Ken Burns

Ken Burns

Filmmaker (Director, Producer, Writer)

Milestones

Milestones

My road in life has been direct.
At 11 my mom died. Then I saw my dad cry for first time at a movie & I realized film is an emotional outlet.
Attended college to make the films that made my dad cry. Found more drama in documenting reality.
Started my own company in 1976, taking the road less traveled & making film of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Moved to rural NH to finish the film, forsaking NYC for isolation to live cheaply & learn editing.
Film received Oscar nomination; people expected me to move to LA. Went against grain & stayed in NH.
Been in NH for 35 yrs doing what I want in film, eschewing corporate model, working w/great team.
If I had 1,000 years to live, I wouldn't run out of topics in American History.
Education

Education

highschool
High School
undergrad
Bachelor
Filmmaking
Hampshire College
Career

Career

Filmmaker (Director, Producer, Writer)

I make historical documentary films and series for PBS.

Career Roadmap

Roadmap
My work combines:
My work combines:
Film
Film
Television
Television
Being Creative
Being Creative

Day to Day

I start work at anywhere from pre-dawn to 8:00, depending on what I'm doing (shooting, editing, business) and keep working for ten to fourteen hours.

Skills & Qualities Beyond School

My mentor said: Go, See, Do, Be. Don't be trapped by the expectation of others or the self-imposed false expectations we foist upon ourselves. It's a Socratic process of asking yourself: Who am I? To know yourself is to realize that whatever you choose, it requires extraordinary perseverance & nothing will be handed to you. It's terrifying but exciting. Emerson said 'find what inwardly rejoices.' I followed my voice, found out whether I had something to say, and how to say it-and I'm grateful.

Advice for Getting Started

Here's the first step for college students

Know who you are. As Robert Penn Warren said, "Careerism is death!" I can't tell you how to become a documentary filmmaker because each person's path is their own. That's both a blessing and terror, but I'd rather have that tension than be an automaton toiling away at something that doesn't grip me. You don't want to wake up at 50 and go, "What happened? Where were my dreams?" I can't prescribe any one method, but I do hope the conditions are such that you're able to do what your heart wants to.

Recommended Education

My career is not related to what I studied. I'd recommend this path instead:

undergrad
Bachelor
Hurdles

Hurdles

The Noise I Shed

From Society in General:

"You should work for someone else, not yourself"

I focused on 2 things: knowing who I was & what I wanted; and persevering in the face of near constant resistance & friction. Perseverance is often just the patience to be turned down. I used to keep a binder with hundreds of rejections for my films. I kept them as a reminder that one can out-wait the naysayers. Steady streams of failure made me consider giving up, but I didn't want to wake up at 50 with my abandoned dream hanging over me. I moved to NH to live meagerly & develop and persisted.

Challenges I Overcame

Financial
Financial

Moved to NH, lived on nothing, refused to have a "career." Worked hard, waited. In my early NYC days I couldn't afford rent & considered deserting film. I decided to move off the grid & work on my dream. I learned to be uncompromising, and live the same way now as I did then.

Anxiety
Anxiety

At 11 when my mom died, it was a grenade explosion in my life. But I would not be who I am today if my mother hadn't died. Her death gave me an impetus to seize opportunities. Tragedies can provide the catalyst and courage to go forward and do things.