For decades, acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog has introduced audiences to subjects that stick in one's mind long after the credits have rolled, from a cave of artwork painted more than 30,000 years ago to the landscape of Antarctica to a man who believed he had a special relationship with grizzly bears.
His latest film is no less thought-provoking, but it's a bit of a departure for Herzog. It's a public service announcement. His haunting documentary From One Second to the Next was created after AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile approached him to make a film about the risks of texting and driving.
The PSA is part of AT&T's "It Can Wait" campaign, urging young people to put their phones away while driving. The campaign encourages drivers to pledge that "no text message, email, website or video is worth the risk of endangering my life or the lives of others on the road." From One Second to the Next is available online, where it has logged more than 1.6 million views, and will be distributed to thousands of schools across the country.
Herzog joined NPR's David Greene to explain why he made the film and what he hopes viewers will take away from it.
On why he stressed emotion over graphic visuals
"What was proposed to me immediately made sense. It immediately gave me the feeling I'm the right person because I don't need to show blood and gore and wrecked cars. What I wanted to do was show the interior side of the catastrophes. ...
"It's a deep raw emotion — the kind of deep wounds that are in those who were victims of accidents and also in those who were the perpetrators. Their life has changed and they are suffering forever. They have this sense of guilt that pervades every single action, every single day, every single dream and nightmare."
On why he included people who have caused accidents while texting
"The real essential thing is we have to see what is happening — and it's not just an accident, not just the mechanics of an accident. It's a new form of culture coming at us and it's coming with great vehemence. ...
"You can tell, for example, when you look at schoolyards. Kids sit around but they don't talk. They're all texting. And accidents have happened at a staggering rate. I mean, it's skyrocketing. The statistics are incredible."
On why the PSA is so lengthy
"Originally I was supposed to do four spots, 30 seconds long, but I immediately said these deep emotions, this inner landscape can only be shown if you have more time. You have to know the persons. You have to allow silences, for example, deep silences of great suffering."
On why he made a PSA for mobile phone companies
"It's not an art house film, let's face it. It's a public service announcement film. And the message is very simple. Don't text and drive. It's as simple as that.
"And the reaction is coming in ... I mean, hundreds of emails coming in, parents writing to me. One teenage girl writes to me, 'I sat down my mother and I told her, 'You are texting when you're taking me to school; you are not going to do that again.' My mother doesn't even take her cellphone with her [in the car] anymore.'
"So there is an effect, and that's the only thing that counts."