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." 

People Talking About ...
Highlights
Ken Burns on developing his approach to using photographs in documentaries during the development of Brooklyn Bridge
Ken Burns on the power of television
Ken Burns the "Ken Burns effect" and his documentary style
Ken Burns on the documentary genre and how he'd like to be remembered
Ken Burns on developing, selling and filming his first major historical documentary, Brooklyn Bridge
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

Civil War, The

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Ken Burns on making his documentary series The Civil War
Ken Burns the "Ken Burns effect" and his documentary style

Empire of the Air

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

Horatio's Drive

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

Huey Long

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Ken Burns on making the 1985 documentary Huey Long

Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns

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Ken Burns on producing Jazz: A Film By Ken Burns

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

Shakers, The: Hands To Work, Hearts To God

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Ken Burns on making the documentary The Shakers

Statue of Liberty, The

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Ken Burns on making the documentary The Statue of Liberty

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

War, The

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

Censorship / Standards & Practices

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

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

Diversity in Television

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

Fame and Celebrity

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Ken Burns on his celebrity

Minorities

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

Sports

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

Studio and Network Management

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Ken Burns on his relationship with PBS throughout his career

Technological Innovation

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Ken Burns on the use of technology in his work

Television Industry

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Ken Burns on his celebrity

War on Terror

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

World War II

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

Documentarian

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

News and Documentary

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Documentarian Ken Burns on developing his approach to using photographs in documentaries during the development of Brooklyn Bridge
Documentarian Ken Burns on the power of television
Ken Burns the "Ken Burns effect" and his documentary style
Ken Burns on the components of documentary including selecting a subject and the process of interviewing
Ken Burns on the documentary genre and how he'd like to be remembered

Sports

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

Louis Armstrong

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Ken Burns on producing Jazz: A Film By Ken Burns

Ric Burns

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Ken Burns on his childhood and family life

Dayton Duncan

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

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

Steve Jobs

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Ken Burns the "Ken Burns effect" and his documentary style

Jerome Liebling

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

Wynton Marsalis

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Ken Burns on producing Jazz: A Film By Ken Burns

Elaine Mayes

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

David McCollough

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

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

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

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

Geoffrey C. Ward

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Ken Burns on making the 1985 documentary Huey Long

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