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Werner Herzog: Using TV To Expand A Challenging Film Theme

When the themes of Into the Abyss got too overwhelming for one film, director Werner Herzog turned to TV to expand his vision.

Werner Herzog: Using TV To Expand A  Challenging Film Theme
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Theatergoers riveted by Werner Herzog’s death row documentary Into the Abyss will have a chance to watch him further explore humankind’s darker recesses with his upcoming television series, On Death Row, to air March 9 on the Investigation Discovery channel.

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In a novel arrangement of using TV to expand upon a film, Herzog filmed a four-part companion series for Investigation Discovery alongside Abyss to further probe the issues discussed in the film, which was chronicled in Fast Company’s November interview with Herzog.

Into the Abyss was a film where, all of a sudden, I saw that this is getting so big, and this is such a tapestry of senseless murder and other things, that I immediately said to [Producer] Erik [Nelson], `There’s something mutating. Can we do that?’ ” Herzog told the Television Critics Association earlier this month. “And we asked [Investigation Discovery president] Henry Schleiff, and without five seconds’ hesitation, he said, `Yes. Just go ahead.'”

The series contemplates how these prisoners approach the remainder of their lives, now that they know the dates they will die. Herzog had only one or two, 50-minute interviews to get the prisoners to open up enough for him to capture their stories and life essence.

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“There’s an integrity to Werner, which extends to every aspect of his being–and they would just trust him,” said Nelson, who dubbed Herzog the Grand Inquisitor. “Somehow Werner manages to get into their heads and extract this managing thing that no journalist would be able to do. He has this powerful connection.”

About the author

Susan Karlin, based in Los Angeles, is a regular contributor to Fast Company, where she covers space science, autonomous vehicles, and the future of transportation. Karlin has reported for The New York Times, NPR, Scientific American, IEEE Spectrum, and Wired, among other outlets, from such locations as the Arctic and Antarctica, Israel and the West Bank, and Southeast Asia

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