Arts & Entertainment

Sharing Your Film

Ken Burns

Lesson time 06:29 min

Part of the thrill of making a film is sharing it with others. Learn how to reach your audience and the importance of opening your film up to interpretation and conversation.

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

Topics include: Decide Your Outlet Options • Evangelize Your Film • Allow the Audience to Assign Their Own Meaning


You've made your film, but now what are you going to do with it? Where is it going to be seen, distribution. This is what we want to do. I mean, we can convince ourselves that we're creating art for its own sake, and we're happy if it's seen by our friends and a festival. But nobody wants that for real. Everybody wants the most amount of people to see it. And we often sell our souls to achieve that, to happen, to participate in what Hollywood refers to itself as not the art but the industry. And fair warning-- I mean, they tell you that. It may be, you know, superimposed silhouettes of palm trees on the stationery. But there's really smokestacks there. That's a big question. So early on, I realized-- accidentally, because I was told that if I got a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities or one of its state agencies-- in this case, for the Brooklyn Bridge film, the New York State Council on the Humanities-- I had to give the film to PBS. And I thought, give the film to PBS? Don't you sell your films when they're done? But I have given the films to PBS, every film that I've made. And everybody's going to find their own way. And that's what's both terrifying, but also, I think, in some ways, the thrill of it, is how-- how are you going to do it? It requires the education of all of your parts. Perhaps you can navigate on your own, at least initially, the festival world, which will get it in front of other people. And you'll get some pretty good feedback. But then it becomes how you then position it for an even greater audience. And you essentially go from the smallest audience to the biggest. You're in your editing room with your comrades. You are then in a festival with, you know, 200 or 300 people in that auditorium, or that theater. And then you're suddenly in limited theatrical, so you're seen by thousands and thousands of people aggregated across the number of theaters you're in. And then maybe there's a television deal. And that's probably where people will make the most money, or recoup, more than likely, the money that they've invested in their film. My films make money in distribution. And that helps us fund the stuff that the particular budgets don't fund, and the development of new projects, and to reward those people who've worked at less than sort of industry standards-- reward them the points that they get in the film. So mine feels to be like a different kind of model. But I think all of those decisions are made. And you can actually make a good living following the commercial route. And you can make a good living, I think-- much harder-- following the noncommercial route. And you've just got to decide. And art is possible in both places. [MUSIC PLAYING] I like three things the most about filmmaking. I like being out filming an old archive and saying, this is going to be in the film, or conducting an interview and knowing, this is going to be great. There's an even better satisfaction w...

About the Instructor

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.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Ken Burns

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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