When the trailer for Werner Herzog's 'Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans' was first released, showing Nicolas Cage as a drugged-out, manic cop hallucinating about iguanas and yelling phrases like "To the breaka dawn, baby," it was hard to decipher the line between planned absurdity and unintentional comedy. But never underestimate one of the most celebrated filmmakers in film history, whose incorporation of bizarre characters, integral location, and a determined, if slightly unhinged, protagonist are central to many of his works.

At 67, the famed German director, heralded for shooting in the world's most remote locations under excruciating circumstances, shows no signs of slowing down. In January, Herzog will debut his Rogue Film School, a 3-day intensive seminar taught by the director himself which eschews any technical teachings in favor of "a climate [of] excitement that makes film possible." (Subjects include "the art of lockpicking" and "the exhilaration of being shot at unsuccessfully.") Herzog spoke to us about 'Bad Lieutenant' -- a retooling of the controversial 1992 film starring Harvey Keitel -- and why film schools shouldn't expect a call back anytime soon.
When the trailer for Werner Herzog's 'Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans' was first released, showing Nicolas Cage as a drugged-out, manic cop hallucinating about iguanas and yelling phrases like "To the breaka dawn, baby," it was hard to decipher the line between planned absurdity and unintentional comedy. But never underestimate one of the most celebrated filmmakers in film history, whose incorporation of bizarre characters, integral location, and a determined, if slightly unhinged, protagonist are central to many of his works.

At 67, the famed German director, heralded for shooting in the world's most remote locations under excruciating circumstances, shows no signs of slowing down. In January, Herzog will debut his Rogue Film School, a 3-day intensive seminar taught by the director himself which eschews any technical teachings in favor of "a climate [of] excitement that makes film possible." (Subjects include "the art of lockpicking" and "the exhilaration of being shot at unsuccessfully.") Herzog spoke to us about 'Bad Lieutenant' -- a retooling of the controversial 1992 film starring Harvey Keitel -- and why film schools shouldn't expect a call back anytime soon.

How did New Orleans come to be the setting for 'Bad Lieutenant'?
The strange thing was that the screenplay was originally set in New York or Detroit. I got a call from [producer] Avi Lerner, who was very apologetic, and he said, "Werner, filmmaking is all about money" and I said, "Not all of it, but I understand your perspective." He said, "In New Orleans, we would have such great tax incentives and it would mean a lot for reducing the financial burden of the film" and I stopped him mid-sentence and said, "Avi, this is the best thing that could happen."

Had you been there before?
No, but of course, I knew about Katrina and the collapse of civility. I said, "This is perfect. I want this very badly. Why didn't you come earlier with this idea?" At the same time, Nicolas Cage, not knowing about this conversation, pushed from his side also for New Orleans, so all of a sudden, on the same day, we were on the same page.

What was the vibe of the city that you felt you could incorporate into the movie?
I'd never been there before and within three weeks, I had to select 40 locations, cast 35 speaking parts and put a crew together, so I was on the run. But it was quite clear right away that I was not going to do all the clichés of New Orleans. That means no French Quarter. No jazz club at four in the morning. No voodoo. That's not going to happen in my film. However, New Orleans in the film is very coherent. It's a different perspective; not the tourist perspective. You easily fall in the trap of doing it that way because people might expect it from you but I saw something in New Orleans which was different almost immediately and very much to my liking.

One 'Bad Lieutenant' review asserted that "no film by Herzog has ever been so defiantly mainstream and yet this remains one of the director's most outlandish affairs." Do you agree?
I do not agree because all my films are mainstream. When you look at [1974's] 'The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser,' it's a mainstream film. However, it takes a long time for [my films] to become mainstream. Nobody wanted to see [1972's] 'Aguirre, The Wrath of God' when it first came out. It got very bad reviews. Now 30 years later, it started to pick up speed and today it's a household item. The kind of stories that I do are always very, very strong stories with very good actors. They're understandable for a 6-year old and a 90-year old and enjoyed by people in Algeria, Uzbekistan, Brazil and United States. In that respect, I think I'm the secret mainstream. All of a sudden, with 'Bad Lieutenant,' it's not a secret anymore. I always knew I was working for bigger audiences, even though quite often, I did not find the bigger audience instantaneously. It took some time. I've always been mainstream and I think the rest of the movies that I see around me are all marginal and bizarre. They are the mavericks.

So 'Aguirre, The Wrath of God' is more mainstream than 'Transformers 2'.
In a way, yes.

There was a surprising amount of laughter at the 'Bad Lieutenant' screening I attended.
Finally, audiences discovered the humor in my films. I have a long history of very specific and very dark humor. And even a film like 'Grizzly Man' has very hilarious moments. It doesn't hit the average nerve of humor that you would find in an Eddie Murphy or slapstick film. It is a specific, stranger humor, but it is there no doubt.

But some scenes are so over the top, it seemed like nervous laughter, as if the viewer didn't know if you were messing with them or not. Are you worried that people might misunderstand the film?
An audience that laughs is never wrong. An audience has a natural right to laugh, whether it's your intention or not. On my knees, I hoped secretly, please, audience: laugh. 'Bad Lieutenant' is a new step in film noir because it gets so debased and vile that it becomes hilarious.

When you watched the film with audiences, did they laugh where you were hoping they would?
Yes. However, we showed it in Venice for the first time at the festival. Lots of laughter, but the film had to play with Italian subtitles and there's a lot of dialogue so being engaged in reading reading reading reading, you don't have that much time for laughter. But we just heard about a screening in New Orleans and they tell me the audience started to roar in laughter from the first image.

After all these years, do you still get nervous watching one of your films in the theater?
It never made me nervous. Deep inside, I knew I'd made a strong film. It will find its audience.

Your first Rogue Film School opens in January. What do you hope to accomplish with the school?
It's not that I want to accomplish anything, but in the last 20 years, the pressure on me from young filmmakers has become more and more overwhelming. And 20 years ago, I think I spoke in public and said I should do a film school of my own which would be completely different [from traditional film schools.] It would be a guerrilla, rogue sort of film school. If you want to learn technical things about filmmaking, apply to your local film school. But it's an attitude; it's a way of life. The intensity of the quest of young people who want to learn certain basic attitudes from me has been so strong, that I thought I should give it a forum and pass something on.

I suspect you're not a fan of traditional film schools.
No, certainly not. There's something fundamentally wrong [with them]. In the last week, I've been invited by 35, maybe 40 film schools asking to host my next Rogue Film School. My answer is "No. I would rather set up my next Rogue Film School open air in an abandoned quarry in the Mojave Desert than going into an established institution."

On the website, you mention that "there will be no talk of shamans, of yoga classes, nutritional values, herbal teas, discovering your boundaries, and inner growth."
Well, it sounds provocative but it gives you a clear orientation. There's nothing New Age-y about it. It's serious stuff here. I prefer people who have worked as bouncers in a sex club or wardens in a lunatic asylum to those who come from academia. It will be unusual and very intense. I'll go through every application personally. I don't care what their credits are in other movies or whether they have academic achievement or a PhD. Describe who you are.

When you look back on your career so far, do you think about your legacy to filmmaking?
I have been persuaded over the decades by my brother and other people to secure my films. I'm going to found a non-profit foundation and I will give all my films away to this, which means I am not the owner of them anymore and it belongs to the foundation. Otherwise, all the films will be disbursed into all directions. So that's the only way I'm addressing posterity. And I have an archive which is extremely well-organized and complete with tens of thousands of photos for every single film. All screenplays, contracts, dialogue lists, translations. In a way, it is so well-organized that it can be handed over to a non-profit organization. But posterity eludes me because I won't be around anyway. I can't care less about posterity.