I am not an advocate of capital punishment. And I'm saying that being a German, with a different historical background. Being a guest in your country I
respectfully disagree with the practice of capital punishment, period. I don't try to be didactic. I simply have a different historical load on my
Practically, you have to write to an inmate and you have to have an invitation from him or her in writing. Only then you can contact the warden, and
the warden has to give his okay, and in a way defense attorneys of the inmates also should be contacted. In one case, an attorney asked me not to have
his client on camera because it might jeopardize his chances in an upcoming hearing. So I said yes, of course, this is cancelled right now. There are
Contacting various death row inmates in Texas and in Florida got me in touch with Michael Perry, who actually was executed eight days after I had a
conversation on camera with him. So it's from his person that the idea spread out. I had the feeling that the crime was quite complex—two
perpetrators, three murder victims, four crime scenes, but all of a sudden [my interest] spread beyond the crime itself. It spread to certain
fascination about the chaplain, a fascination about the former captain of the tie-down team, the victims' families—all of a sudden victims' families
are much more in focus than I ever thought they would be. An entire tapestry around the utterly senseless crime.
It's hard to plan and organize things. With every single inmate you have 15 minutes, and that's all you will ever see of them. With the
death-house chaplain I had twenty five minutes, and that's all the time I met him in my entire life. He had to go straight to an inmate during his
execution. You do not have any time to prepare yourself, to research, to establish a catalogue of topics. You have to immediately function, and you
have to immediately find the right voice.
The death-house chaplain, he sounded very much at the beginning like a TV preacher. Almost phony, speaking about the message of a forgiving god in
paradise awaiting everyone, about squirrels and horses and deer looking at him. All of a sudden—and this is something you cannot learn in film
school—I knew I had to crack him open. And in a very cheerful voice behind the camera I'm saying, "Tell me an encounter about a squirrel." And all of
a sudden he unraveled. You see, you have to know the heart of men. You cannot prepare yourself for something like this. You have to perform right away.
Of course, I should mention that there is much more deliberation later on and much more shaping, more off-the-film editing, but that is a separate
phase of filmmaking. During work it's very, very intense, and editing is even more intense. Both editors and I started smoking again. Both of us could
only work five hours a day on it. Normally we are regular eight-hour guys. But it's so intense. You do this work and then you are glad to be out of
there and not reflecting anymore, just breathing and walking a few miles in the woods.
—Werner Herzog, as told to Alex Hoyt