'm only about to pop my ears when I've been in a wheelchair for ten years!” He has a much more intense output than before 30 , 40 years.
Herzog still remembers his youth when he worked at night as a spot welder in a steel factory. “That's what shaped me,” he says. “I appreciate the value of the money – and do not sign a contract as a director, without getting insight into the daily cash flow.”
With “Fordlandia”, the director now ventures to his first fictional series, which also has an economic background. It's about the utopia of Henry fordto export the values of a small American town worldwide. Herzog believes in his concept: “Ford is about timeless topics such as automation, resources, globalization – and a social experiment.”
Read the complete interview here:
Mr. Herzog, in 56 years of filmmaking, you have never dealt with economics in terms of content. Is she so boring?
No not at all. I'm in the middle of my role as a producer. My long-term survival is based on responsible management. Normally even directors like Orson Welles only have a half-life of 15 years. I can do it longer.
Finances are neither suspicious nor foreign to you?
I had to earn the money for my first films myself. As a high school student I worked at night as a spot welder in a steel factory. That has shaped me. I appreciate the value of the money – and I do not sign a contract as a director, without getting insight into the daily cash flow. Only then I have my finger on my pulse.
In other words, you are celebrating the first entrepreneurial success before the movie even appears – as a controller?
I have never gone over budget. I was even better five times. In “The Bad Lieutenant” with Nicolas Cage, I have previously discovered airbags in financial planning. In the end, we stayed $ 2.6 million below the $ 19 million budget. I have earned more over the bonuses for saved costs than through the fee. And I really deserved it.
Werner Herzog – To the person
So you are an honest worker in the vineyard of the Lord.
No, just a far-sighted, responsible filmmaker.
Want to maximize profits?
Would be nice. Unfortunately, I have also made films that have fallen at the box office on the stomach. I survived anyway. Because the industry always knows: I deliver reliably.
With “Fordlandia” you dare to your first fictional series – and to an economic substance. It is about the utopia of Henry Ford to export the values of a small American town worldwide. For the rubber production he created in the 1920s a model city on the Amazon.
That's very exciting. And I know my way around the Amazon …
… where you have shot highly acclaimed films like “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” or “Fitzcarraldo” with Klaus Kinski.
I know how to save a million dollars for each of the eight, nine episodes there. But still we are only with the scripts. Ford is about timeless topics like automation, resources, globalization – and a social experiment. The barefoot workers in the jungle had to eat oatmeal in the morning, they were not allowed to drink alcohol or dance lewdly. There was a quick revolt. First, the time clocks were hit short and small.
That a US tycoon pushes his vision of the whole world, is very up to date.
Of course, one has to wonder why the US has military presence in 140 countries. Donald Trump is predictable: he seems to be on the side of pacifism. He did not immediately throw bombs on North Korea or Iran. He withdraws from Afghanistan and Syria.
On the other hand, Trump is polarizing in the US itself. How is it in Los Angeles where you live with your family?
Of course, you feel that. Years ago, I told my East and West Coast friends to take care of the flyovers, the people in the places they fly over. I'll be loud at the topic! The Hanged Down in the Heart of America have shared a voice with Trump. He is just a product of the conditions.
Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and other Silicon Valley pioneers have a similar savior-like thinking to that of Ford. Does not that irritate you?
The last century has brought us the bankruptcy of great ideologies: communism and fascism. Our century will inevitably show us the bankruptcy of technical utopias. It's like written on the wall. Anyone who is not a dork can see that. We can not pop Mars with a million people, let alone a distant star. And through gene manipulation and medication, we do not become immortal.
The actors of the film and television industry are currently looking at all the streaming platforms from the USA with bright eyes: Netflix. Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, Apple and AT & T-Warner. Are you also a profiteer?
Not really. I have produced “Into the Inferno” successfully with Netflix. They treated this movie about volcanoes very classy.
Not to mention that you play for Disney Plus in the new series “The Mandalorian”, which developed out of “Star Wars”.
I fit in there well. Already with “Jack Reacher” I was a competent actor, who credibly aroused horror. Now I play a character that you can not trust on the way.
So it works just fine for you in this new way to make film and television.
Streaming will take over life that is still reserved for the cinema. The 14-year-old daughter of an actress told me she was not going to the movies because it was dark and she did not know anyone. Cinemas will continue to be important for event movies.
Is the streaming boom on the bottom line a positive or questionable development?
I have no bright eyes there. But after all, my films from the 1970s are now available to people in Missoula, Montana, teenagers have set up a movie club there. Now they are looking at the old stuff, just press a button.
In the documentary “Lo and Behold” you tried to explain the internet. Recently, you even talked in Los Angeles about the 50th anniversary of the first Internet connection. Explain to us: What is the network?
It creates great opportunities. Consider, for example, that 1.5 million video gamers have helped to solve an enzyme structure that can not be solved even for supercomputers. This has brought a breakthrough in the fight against cancer and AIDS.
That's the positive. And the detrimental part?
The Internet makes many people existentially lonelier, even though we are so connected. Personally it stays with my renouncement on a Handy. I do not want to be always available. Everyone I know complains about it. On my tablet I have the Encyclopædia Britannica and books and scripts saved. But mails? Sites? Outlook? My scheduling I prefer to do by handwritten calendar. That's faster. I do not want to create the experience of reality through applications.
That's what makes you exotic these days.
So what? I met a 14-year-old girl who sends more than 2000 SMS messages every day, sometimes just a smiley face. This is a tragic past life. We have to learn to handle this. Just as we no longer drive with big American road cruisers as in the Elvis Presley era, but with small electric cars.
Mr. Herzog, you were born in Munich in 1942, then fled with the family before the war bombs in a mountain village in Chiemgau, where you spent the childhood. How important is the Bavarian identity to you?
That counts first. I am not a German but a Bavarian director. Apart from me, only Ludwig II could have made the film “Fitzcarraldo” …
… whose iconographic scenes include the transport of a 340-ton steamship in the jungle.
Anyone who builds dream castles like Neuschwanstein would also like us to be able to balance a ship over a mountain. The Bavarians are a strong tribe.
How to get from the Alm to the cinema?
Before I turned eleven, I did not know that cinema exists. Then a man with a projector came to school and showed educational films. Boring! Only later in Munich did we see American B-pictures like “Zorro” or “Doctor Fu Man Chu”. And I immediately thought: You can do it better, I have to do it! When I was 14, crucial things for my life have become clear.
As a producer, you know how to handle the costs. But do you know how best to master the creative?
There is no master plan. Every project is different. The creative is usually a surprise. Suddenly I see a movie in front of me, just as you see a movie in the cinema! That's why I can write scripts so fast. I never need more than a week for it. Others need a year and a half.
“Apart from me, only Ludwig II could have made the film Fitzcarraldo.” Werner Herzog
To the public, you're a guy in need of borderline experiences, making movies with Grizzlys in Alaska, cave painting in the south of France, death row killers in Texas or people in the Antarctic and eating his own shoes in front of the camera because he's lost a bet. Apparently a “slightly crazy”.
Objection: The others are crazy. Take a look at the daily madness on TV! Then you know: the man you are talking to is the true center. The rest of the world is outsider.
You are joking. Do you enjoy the cliché of the “obsessed”?
I do not care. I can not determine the outside view of myself. Googling under “Werner Herzog” will find at least 30 doubles. I am with Facebook and on Twitter! On websites I give life advice. This is all unthinkable, because no lawyers help. I know who I am.
“I always attracted misfortune,” you explained. Does that belong to the Duke-Mystizimus?
No, it is true. During the first film, my main actor crashed before the end of the film, only five months later he was able to walk. At “Fitzcarraldo” we had two plane crashes, a border war between Peru and Ecuador, my recently completed camp for 1000 people was attacked. Even with documentary films I became very ill, I had malaria or dengue fever.
They are looking for extremes – and are experiencing extreme experiences.
Let's say: unusual. When you're shooting in Africa, you're not usually arrested by drunken soldiers.
Her work has received many film awards. Is that the price for fame?
I hear the word acoustically and do not know what it means. Appreciation is okay. But fame?
In December, you'll even receive the European Film Prize for your life's work.
I think the honor comes at the wrong time. The price for a lifetime's work I should only pop around my ears when I'm already ten years in a wheelchair! Now that's not for me. I have a much more intense output than 30, 40 years ago. And at that time I have already completed a major project every year. Last year, I released three long films.
What is the reason for the higher productivity?
The processes are recorded, the technical things easier. Mobile, digital cameras work fast, I can cut on the laptop almost as fast as I think. And I do not have to worry about financing for months, as I used to. Often this is already the case from the beginning.
You contribute to the many awards in the film industry with your own Werner Herzog Prize. Why?
He should go to someone who has a vision and the unheard-of courage to create something new, to occupy the fields and to explain that.
The jury is original: it consists of you.
There are consultants. At the moment, another design would be too cumbersome. But that will change. At some point, it does not exist anymore. If I am agile, the jury will be completely independent of me.
In your long career, you have conducted around 900 talks with the media. Do you remember Claas Relotius, who interviewed you years ago for the “Tagesspiegel”?
So spontaneous: no.
This is the man who invented or falsified all kinds of stories at the “Spiegel”.
Understand. A wonderful case. I follow this with enthusiasm. How does truth construct? That's one of the central questions. My film “Family Romance” is about a service company that leases to lonely friends on time. Separately, the Japanese television brought a documentary that led to the scandal. Because the man who acted as a customer in this, was in fact an employee of the service agency “Family Romance”. The founder defended this by pointing out that a real client would have lied out of shame to save face. But his colleague would have done that 200 times and knew how it works. Sometimes the truth has to come from a scammer.
In your conversation with Reporter Relotius, you said, “There is no formula for truth.” Apparently, he liked that.
(Laughs) He certainly had other motives for his actions. Overall, we need to be more attentive about what fake news could be. Journalism acts on a completely different level of responsibility than film art.
There is a suspicion that Relotius has also manipulated parts of the interview with you.
For real? Let him calmly invent things with me. If it serves to find the truth …
Mr. Herzog, thank you for the interview.
More: Why Silicon Valley loves Werner Herzog.
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