werner herzog

10 Great Pieces of Advice for Beginner Producers from Filmmaking Veterans

Low budget to blockbuster, getting a film produced is a huge endeavor. As PTA says, “It’s a miracle every time a film gets made.” Whether you are a self producer or are looking to produce the work of others, NYFA has pulled together these 10 great pieces of advice that can help you to become the best producer you can be.

1. Paul Thomas Anderson advises you to beware of fear.

In this great interview, Anderson speaks to the difficulties of getting started with great fear that the opinions of others, especially those in positions of power, are right or worth more than yours. He concludes, “There just should be no fear.”

2. Martin Scorsese tells you to “make your own industry.”

3. Disappointment can fuel you.

And, while addressing a graduating class at his alma mater, Scorsese reflected on two big disappointments early in his career that might have crushed him, but instead made him better and more resilient. “There’s a way that the force of disappointment can be alchemized into something that can paradoxically renew you.”

4. The market is global, you should be too.


As we discussed in this NYFA article, there are experiences that can only be gained by studying abroad. We mentioned the importance of growing your network internationally, and this piece of Filmmaker Magazine advice, culled from a panel discussion at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, concurs: “Form an international collective.”

5. Producing is a group effort.


The same Filmmaker Magazine article also offers this very important and basic piece of advice for producers: “Learn how to collaborate.”

Werner Herzog has at least 24 pieces of filmmaking (and life) advice. Here are a couple of our favorites:

6. There is nothing wrong with spending a night in jail if it means getting the shot you need.

7. Never wallow in your troubles; despair must be kept private and brief.

8. Read broadly. Be culturally well-informed.

The below video, featuring advice from filmmakers from Quentin Tarantino to Fellini, makes it clear that in order to make great films that are not simply imitations of what you admire, it is important to read, listen to, and look at great works from the past as well as the present. As Herzog puts it, “Read! Read! Read…”

9. Passion is all you need.

As Tarantino puts it in the above video, “If you truly love cinema, with all your heart, and with enough passion, you can’t help but make a good movie.” Similar advice comes from “Dallas Buyers Club” producer Rachel Winter at the 2014 Producers Guild Awards: “Follow your passion. You can’t make anything and you can’t sell anything if you’re not fully, fully committed. If you give it all, other people will give it their all and follow your example.”

10. Just do it!

Though this advice from director Stephanie Joalland is from an Indiewire article about women filmmakers, it works for everyone just starting out: “Don’t listen to the naysayers who say you’re a woman you can’t do it, I think there is a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy. I hear so many women saying ‘I couldn’t make it because I’m a woman,’ There is no excuse, get a RED camera, get a 5G, and make a movie, find actors. Just do it.”

“Just do it” is perhaps the overarching message from famous and successful producers: Don’t talk about being a filmmaker or producer, just get out there and involve yourself in as many projects as possible. This alone will make you better in your own eyes and prove yourself to others.

NYFA offers hands-on classes in filmmaking and producing to get you started.

The Best Documentaries: The Films Of Werner Herzog

werner herzog

If there’s ever a documentarian that hires cast and crewmembers whose endurance levels match their professional skills, it’s German filmmaker, Werner Herzog. Born on September 5, 1942 in post-World War II Germany, the offbeat visionary thrives on filming in rugged and exotic places like Antarctica or the Amazonian forest and is renowned for putting his subjects to the test—both physically and mentally.

He uses his camera to unveil new layers of experience, nature and the human psyche and is well-known for his frequent collaborations with the controversial and often temperamental actor, Klaus Kinski. Herzog’s films, like himself, are offbeat, cluttered and ecstatic and once professed that “the common denominator of the Universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility and murder.” But this crazed valour is all part of his mystique—he once ate a shoe after losing a bet to fellow documentarian Errol Morris.

With over forty years in filmmaking and more than sixty films (including feature films) under his belt, to say Herzog’s had an illustrious career would be an understatement. But as far as documentaries go, if you were to watch any 5 of his works, these should be the ones.

Grizzly Man (2005)

This documentary follows the work of grizzly bear activists Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard—both of whom were mauled to death by the animal—and was pieced together using actual video footage of Treadwell’s. One of the elements that makes this film so fascinating is the contentious dialogue between Treadwell’s running commentary in the footage and Herzog’s narration; Herzog only saw the overwhelming indifference of nature in the bears whereas Treadwell believed in them as more than just killers.

Fata Morgana (1971)

A truly one-of-a-kind piece of nonfiction filmmaking that could only have come from a mind like Werner Herzog’s, this film puts together narration reciting the Mayan creation myth and stunning yet sometimes bizarre images of the Sahara Desert. The film was initially intended to have a science fiction narrative, but still contains some fascinating dystopian imagery that’s even more bizarre when accompanied by the songs of Leonard Cohen.


Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997)

This film is what inspired another of Herzog’s films, the narrative drama Rescue Dawn with Christian Bale and Steve Zahn. Made for German television, this documentary follows German-American Dieter Dengler as he discusses serving as an American naval pilot in the Vietnam War. His stories of deprivation and struggle in the years after the war echo similar memories from Herzog’s past.


Land of Silence and Darkness (1971)

This film shows how the deaf and blind struggle to understand and come to terms with a world from which they’re almost completely isolated. It does so through Fini Straubinger, the protagonist, an elderly woman who has been blind, deaf and mute since adolescence. She uses tactile sign language to communicate with people who rely only on taste, touch and smell as she helps them ease the isolation they experience because of their disabilities. It truly is an equally fascinating and touching film.


Lessons of Darkness (1992)

This film shows the disaster of the post-Gulf War Kuwaitian oil wells in flames, in a style that seems almost like it’s documented through the perspective of a somewhat alien observer. With few interviews and no explanatory narration, but only a soundtrack full of melancholy and grandiosity, this visually mesmerizing exploration of the ravaged fields sits side-by-side with its equally effective companion Fata Morgana.

Learn more about the School of Documentary Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

Creating Emotion-Driven Documentaries: Five Excellent Examples

At its heart, filmmaking is about telling stories. Whether real or imagined, the job of the filmmaker is to communicate the story well and connect with the audience on an emotional level; when it comes to documentaries, the recent trend has been to really pack a punch with extremely impassioned subject matter.

Over the last ten years, we’ve witnessed the release of some of the most heart-rending non-fiction documentaries ever filmed. Of course, it isn’t easy to deliver highly sensitive material without coming across as insincere or over-the-top, and it’s a fine art which can take some time to perfect during documentary filmmaking school.

In the spirit of standing on the shoulders of giants, here are five documentary masters at work which serve as excellent examples on how to do it right.

Grizzly Man

See the trailer:

We don’t need to spend any time discussing the brilliance of Werner Herzog, one of the most celebrated cinematographers in the field of non-fiction. If you’ve ever seen one of Herzog’s documentaries—even one of his worse ones—you’ll know that he has a knack for picking fascinating subject matter and bringing the best out of it.

Grizzly Man is no exception. Covering the life and (rather terrible) death of Tim Treadwell, it’s hard to imagine what drives a man to live without protection in the midst of grizzly bears but Herzog gets as close as it’s possible. Treadwell’s hubris in the face of nature’s most powerful predators is much debated and proved to be his (and his girlfriend’s) end, but everything leading up to this finality will stir your emotions and have you sympathizing with the man…for better or worse.

Jesus Camp

See the trailer:

Very few documentaries get as much rise out of viewers as Jesus Camp, and the emotion most elicited in this documentary is usually ‘rage.’ Even by just watching the two-minute trailer above, you’ll quickly understand why this is the case.

Where does the line between ‘cult’ and ‘religion’ lie? That’s one of many controversial questions raised in the coverage of the Kids on Fire ministry and its operator, Becky Fischer, who spends her life aggressively preparing young children for spiritual warfare in the run up to the impending ‘end times.’ It drew the ire of both religious and secular organizations to such an extent that it was forced to close.

One of the crowning achievements of Jesus Camp is that it doesn’t impose any kind of viewpoint on the part of the creators, but simply lets the material speak for itself.

Dear Zachary

Only one word can be used to describe Dear Zachary.


Without wanting to reveal too many spoilers about this harrowing and tragic story, let’s just say this documentary is the emotional equivalent of a sledgehammer and will reduce most humans into floods of tears long before the credits roll.

Kurt Kuenne’s magnum opus and very personal memorial to his deceased friend (and the injustices of his death) is better watched than described, even if it’ll leave you so drained you’ll never want to watch it again.

Man On Wire

If Dear Zachary is the most harrowing documentary out there, Man On Wire has got to be the antithesis—very few movies will leave you feel as uplifted and awestruck as this telling of the Philippe Petit story.

Aside from being an impeccably crafted documentary from a technical standpoint, the man at the center of this biopic is a fascinating character. If you’re unaware of his madcap stunt—and few were before the documentary—Petit planned and trained extensively to pull off a single idea he’d obsessed about for years. In April 1974, he snuck into the newly constructed World Trade Center in New York and fired a tightrope wire across the roofs of the twin towers. He then walked across them.

The horrors of 9/11 are purposefully kept out of the documentary in an effort to make sure they don’t blight this incredible tale of a great man and two great buildings. It works.

Paradise Lost

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The story of the West Memphis Three is a well-known and complex one. In 1994, three teenagers were sent down for life for the murder of three other boys. The case and investigation—and subsequently the teens’ innocence—was fiercely debated over the course of two decades, before the three were released under a complicated innocence plea owing to new forensic evidence.

Numerous films have been made during this time and undoubtedly there’ll be many more to come, but the best among them is Paradise Lost. It provides an impressively objective take on the failings of the case and those involved, all the while not holding anything back. Be warned, however, that some of the footage can be upsetting at times.