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.
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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.

I appreciate the insight given into Ken Burns's process an approach to documentary filmmaking. It provides me with some new things to think about and provides some validation for choices I have made in my own films.

I learned a bit about the style of Mr. Burns.

That was an inspiring class, thank you for that!

Incredibly inspirational! Im right at step one, and from this Im inspired to get started


Lynn B.

This Masterclass is excellent since Ken communicates well and has very specific, practical advice. I'm in the middle of a historical documentary project with a small budget and tiny crew. I am able to apply many of his suggestions. I had planned to watch the series before we started production, but that didn't happen. I'm in the middle of the edit so I'm thinking a lot about his words.

Omar N.

Ken. to thank you for being yourself. is a disservice to the self evidence of the fact that you are. thank you.

Bill I.

Most informative, gripping, exciting, valuable class I've taken here at MC! Thank you, Bill

A fellow student

This is by far the best class i have seen in 2 yrs. Thank you so much! Incredibly inspirational.

Jeremy S.

I'm currently filming my first feature documentary. It's been an extremely taxing and difficult process to say the least. Ken was able to articulate so much of what I've been feeling and provide so much desperately needed encouragement, I truly couldn't help but get emotional. I'm so grateful to Ken for generously sharing so much of this incredible information. And thank you MASTER CLASS, for providing such an unbelievable value with your classes. The content you provide is truly game changing!

Yurena D.

Wow, moved beyond words, thank you so much Ken, I loved this MasterClass ❤️

Garrett W.

Prof. Burns, thank you soooo much for taking the time to share your heart, mind, and skills with us. I am pursuing my story and can't wait to have a finished product to share with as many as will watch. You helped me a ton with this learning curve!!

Tess G.

I got so much out of this class! What an extraordinary human being and storyteller you are, Mr. Burns. Thank you for the confidence I needed to pursue a tale of my own.

guitty B.

What a man. Love him. I’ve his poetic articulation and his humility. I’m going to listen to him again. Thank you Ken Burns.

Jerry B.

Outstanding class Ken! So well presented with tremendous depth and expertise. A lot of wisdom gained from your experiences and achievement. Thanks.