Chapter 26 of 26 from Ken Burns

Jump The Chasm

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

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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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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. 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.

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Ken Burns

Ken Burns Teaches Documentary Filmmaking