Film & TV

Jump The Chasm

Ken Burns

Lesson time 03:03 min

Ken encourages you to let go of any lingering doubt and take the leap toward making your documentary film.

Ken Burns
Teaches Documentary Filmmaking
The 5-time Emmy Award winner teaches how he navigates research and uses audio and visual storytelling methods to bring history to life.
Get All-Access


First of all, when you finish this class, there's got to be a palpable sense of relief, that -- it's, you know, it's done. But I hope that what's happened is that, during it, you've been formulating some ideas, and that at some point, whether it's tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, something will come together into a spark that is the impetus to actually do something. All of this speculation, all of this conversation, is meaningless unless you start. And it may be a phone call to that person who's going to help you. It may be the phone call to the person you want to see who may be able to give you money or to direct you to the money. It's super important to find something that speaks to you. There's a moment in Ralph Waldo Emerson's most famous essay, "Self-Reliance," when he declares a kind of psychological independence from others, and he says, I, from now on, will do only what inly rejoices-- I-N-L-Y. I love that word inly. I think he invented it. And I hope, too, that in some ways, that despite the fact that we are surrounded by, not only a culture, but this particular medium, this particular job, with a sort of sense of how you should be, not what you should be, and the questions that come from what and not how, that you will do only what inly rejoices. I hope that at some point, that the things that we've been able to talk about today with each other about, in my case, documentary filmmaking, permits you to be able to sort of jump over that chasm. And the chasm is the difference between aspiration and accomplishment, and that some way, I can give a little bit of speed or lift to that jump for you. The only thing that matters is not which is the right step one. It's that there be a step one and that be done with confidence-- not without anxiety, not without doubt, not without all the other things that are going to be, you know, the mind parasites that are going to be eating away at that very good idea and your confidence, but just with the idea that I'm going to do something to move. Get started. [MUSIC PLAYING] Thank you for the privilege of this time together. I wish you could do only what inly rejoices. Good luck. [MUSIC PLAYING]

The drama of truth

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.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

The best class I've taken to date. All in inspiring and informing. Has help me frame my projects well.

I've been trying to conceptualize and develop the seed of a project idea. This course has helped my visualize the next steps and a finished product.

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.

I found the real focus of my prison documentary in this course.


Eduardo G.

Love it!!! It´s wonderful to see the process and been inspired with it. It really changed the way I viewed things.


Wow. That was an absolutely tremendous Masterclass. It was everything I had hoped it would be - and more. First, and foremost, it was inspiring. I want to go back and explore all of Ken Burns' documentaries again...and enjoy them with a fresh set of eyes. Second, it was informative. There was a great deal of usable takeaway and my notebook will be getting a good workout as a result. Lastly, it was a wonderful reminder of the joy that documentary filmmaking can bring. The ability to craft something that wasn't there previously is truly one of the great creative benefits we have as humans. Thank you Ken.

A fellow student

When we pitched our documentary we said we wanted to do it in the Ken Burns style. Everyone immediately knew what that was. Once we got started we realized how complicated that was. Fortunately MasterClass showed up and we were able to take it before the rough cut was to be submitted. The course was amazing and a huge help. Thank you. David Roth, Marquee Rising

Phil A.

I have the All-Access Pass, and can't think of another course that went into as much practical detail as this one. The workbook is also jaw dropping in how deep and thick it is, with very usable information (grant request letters!). I found this class so informative I ended up taking several lessons more than once, even going back 5, 6, 7 chapters seeing how it ties in. Yet, despite all that detail, the core of what Ken teaches was not lost on me: Find a subject that speaks to you, a story you want to tell, don't let lack of gear stop you (as he holds up his iPhone!), and start now, today, don't wait.


Wonderful course. May God repay double or more what you have shared so sincerely. After about 40 days, I finished the course, with my average English. Anyway. Thank you for this course that was done so carefully and with extreme sincerity. thanks.


Wonderful course. May God repay double or more what you have shared so sincerely. After about 40 days, I finished the course, with my average English. Anyway. Thank you for this course that was done so carefully and with extreme sincerity. thanks.

Mary S.

What a great class! I wished it hadn't ended. Even though I am not a filmmaker, I learned so much for him. Thank you so much.

Daniel G.

Wow! Ken seems to look us in the eye when he encourages us, someone with this sense of empathy can do great interviews. Was a so nice time to spent here. Thanks!

Steve W.

Outstanding! This Masterclass is a wonderfully warm and insightful learning experience and well worth the time investment. I'm not a filmmaker, but enjoyed greatly the glimpse behind scenes in how great documentaries are built and what goes into developing & delivering great stories. Thanks Ken!

Tadahiko T.

I'm so glad I took this class. Very much inspired. Thank you Ken for taking time to share your knowledge and wisdom. I do really appreciate it.