Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Documentarian Ken Burns to Teach Online Filmmaking Class

Burns says he will "explore the ways in which I strive to bring the same expositional tools of a feature film to documentary filmmaking."

SAN FRANCISCO—Ken Burns, one of America’s most influential and prolific documentary filmmakers, will be teaching online this fall through MasterClass

“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,” Burns says. “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.”

Burns will teach 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. He’ll deconstruct 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.” 

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.

The filmmaker’s goal is embolden 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. 

Burns is one of America’s most celebrated creators of historical documentaries, with more than 40 years of storytelling. Since directing The 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.

His newest film, The Mayo Clinic: Faith – Hope – Science, will air nationally on PBS on September 25.