Chapter 2 of 26 from Ken Burns

What It Takes

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Your life experiences, personal goals, and early films are all fodder for your career as filmmaker. Learn the highs and lows of Ken’s first film and his advice for navigating the filmmaking process.

Topics include: Be a Part of the Documentary Renaissance • Your First Film Is Your Greatest Teacher • Know Your Creative Goals • Expect Problems and Transcend Them • Be a Jack of All Trades • Your Life Will Feed Your Art • You Can’t Do It Alone • Get in the Deep End

Your life experiences, personal goals, and early films are all fodder for your career as filmmaker. Learn the highs and lows of Ken’s first film and his advice for navigating the filmmaking process.

Topics include: Be a Part of the Documentary Renaissance • Your First Film Is Your Greatest Teacher • Know Your Creative Goals • Expect Problems and Transcend Them • Be a Jack of All Trades • Your Life Will Feed Your Art • You Can’t Do It Alone • Get in the Deep End

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.

Reviews

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

I have grown to understand better the relaionship between subject and story and how to composit all the elements of filmaking within them. This class has profoundly impacted my art beyond all the others that I've taken. I am truly grateful

I've learned some essential approaches to taking my 10 years of research on my story subject and now have a road map of how to bring that to a video presentation.

An engaging Ken Burns--eye contact, sense of humour and humanity. I could not stop watching and learning. Please tell him that he will live on through his sincere sharing of ideas and wisdom. Thank you for including him in this series. I am humbled.

Mr. Burns compassion for others and his art form really moved me! It was beautifully shared wisdom with big doses of encouragement. I applaud him not only for his work but for his ability to educate others so thoroughly and completely! Many many thanks for having this available!

Comments

Manuel Gibran

i have been without money for a long time, just because I have been spending it on classes, cameras, drones and equipment to make my videos, but I think day by day, they are looking more cinematographic I just hope every sacrifice I made it worth, but its true if you want to be in this business you will have to make a lot sacrifices.

Jozua J.

Some fo what he said I have 1st hand experienc​​​​e​​ o​f and will probably in all likely hoo​​d expereinc​e again.

KONRAD R.

Is it about mental and emotional attunement , catharsis, attachment or detachment?........ What makes us more alive and or live better?........ "The purpose of discipline is to live more fully, not less." - Master Po......... What good is pondering or bringing up the past or future if it doesn’t help us live more fully? .........“Whoever wants music instead of noise, joy instead of pleasure, soul instead of gold, creative work instead of business, passion instead of foolery, finds no home in this trivial world of ours.” ― Hermann Hesse

Don M.

Telling the stories of history as "emotional archaeology that would be the kind of glue that would connect those seemingly dry dates together" Fantastic.

stasia P.

He had me at the introduction. This is my 8th masterclass in only a few weeks. I'm like a giant sponge and Ken is giving me all kinds of amazing wisdom...

Rob B.

This lesson on perseverance is so very valid. I started my first documentary six years ago. Ironically, my second task was writing to Ken Burns, because the project was derivative to his Frank Lloyd Wright film. His reply was in my mailbox within two weeks, and it fueled me. Just over a year into the project, my five year-old son was diagnosed with a rare cancer. He was gone in five months. My son had gone along on location scouting and even a bunch of the production shooting. Grief for a child is hard enough, but making the film is what I did with my son. Needless to say, working was extremely difficult. I've had a lot of understanding, and support from a great many friends. This couldn't have happened without any of them! Pleased to say. The film has reached final cut. Time to color and sweeten... First public screening in three weeks. Thanks Mr. Burns! Miss you Pete.

Laurie A.

It's important to be told that every great thing has a simple, organic beginning. Ken's gift is his humility and ability to teach this plainly, not as a side bar, but as the foundation of all to come.

Mary H.

His enthusiasm is appreciated. When he talks about being a Jack-of-all-trades in the film industry, he parallels Martin Haberman in the teacher education business. Haberman writes that star teachers are willing to wear different hats (i.e. be a teacher or a friend or a social worker, etc,, as needed). https://www.amazon.com/Teachers-Children-Poverty-Martin-Haberman/dp/0912099089/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1547071276&sr=1-2&keywords=star+teachers+of+children+in+poverty

Zeynep A.

breaking down the basic like that, made me realize them more within my self, and understand more what i want to do - as you asked-. i feel more sure now, as i continue out with the classes, and more aware of what hat i want to wear more often.

John A.

Yes....thank you for so eloquently and emotionally re-stating the basics. I've been a jack of all trades all my career mostly dictated by where I live and the market there. Through your words, I now see it is actually a positive rather than a negative with statements I get like, hey you have to specialize or that's not in your wheelhouse, is it? There is also a perceive bias I have witnessed in the documentary circle where if you are a newcomer or a commercial producer then how dare you enter into our sacred world. But I really took to heart your universal yet individual artist mantra and have found a newfound inspiration for drudging further into the trenches in spite of what others think. As humans and documentarians, we each have a legitimate voice.

Transcript

We are in a renaissance and have been for 30 or 40 years, 30 years at least, of documentary. Maybe from the mid-'80s, I think things really began to take off. And they're just getting better and better. And I think people are realizing that many of the plots in Hollywood are kind of tired and worn out. I love the fact that there is so many good documentaries, but so many different kinds of documentaries. Nobody's proclaiming any kind of orthodoxy. There's enough bandwidth to support a robust documentary community that can produce, that can lure Werner Herzog out of a feature film career into this hybrid. It can transform Errol Morris into this kind of philosopher king of stylized things. It can have Michael Moore and others promoting political stuff. You could have Al Gore suddenly getting into the filmmaking business, aided by Davis Guggenheim and others, to make the films. You can still continue plodding along with historical documentaries that we're doing. You can have all sorts of things that are taking place in all sorts of platforms and media. And that only bodes well. [LIVELY STRING MUSIC] My first film was on the Brooklyn Bridge. And I was a kid. I didn't know what I was doing. I was really reinventing a wheel. And I was also inventing the wheel, because nobody was doing that kind of historical documentary over more than five minutes. And I had to learn everything. I had to give up everything. I had to give up comfort. I lived on nothing. $0.02 an hour, I'm sure, would be a generous accounting of what it was that I got while I was making that film. And I had just debilitating anxiety that I was just stepping off into a territory that I did not know. But I was governed by the idea that the still photograph could be willed alive. I was governed by the idea that the soundtrack could also be interrupted with first-person voices. I was governed by the idea that story need not be the bigger top-down things, that it could happen in these unexpected places. I was beginning to understand the extent to which biography was the constituent building block of all the stories we were telling. So it wasn't just about a bridge. It was about Washington Roebling, the chief engineer. It was about his wife Emily. It was about the corrupt politicians and about the contractors, the dubious contractors. And I said that I was disinterested in excavating the dry dates and facts of the past. I was interested in an emotional archeology that would be the kind of glue that would connect those seemingly dry dates together. And I remember the kind of epiphany-- yes, emotional archaeologists, and not sentimentality and nostalgia. It was just a wonderful, wonderful experience, tempered by unbelievable daily anxiety. Every single day, I just thought, I cannot do this. I'm going to have a nervous breakdown the way Washington Roebling had a nervous breakdown trying to build the Brooklyn Bridge. And it just-- so all that I am kind of issues fro...