Chapter 26 of 26 from Ken Burns

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

Ken Burns Teaches Documentary Filmmaking

The 15-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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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. 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 teaches his unique creative process through case studies of his films, original treatments, voice over scripts, archival documents, and more.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps, assignments, and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Ken will also critique select student work.


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

Inspiring. I feel hopeful, engaged, energized. So glad I signed in. Grateful!

I will do it " en français" ;) Merci beaucoup Ken Burns. Vous êtes un cinéaste remarquable, votre Masterclass était un vrai bonheur à écouter. Vous m'avez éclairée, inspirée et même émue. C'était un grand privilège de côtoyer, pendant quelques heures, une personne si profondément humaine. Thank you.

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 am more aware and a bit better a person , Thank You



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.

Matilda D.

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

Bob S.

I am glad I took this masterclass with Ken. This is the class that is letting my project cross the chasm. I am starting a documentary film on the Rainforests with my original soundtrack music/ I will also do the cinematography. The lesson on interviews were imperative since I will do the interviews.. Thanks Ken for the insights, and inspiration.

A fellow student

Thank you for the inspiration to get it happening. I can see the long road ahead but I feel much more prepared and determined after viewing this class.

Michael O.

My mantra in the theatre: Create theatre in which the observer becomes the observed, the observed the observer. That may sound on first hearing to be a mind game. It has not proved to be so, to wit staging a play that takes place in a Midwest cafe by placing the audience in that cafe. The purpose of film is to activate the viewers thoughts and feelings beyond what for them is ordinary, and by doing so become the observed. But there is always that "chasm," that screen between the observer and the observed. I'd like to dissolve that chasm, that screen so that observer/observed become one. Ken's class here helped me one step closer. I am grateful.

Meg N.

This class has been singularly inspiring on so many levels. I may never make a documentary, but the care and attention to detail and to the respect given to each topic and each person involved on all sides of the issues as well as both sides of the cameras is going to guide me forward in life. Thank you!

A fellow student

Thank you. I can’t wait to share the new things I’ve learned here in my upcoming classes.

paul V.

After using the Ken Burns effect in Premiere & Final Cut - just so awesome to dive deep with the Master. What a way to explore multiple dimensions of documentary film making, so many layers ... would never have imagined the level of thought that went into each masterpiece....thank-you Mr. Burns for deconstructing documentary film making to help me get to the next level :)0


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]