Ken Burns Teaches Documentary Filmmaking

Our newest instructor, Ken Burns, is arguably America’s most celebrated filmmaker of historical documentaries with nearly 40 years of masterful storytelling. Now you can learn how his unique creative process captivates audiences, illuminates history, and sparks empathy from millions of viewers. Pre-enroll today: www.masterclass.com/kb

Since the Academy Award-nominated Brooklyn Bridge in 1981, Burns has gone on to direct and produce some of the most acclaimed documentaries ever made, including The Civil War; Baseball; Jazz; The Statue of Liberty; The War; The National Parks: America’s Best Idea; The Roosevelts: An Intimate History; Jackie Robinson; Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War; and The Vietnam War, which has been seen by over 39 million people. His work has garnered numerous awards including 15 Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards, and two Oscar nominations; and in 2008, Burns was honored by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences with a Lifetime Achievement Award. His newest film, The Mayo Clinic: Faith – Hope – Science, will air nationally on PBS on September 25, 2018.

In his MasterClass, Ken Burns teaches students how to uncover and highlight the natural “drama of truth,” and he will demonstrate how documentaries can match, and even exceed, the depth of fictional narrative. Burns deconstructs scenes from some of his most notable works to explain how he finds the “human story” in true events, and he’ll share the filmmaking techniques he utilizes to “wake the dead.” His class emboldens students to tell stories that interweave deep and difficult themes of the American experience—race, gender, power, politics and war—and teach them how to distill vast research into compelling narratives that embrace complex truths and multiple points of view. While millions of viewers have seen the final version of Burns’s The Vietnam War, students in his MasterClass will have the rare opportunity to access early rough cuts of the film as Burns walks them through the process of sculpting the story in the edit. While Burns is recognized for his mastery of documentary filmmaking, storytellers from all disciplines will learn from his nuanced approach to crafting a story.

“I realized very early on that the laws of storytelling also applied to documentaries. A documentary can be didactic, educational and politically advocating, but it could also just tell a story that is as dramatic and captivating as fictional feature film. Then you’ve got the possibility of moving people at that same level, and you have the added advantage of it being true. In my MasterClass, I explore the ways in which I strive to bring the same expositional tools of a feature film to documentary filmmaking along with many more lessons on how to master the art of storytelling in a way that activates your audience’s imagination.”—Ken Burns

“Ken has transformed not only the way documentary films are made, but also American history by telling the stories we remember, what makes him a remarkable storyteller is his gift for pushing the boundaries of art while honoring and celebrating the drama of truth. We’re thrilled to have him teach his first MasterClass for anyone who is curious about storytelling.” —David Rogier, co-founder and CEO of MasterClass