How to Edit Your Life (Werner Herzog)

For my money, Werner Herzog is the best film-maker alive today, fiction or nonfiction. If anything, his nonfiction work is more artistic, more poetic, more surreal than his fiction. You’ve got to love an artist whose motto is: “Always carry bolt-cutters!

I had the good fortune of meeting him not long ago in New York City, where he had come to host a retrospective of his documentaries. He was highly approachable, delightfully charming, and full of amazingly on-point advice for a fellow film-maker.

I was working on a film profile of a fascinating character who was already quite elderly. “I want to edit my film quickly,” I said to Herzog. “I’m afraid he’s going to die soon and I want to show him the final cut before he dies.

Let him die!” Herzog said.

After a dramatic pause, in which my inner world rocked, he added: “And yes, you must edit quickly, very quickly.

I had been thinking, like two to three weeks.

Two years!” he said. “Take two years to edit!

He paused again, two beats. “And here’s how to edit. Divide all your footage into two parts.  Good footage. And great footage. Then, only use the great footage!

Words to live by: Edit your life like you edit your films!

—David Saltman

David Saltman is a prizewinning writer, author and film-maker, and creator of The Houdini File.

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