Film & TV
Lesson time 12:07 min
Learn Ken’s interviewing techniques to help you connect with your subjects and draw out their most compelling stories.
Topics include: Put Your Interview Subject at Ease • Be a Visual Listener • Simple Questions Make for Wide Possibilities • It’s Not About You, It’s About the Answer
I am nervous before every interview, because I feel that, any time there is a kind of arrogance or a sense of "I know how to do this, I'm a good interviewer" is where something always inevitably goes wrong. And so I remember the sheer terror of the first interview I did in January 1972, when I was, you know, not even 19 years old. I was 18 years old. And I try to not recreate it. I just want to be humble enough to realize that we've got to put our position and our people in the best light, and I have to put myself in a position to get the best possible stuff. And I can't take anything for granted. That's the most important thing. [MUSIC PLAYING] Part of the reason that I consider myself a student, every time I do an interview, is because interviews can go wrong. And you can have a conversation with somebody beforehand and think, oh, this is going to be a great interview. And then it's not. And sometimes it's stuff that's going on in them, and sometimes it's poor questioning or poor listening, or whatever. I always will take the blame. If somebody doesn't work, it's all my fault. What I always do for every interview is also, I realize, for those who are nervous, a process of relaxation. I say, I'm not Mike Wallace of "60 Minutes." I don't have your tax returns for the last 10 years. And I'm not going to ask you a tough question. Here's what it's going to be. I'm sitting next to this camera, but you can ignore it. In fact, I don't want you to look right directly into the camera, but I'm going to be right up next to the camera. And hopefully, you can forget that the camera and all this other stuff is here. And then I'm going to ask you a question. And I don't need a one-syllable answer, a yes or a no. I need you to talk, but I don't need a chapter. I need a paragraph. And just remember that my question isn't in it. So if I ask you, do you like chocolate ice cream? If you say yes or no, it's meaningless to me. But if you say, I love chocolate ice cream, you've just put my question into the answer. And then you can say why for however long you want. And I am able to edit. And there are no mistakes. We have more than enough film than you will have energy to talk. Let's get started. And I've sometimes stopped in the beginning of a roll, and I say, look, the light is not right. And then the light's fine. But when I turn to them and I say, you're fantastic. This is great. Even if they're not, if you see they're nervous, I said, this is great. Are you a pro at this? I mean, do you know how to do? You've done this before. And they're going, no. I say, well, it's just great. Let's just do that. And we'll go. And I've just used the excuse of making a technical adjustment. Or often, it's at the end of the first roll, if I need to. Or in the case of somebody, you just are struggling and you don't know what to do. And then you find a way in, and you ask something that prompts an emotional answer. And then, once that happens, then thes...
Since its 2017 debut, Ken Burns’s The Vietnam War has enthralled over 39 million viewers by painting an intimate and revealing portrait of history. In this online film class, learn how Ken captivates audiences with his ability to distill vast research and complex truths into compelling narratives. From first treatment to final edit, Ken teaches his documentary filmmaking techniques that “wake the dead” to bring their stories to life.
Ken Burns is exceptional in every way. His intelligence and humanity are beautiful. Informative and interesting!
This has been by far the best Masterclass that I have taken. The course was so well thought out and was very revealing. It was pitched at a more advanced level than most the other film courses. Ken was incredibly generous in sharing knowledge and insights. He shared treatmentsand techingues, things that are often guarded as secrets by other filmmakers.
I am not familiar with Ken Burns' films, but his Masterclass was very helpful, especially because i'm just starting on my first documentary project. He shows, that making a documentary isn't that different from making a fictional movie.
As a long time admirer of Mr. Burns' work, it was deeply gratifying for me to be able to get to know more about the man and his professional methods from his own very insightful, generous and humble perspective. Quite a privilege. Thanks to the producers.