Things happen on a Werner Herzog set: mutinies break out, actors' lives are threatened, crew members are beaten and thrown in jail in the wildest corners of the world - and all in pursuit of the 'ecstatic truth' about humanity. Daniel Zalewski joins the German director shooting his first Hollywood film in the Thai jungle.
Werner Herzog hastily cordoned off a swath of jungle with wooden sticks and yellow tape, like a cop marking a crime scene. 'Nobody will cross this line!' he announced. It was late August, and the German director had travelled to northwest Thailand, a few miles from the border of Burma, to shoot Rescue Dawn amid virgin rainforest. It was his first Hollywood-funded feature, and he was determined to stop what he called 'the Apparatus' - a squadron of make-up artists, special-effects engineers and walkie-talkie-carrying professionals who had been deployed to work with him - from trampling on yet another pristine thicket. Herzog, who typically works with a small crew and a minuscule budget, was pleased to have millions of dollars at his disposal, but he was not so pleased to have been saddled with more than a hundred collaborators. 'I do not need all these assistants,' he complained. 'I have to work around them.'