… From an interview with filmmaker Werner Herzog at Indiewire via bcotmedia:
Interviewer: That movie (Into The Abyss) has that incredible moment where you just start talking to a gentleman about a squirrel…
Werner Herzog: …and that’s what you can’t learn in film school. He’s the chaplain in the death chamber, present as the last man present with a prisoner who’s dying. And he comes rushing to my set, and I identify him—we spoke briefly on the phone—and I say, “I’m Werner Herzog, is it okay that we put you in front of these concrete crosses of buried inmates who were not claimed by families?” He says “Yeah, yeah, yeah, quick, quick…”—the first thing he says is “Quick, quick.” Tapping his wrist watch, because he had to; what I didn’t know was that he had to be in the death chamber in 40 minutes, and I had 20 minutes with him.
And he starts to talk in front of the camera like a phony TV preacher—how beautiful God’s creation is, and that everybody will be redeemed, and everybody will find the mercy of God in paradise—I disagree with that, but anyway—and he speaks about being at the golf course, and squirrels, and a horse looking at him and he would see deer and switch off his cellphone. And I interrupt him; from behind the camera, I’m asking “Tell me about an encounter with a squirrel.” And all of a sudden, he’s hit by lightning, and he unravels, and he becomes very human and very deep—and this is something you will never learn in film school; you do not. You cannot learn it in film school; you can only learn it out at the raging river out there in life; you have to find the heart of men; what is going to break them open? And I’m asking a question no one would ever, ever, ever ask—no journalist, no filmmaker would ever ask “Tell me about an encounter with a squirrel.”
This seems to be about film making but it’s also about life. We could all learn to ask better questions of each other.
I really recommend you check out the documentary Into The Abyss. It’s a riveting and fascinating documentary about the death penalty. I also recommend reading Herzog’s advice on film making in which he speaks about failure, not waiting for permission, and perseverance. The advice is so good that it can be applied to anyone pursuing any endeavor. Or anyone who is alive.
If you want more Herzog, read Marie Francoise-Theodore’s 12 Things I Learned at Werner Herzog’s Rogue Film School. Best piece of advice? “Facts don’t constitute the truth…construct a reality that illuminates the truth.”
My encounter with a squirrel? Every time I see a squirrel running across a road I’m worried for it. Silently I scream for it to get out of the way before a car hits it. And it always makes it to the other side. I worry for nothing.