From Ken Burns's MasterClass

Jump The Chasm

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

Topics include: Jump the Chasm


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

Topics include: Jump the Chasm

Ken Burns

Teaches Documentary Filmmaking

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First of all, when you finish this class, there's got to be a palpable sense of relief, that [EXHALES]-- 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.

If you finish a lesson, you have to reload the page to watch it again... not cool

I don't aspire to be a film maker, but Ken Burns himself is extremely inspirational. His heart and goodness shines through all his words. I loved his ending message which was to just get started with whatever is in you to do. I'll be thinking about the message and the man.

Ein Dokumentarfilm ist mehr als die Summe seiner Fotos, Videos und Invterviews. Ken Burns unterhält mit seiner sympathischen Art und vermittelt dabei jede Menge Filmtheorie.

I have worked for a PBS affiliate making short documentary pieces. This set of lessons reinforces what I have already learned. There are some shared pieces of information I will use to enhance my next works.


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.

Troy B.

Ken - thank you so much for sharing your insights and wisdom - I thoroughly enjoyed your master class.

Tony C.

Hi Ken, I have enjoyed your class the most. Loved Malcolm Gladwell, Werner Herzog, Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee but found yours the most insightful. What you divulged in how you go about things, describing your thought process was extremely useful. Anybody watching these lessons would benefit from so many take-outs. May you continue to produce the excellent work you do for many years to come.


My scripts have existed for some time now. Getting others to share my vision is the hard part, My passion for musical subjects have been with me since childhood, Every attempt I have made to adopt other interests have failed. I love films, filmmakers and film making.

Shayne O.

Whilst I doubt I will ever do anything that remotely resembles what Ken does but I loved that Masterclass and especially Ken's heartfelt fairness and wisdom on the Nature of life and the times we live in. The content, however, was helpful to a writer also and a change of pace from the 6 or 7 writing Masterclasses I have done. Oddly, the Civil War series was advertised for Netflix and it piqued my interest but dismissed it as oh I won't worry it's about America. So now must see this and Vietnam which does interest me. Thanks so much Ken.


Thanks a lot for this class Ken Burns!! So helpful, inspiring and motivating to pursue our work!

Patrick P.

Ken's class is first class in many ways: it is my first class with It is also the best way for me to learn about documentary filmmaking and its very complex structure/function within our modern societies. Ken touched the sublime at one stage when talking about an interview of a Vietnam war veteran that was 'Gold'. He came back on his sentence to explain why he used this word in such a direct and truthful manner. Ken is a man loving his Art and facing the challenges of filmmaking with great gentleness and determination. His comments are insightful and very well calibrated in a fantastic series of lessons that I shall never forget. I feel ready to jump the chasm. Thank YOU, Ken, for being such an amazing creator and an exceptional filmmaker.

Matilda D.

Awesome class, i must say i feel ready to embark on my first documentary film project.