I posted this on a documentary project website called “Just Go Create!” Read the original and similar stories there.


“The only thing that matters is not which is the right step one. It’s that there be a step one.”

- Ken Burns


Ken Burns Teaches Documentary Filmmaking Masterclass Review.jpg

I’ve watched many a Ken Burns film. National Parks is one of my favorite of all time. But my success rate with training classes like this has been hit or miss. I tried Werner Herzog’s Masterclass and realized I didn’t really care for his style. I did a similar class by Phillip Bloom and loved it. I tried the Muse storytelling series and it was so bad I immediately requested a refund. So when I saw Ken Burns Teaches Documentary Filmmaking I was quite excited and then tempered that for myself until I actually watched it. After 2 solid days, I’ve made it through the 26 episodes and I think I have a pretty good grasp on what it is and what it was.


What is it?

It’s a quick journey through Ken Burns’ brain from start to finish. He’s a very likable, well spoken person who spends most of the 26 classes talking directly to camera in 10-20 minute classes. Each class is broken into sub-sections. Along with that you get some communication/community thing (typical add on these days). And an incredible, on first pass, 156 page PDF of notes and things. I say on first pass because it’s something I’d like to print and read carefully. I haven’t done that yet.


Who’s it for?

This is for the video guy who has some experience in other areas but wants to be inspired to try documentary. If you’ve done a lot of filming before you’ll get inspiration and I got at least one thing I wrote down out of each class. But you’ll find yourself wanting more of the nuts and bolts of filmmaking versus his specific approach. Historical documentary filmmaking is pretty specific, and all the information is good. I just wanted to learn a little more about the technical side. Or like a class on his biggest failures could be a great learning point.

Should I buy it?

And should you buy it? Absolutely. It’s $90. The color checker card you toss in your case probably cost more and you’ll get more from this. A nice dinner with your significant other was definitely more. Ken comes across as a down to earth guy who is very successful at making interesting films, that somehow he gets funded.


So are you going to finally get started?

The last chapter didn’t have a lot of specific content, but it ended with a few heartfelt messages from Ken. The quote above is one of them. And another I noted was “All this conversation is meaningless unless you start.” If you’re one of the many [few] people who’ve stumbled upon this page you know I dream of being the next Gary Hustwit. I have the ideas, right now I don’t have the team. But I will say, watching this made me think about a few simpler ideas I have in a different way and has lead me to reorganize my notes and really get somethings going. So yes, hopefully you’ll see some new work from me here soon.