To submit requests for assistance, or provide feedback regarding accessibility, please contact

Arts & Entertainment

Jump The Chasm

Ken Burns

Lesson time 02:54 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 Started


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.

Brilliant. I'm full of gratitude to Ken Burns for the gift of this extraordinary Masterclass-- it has left me inly rejoicing!

Ken Burns is amazing! I am not a professional but volunteered to help produce a documentary. I am grateful for his generosity and sharing of technique

It gave insights on documentary making that I was missing from my previous studies. Especially on how to "professionalize" the filmmaking.

This was by far the best curriculum from a Masterclass instructor. I've only used Masterclass as a way to see BTS of instructors, but Ken Burns actually taught some interesting and helpful lessons.


Salvador Á.

Fantastic! Ken Burns is one of the most articulate, precise, eloquent people I have ever had the privilege of listening to. I thank him deeply for sharing with us his vast experience and thoughts with us. No wonder I love his work, he is a fantastic storyteller. I am inly rejoiced!

Mekhela D.

Very much.Watching him talk and his passion has made me want to work harder on my documentary script and has given me some ideas of how to introduce the personal elements in my documentary about a family home and how while opening it up after it had been shut for decades , I also embarked on a journey of self discovery.

Marton L.

What a lesson! Such an encouraging study from an expert. Thank you for sharing your vision, your great experiences, and being yourself. I'm so grateful. From start to finish, I loved every moment of it. Thank you, Ken.

Chadanuch W.

This is a miracle for me! As soon as Burns gave his last voice for this class ...good luck, the picture that appeared on my television's screen was the opening of 'Vietnam War' that he's just talking about! I am so amazed, why it is such a co-incident like this! It tells me that I've got to do something, as he said that... to tell our story that only in our head to the others, and make the audiences lean out to listen to it. Thank you so much Ken Burns, your are so wonderful.

Larry A.

Absolutely wonderful explanation of telling a story using video. I do my best on a level much below (local history) than Ken's, but I have had so many of the same experiences. I have never talked with another documentarian, and Ken's presentation of this course is as close as I may ever get to that. The course had enough technical details (that were not overwhelming, but practical) and had so much artistic information from his style to inspire my thought process. We all find our own style and this course was as much an emotional journey for me as it was a technical one. Thank you, Ken Burns.

Lorenzo V.

He's a wonderful storyteller and listening to him feels more like watching a documentary rather than taking a class

A fellow student

As a fellow documentarian and eternal learner, being in the presence of the great Ken Burn is its own reward! Thanks for making it happen MasterClass!!!

Roger M.

Excellent course and so appreciative as I’m starting on my first documentary and found the class massively valuable.

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.