Ken Burns

Producer/ Documentarian


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his two-hour Archive interview, Ken Burns talks about his modest upbringing and his early interest in filmmaking. He describes creating his own company in the 1970s, Florentine Films, and the 1981 documentary Brooklyn Bridge. He describes the style in which the film was made: the use of first person narrative and an easel system for filming still photographs. He discusses his relationship with PBS and his continued work in both feature film and television documentaries throughout the 1980s, including: The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God; The Statue of Liberty; Huey Long; Thomas Hart Benton; and The Congress. He then speaks in great detail about his breakthrough work, The Civil War. He talks about how the nine-hour documentary was made (shooting at 163 archives). He then details his subsequent project, including the ambitious documentaries: Empire of the Air: Men Who Made Radio, Baseball, Jazz, and The War.  Throughout the interview, Burns speaks about his process including the art of the interview and what he feels makes a good story. Ron Simon conducted the interview on October 19, 2007 in New York, NY.

"Why have just a single voice-of-God narrator when you could have first person voices reading newspaper accounts, or letters or diaries?... And rather than hold old photographs at arm's length, why not go inside them to the reality that each represented." 

Highlights
Ken Burns on developing his approach to using photographs in documentaries during the development of Brooklyn Bridge
02:12
Ken Burns on the power of television
02:24
Ken Burns the "Ken Burns effect" and his documentary style
04:09
Ken Burns on the documentary genre and how he'd like to be remembered
03:47
Ken Burns on developing, selling and filming his first major historical documentary, Brooklyn Bridge
07:30
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his childhood and family life
On his education and his early interest in photography and film
On starting his own film company Florentine Films after graduating from college
On making his first groundbreaking documentary, Brooklyn Bridge

Chapter 2

On his relationship with PBS and the evolution of the working style at Florentine Films
On making the documentaries The Shakers and The Statue of Liberty
On making the documentary Huey Long
On making The Civil War
On the power of television
On selecting photographs for The Civil War and making the war experience come alive

Chapter 3

On the "Ken Burns effect" and his documentary style
On getting funding for his documentaries
On celebrity
On his documentary series Baseball, and his career-long exploration of race in America
On the components of documentary including selecting a subject and the process of interviewing
On his use of technology and the storytelling process in his work

Chapter 4

On the editing process
On producing the documentary, The West and his work on biographical documentaries of Lewis & Clark, Mark Twain, and others
On producing Jazz: A Film By Ken Burns
On producing the documentary of the first road trip, Horatio's Drive
On producing the WWII documentary The War: A Ken Burns Film
On the documentary genre and how he'd like to be remembered
Shows

Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns

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Ken Burns on his documentary series Baseball, and his career-long exploration of race in America
06:55

Civil War, The

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Ken Burns on making his documentary series The Civil War
14:28
Ken Burns the "Ken Burns effect" and his documentary style
04:09

Empire of the Air

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Ken Burns on producing the documentary on the evolution of radio, Empire of the Air
01:19

Horatio's Drive

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Ken Burns on producing the documentary of the first road trip, Horatio's Drive  
05:48

Huey Long

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Ken Burns on making the 1985 documentary Huey Long
05:08

Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns

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Ken Burns on producing Jazz: A Film By Ken Burns
05:09

National Parks, The: America's Best Idea

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Ken Burns on his then-current PBS project The National Parks: America's Best Idea
00:29

Shakers, The: Hands To Work, Hearts To God

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Ken Burns on making the documentary The Shakers
02:25

Statue of Liberty, The

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Ken Burns on making the documentary The Statue of Liberty
00:59

Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The

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Ken Burns on his appearance on Tonight after the broadcast of his documentary, The Civil War
01:15

War, The

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Ken Burns on producing the WWII documentary The War: A Ken Burns Film
07:28
Topics

Censorship / Standards & Practices

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Ken Burns on producing the WWII documentary The War: A Ken Burns Film
07:38

Creative Influences and Inspiration

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Documentarian Ken Burns on developing his approach to using photographs in documentaries during the development of Brooklyn Bridge
02:12

Diversity in Television

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Ken Burns on his documentary series Baseball, and his career-long exploration of race in America
06:35

Fame and Celebrity

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Ken Burns on his celebrity
03:11

Minorities

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Ken Burns on his documentary series Baseball, and his career-long exploration of race in America
06:35
Ken Burns on producing the WWII documentary The War: A Ken Burns Film
07:28

Sports

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Ken Burns on his documentary series Baseball, and his career-long exploration of race in America
06:35

Studio and Network Management

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Ken Burns on his relationship with PBS throughout his career
05:06

Technological Innovation

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Ken Burns on the use of technology in his work
04:47

Television Industry

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Ken Burns on his celebrity
03:11

War on Terror

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Ken Burns on The Civil War's effect on public perception of the War in Iraq
02:09

World War II

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Ken Burns on producing the WWII documentary The War: A Ken Burns Film
07:38
Professions

Documentarian

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Documentarian Ken Burns on developing his approach to using photographs in documentaries during the development of Brooklyn Bridge
02:12
Ken Burns the "Ken Burns effect" and his documentary style
04:09
Ken Burns on getting funding for his documentaries
02:22
Ken Burns on the components of documentary including selecting a subject and the process of interviewing
05:22
Ken Burns on the documentary genre and how he'd like to be remembered
03:47
Genres

News and Documentary

View Genre
Documentarian Ken Burns on developing his approach to using photographs in documentaries during the development of Brooklyn Bridge
02:12
Documentarian Ken Burns on the power of television
02:24
Ken Burns the "Ken Burns effect" and his documentary style
04:09
Ken Burns on the components of documentary including selecting a subject and the process of interviewing
05:22
Ken Burns on the documentary genre and how he'd like to be remembered
03:47

Sports

View Genre
Ken Burns on his documentary series Baseball, and his career-long exploration of race in America
06:55
People

Louis Armstrong

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Ken Burns on producing Jazz: A Film By Ken Burns
05:09

Ric Burns

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Ken Burns on his childhood and family life
03:43

Dayton Duncan

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Ken Burns on producing the documentary of the first road trip, Horatio's Drive
05:48

Larry Hott

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Ken Burns on his relationship with PBS early in his career and the evolution of the working style at Florentine Films
02:28

Steve Jobs

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Ken Burns the "Ken Burns effect" and his documentary style
04:09

Jerome Liebling

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Ken Burns on studying still photography with Jerome Liebling and Elaine Mayes
06:25

Wynton Marsalis

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Ken Burns on producing Jazz: A Film By Ken Burns
05:09

Elaine Mayes

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Ken Burns on studying still photography with Jerome Liebling and Elaine Mayes
06:25

David McCollough

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Ken Burns on developing, selling and filming his first major historcal documentary, Brooklyn Bridge
08:00
Ken Burns on making his documentary series The Civil War
14:28

Roger Sherman

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Ken Burns on his relationship with PBS early in his career and the evolution of the working style at Florentine Films
02:28

Buddy Squires

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Ken Burns on his relationship with PBS early in his career and the evolution of the working style at Florentine Films
02:28

Amy Stechler

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Ken Burns on his relationship with PBS early in his career and the evolution of the working style at Florentine Films
02:28

Geoffrey C. Ward

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Ken Burns on making the 1985 documentary Huey Long
05:08

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