Hi, Ken Burns here. Proof: http://imgur.com/FwJJtkz

I'm really excited to have launched yesterday the new Ken Burns app for the iPad, which is the first time I’ve entered the digital realm this way. We've taken short clips from 35 years of my films covering over 200 years of American history and assembled them both thematically and chronologically. The playlist and timeline features of the app offer you the opportunity to experience my films in a whole new way. You can check it out here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ken-burns/id723854283?ls=1&mt=8 .

I also have some new projects on the horizon, including The Address on PBS on April 15, and The Roosevelts this fall. I look forward to answering your questions at 4:30.

EDIT: Thank you very much for this experience. Talk to you soon. -KB

Comments: 1509 • Responses: 56  • Date: 

mystery_smelly_feet1746 karma

I have no question, I'm just disappointed that your proof wasn't a gif that slowly zoomed into your face.

MrKenBurns1232 karma

Yeah. If I wasn't such a luddite I would've done it. Good idea.

super_slayer643 karma

What did you think of the Community parody of your work?

MrKenBurns932 karma

Loved it and the dozens of other parodies over the years. Keeps you humble.

catmoon489 karma

As an homage to Ken Burns I will read this thread by slowly scrolling down.

MrKenBurns1523 karma

Great. I'll see your scrolling and turn this into a ten-part series.

Brrbank55486 karma

Hi Ken! I loved "The Civil War" series so much. When I first saw it, I wanted my octogenarian grandfather to watch some of it with me. He actually knew some soldiers who had been in the war, and he said, "No thank you. It's just too painful." Does this reaction surprise you? Were there moments in this (or any other documentary you've made) that were simply too heartbreaking to show? Thanks for all your brilliant work.

MrKenBurns487 karma

It doesn't surprise me now that I've worked on films on the Second World War and Vietnam. There's something unique to war and the heightened experience of coming close to death that both repels and attracts us.

mnfats472 karma

I have a deep interest in The Vietnam War, and have been hoping you'd do something on it someday. Is IMDb messing with me, or is there really a series in the works?

MrKenBurns1184 karma

Yep. And we're more than six months into editing. It's a tiger by the tail. We've done nearly 100 interviews: with a dozens of Americans from every military profession, civilians, draft dodgers, gold-star mothers, etc. We've also had unique access to Vietnam and so we've got the perspective of both former North and South Vietnamese soldiers and civilians. And we're learning stuff that is turning the conventional wisdom about the war on its head.

Joseph_Scott425 karma

Hey Ken. What made you want to tackle prohibition as a documentary and do you see parallels between that and the war on drugs today?

MrKenBurns862 karma

I tackled prohibition, because it seemed to resonate with very contemporary issues: single-issue political campaigns that metastasized with horrible unintended consequences, the demonization of recent immigrant groups, smear campaigns during presidential election cycles, and a whole group of people who feel like they have lost control of their country and want to take it back. Sound familiar? There are some parallels. But remember too that alcohol is a cultural phenomenon, and drugs are mostly subcultural. Legalization will bring its own unintended consequences.

MusictoIT422 karma

The Jazz documentary got me interested in playing jazz. Thanks for all the hard work and making it happen!

MrKenBurns433 karma

That's great. You made my day! Who's your favorite jazz artist?

Smugg66369 karma


MrKenBurns427 karma

Fabulous! One of the three best composers in jazz history with Duke Ellington and Thelonius Monk.

MrKenBurns392 karma

Thank you very much for this experience. Talk to you soon. -KB

HenryHomicide300 karma

Your jazz documentary was amazing! That is all, thank you.

MrKenBurns445 karma

The genius of America is improvisation. Thank you.

flyingdragon3251 karma

Hi Ken! Huge fan of all of your work, especially The War and Baseball. I have two questions. First, can we expect the 11th inning in the future? Second, what is the documentary that you are most proud of?

MrKenBurns398 karma

They'll be an 11th Inning, I guess, if the Cubs win the World Series. No, I hope to return to the subject every few years. Baseball is so revealing of us. Because I work with PBS, each film represents the best of me (and us, my co-workers). So, like my daughters, I'd be remiss if I had a favorite.

Delaywaves233 karma

Of all your documentaries, who has been the most fascinating interviewee? (And why was it Buck O'Neil?)

MrKenBurns449 karma

Ha! No favorites. But Buck is close to being one. Our religious tradition suggests that man is made in God's image. But very little of our actions suggests this. Buck was the exception.

lava0079220 karma

Have you ever entertained the idea of a doc on the American labor movement or unions?

MrKenBurns327 karma

Yes, many times. In fact, in the mail I get, labor is one of the top suggestions. However, I've felt that it would be less didactic to include this in the midst of other narratives, like our upcoming series The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, premiering September 14, 2014.

Artvandelay1192 karma

Hi Ken, I love your documentaries. How do you feel about the fact that your use of the technique was so popular, and contributed so much to its current ubiquity that it is known as the Ken Burns Effect? For those who don't know it's when the camera pans and zooms across a still image for dramatic effect. If you've ever watched Dateline, you've seen it.

MrKenBurns335 karma

Steve Jobs incorporated "The Ken Burns Effect" into iPhoto, and it's taken off. He asked my permission. I said yes. And six billion saved wedding, bar mitzvahs, vacation slideshows later, it's still going. But our attempt to "wake the dead" relies on a much more nuanced and complicated relationship to the photograph (the DNA of storytelling), as well as the soundtrack.

Frajer172 karma

Has there ever been a topic you thought would make a good documentary but once you actually started working on it you realized it just wasn't going to work?

MrKenBurns228 karma

I feel so lucky that that has not happened yet. Knock on wood.

adp5x7160 karma

Hi, Ken! First of all, I want to thank you for your work documenting our National Parks and the people who made them possible. I have watched the series many times and it's second only to actually being in a park! My wife and I have visited 10 National Parks so far, and now have the joy of sharing the adventures with our two daughters.

So my question is, if you could be dropped right now into any spot in our National Parks, where would it be, and during what time of the year and/or day? And if you say Yosemite, you have to give a 2nd one!

MrKenBurns260 karma

Besides Yosemite... I still love standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon -- in any season. But as you note, it's not just the view. It's very important whose hand you're holding as you watch.

SteelyDude149 karma

Ken: I'm a baseball, well...fan isn't the word. Loved Baseball. What about baseball's history surprised you the most?

MrKenBurns311 karma

The way it is a precise mirror of America.

johnclarklevin135 karma

Thanks for all your work, Ken! What's your favorite encounter you've had in real life with someone who was affected by watching your documentaries?

MrKenBurns594 karma

First of all, what I do isn't heart surgery. But I did have this moment in 1999, when I was walking with my daughter across Washington Square Park in New York. A man approached and mournfully said, "My brother's daughter died. My brother's daughter died." I instinctively stepped between him and my daughter. He saw my caution, and said, "SIDS. Crib death." I knew he was okay. I said, "I'm so sorry. I have daughters too." He said, "My brother and I were very close, and I didn't know what to do when my niece died. Then I remembered your Baseball series, and I went and got his old mitt and mine and went to his backdoor and knocked. He came out. We didn't say a word. We just played catch. And I wanted to thank you, ever since."

EditingAndLayout127 karma

Mr. Burns, do your children share your love of history? How involved were/are you in their education?

MrKenBurns253 karma

I've been working for the last several years with my oldest daughter Sarah. We made, with her husband the filmmaker David McMahon, The Central Park Five. And right now, the three of us are making a two-part biography of Jackie Robinson. My second daughter Lilly is producing comedy for Comedy Central, most recently the excellent Broad City. My two other daughters are 9 and 3. Can we give them time?

TheAtomsFamily116 karma

Hi Ken! Your Civil War documentary was the highlight of my year in US history. Anyway, how and when did you discover the song Ashokan Farewell?

MrKenBurns147 karma

In 1983, one of our session musicians handed me an album, a real vinyl album, called Fiddle Fever. The fourth cut on the first side was the most beautiful Scotch-Irish lament I've ever heard, written by a Jewish boy from the Bronx named Jay Ungar. I haven't heard a better tune.

laaabaseball107 karma

Hey Ken, thanks for the AMA! Really a fan of Baseball.

Who do you think is the best player in baseball right now?

Also, when can we expect the 11th Inning?

Thanks a lot!

MrKenBurns210 karma

Mike Trout, I think. I hope we'll do an 11th Inning in the next few years.

gradadv103 karma

Just how crucial do you believe Shelby Foote was to your film?

MrKenBurns160 karma

Central. Robert Penn Warren called me one night and told me that "If you're going to make a film on the Civil War, you have to talk to Shelby Foote right away." His first interview was the first eight rolls of film we shot.

tackyswoman102 karma


If you could travel back in time and be a first account witness to any one of the documentaries your have covered which one would it be and why?

MrKenBurns239 karma

The Civil War. It's the most important event in American history, Lincoln our most important president.

Axel92798 karma

Hi Ken,

Big fan of your work, especially National Parks and Prohibition! Thanks for doing this AMA. A few questions:

  1. How do you pick the music for your documentaries?
  2. How do you decide what subject to focus on in a new documentary? Do you have a "to-do" list, or is there a dart board on your office wall with labels like "Prohibition," "Baseball," and stuff on it?
  3. Do you have a favorite book, or one that you wish you had the time to read?
  4. Do you have any need for a guy with a BA and MA in History who focused in US History? Please??

MrKenBurns175 karma

I have a seven-part response to your four-part question.

No, seriously. The music is central and the key is recording it before the editing begins rather than after. Then it's not something that amplifies emotions you hope are there, but is integral and organic to the process.

Most stories are narratives -- "...and then, and then, and then..." If you tell a good story, the subject itself will reveal what the focus is. No dart boards, but storyboards of developing episodes and films.

I don't read enough.

Sorry not hiring now.

Speaking_in_Tongues82 karma

I recall in my undergraduate history courses reading articles that were critical of documentaries in general and your documentaries in particular (especially The Civil War). What do you see as the benefits of documentary film in contributing to historical knowledge and what are its drawbacks?

(Edit -- I always enjoyed your stuff so this is for my own edification and not an attempt to rehash old critiques.)

MrKenBurns149 karma

I think for a while, the academic Academy was suspicious of forms of history that didn't conform to their own scholarly methodology. Even though I use the best scholars for each film, the Academy often found fault. But those days seem long gone. And I think they've come to understand it's apples and oranges.

baileythedog73 karma

Hi Ken! There aren't enough superlatives to describe how I feel about your amazing library of work. For a film buff and a history buff and an American culture buff, all of your work hits me just right. But I'm also now a law student so my attention turns to other topics -- have you ever considered doing an expansive series on the history of the Supreme Court? Is there any other institution that most accurately reflects and challenges who we are as Americans throughout history?

MrKenBurns116 karma

There are lots of institutions that accurately reflect us, like baseball and jazz. The Supreme Court would be a great topic.

dawgontap56 karma

Mr Burns, I'm interested to know if "The Roosevelts" will be a multi-part documentary. I'm a big fan of Theodore Roosevelt and just wonder how in-depth you will go into his life. BULLY! to you, sir!

MrKenBurns142 karma

In September PBS will broadcast our seven-part, fourteen-hour series The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. It follows not only TR, but FDR and ER and other family members as well -- all in depth. I can't wait for you to see it.

tomhanksgiving51 karma

If you made a documentary about yourself who would you want to provide the narration?

MrKenBurns156 karma

I'd want it to be a silent film. Wouldn't that be good.

krp3148947 karma

Hi Ken, first I just want to say that you are my all time favorite documentarian, I think you present America's past and its' figures, both big and small, with such tremendous beauty, grace and dignity while never ignoring the darker aspects of the people or events you are portraying. Everything from the music, the voices, the stories and the way you frame your subjects within the events of their time I find incredible. My question is after Country Music which is expected to be released in 2017 what other subjects are you thinking about exploring, other than the 11th Inning? Also I am so excited for Vietnam.

MrKenBurns126 karma

We've got in 2015, A History of Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, Jackie Robinson, in 2016, Vietnam, in 2018, Country Music, in 2019, Ernest Hemingway. And we're thinking, we're thinking about the 2020s. Tons of ideas.

uberlad46 karma

Huge fan ever since you hooked me with your Civil War docs. Thanks for doing this!

Question: What's your very best life advice?

MrKenBurns129 karma

This will pass. Get help from others. Be kind to yourself.

nhphotographer40 karma

Hey Ken! I'm from Walpole and remember bagging your groceries at IGA back in the day. I'm now in Portsmouth and am starting to do some indie film stuff.

So for a question, what originally got you into film, and doing docs specifically?

MrKenBurns84 karma

I've wanted to be a filmmaker since I was 12 years old. My mother had died of cancer when I was 11, my father had a strict curfew but broke it when he wanted me to see a film. I saw him cry for the first time at a film and understood...

Jeez, I haven't thought of the IGA in ages. We put a great restaurant in there now called Burdick's.

115MRD36 karma

What are you views on the designated hitter? Are you a fan? Do you think it's likely the DH will expand to the NL anytime soon? As a purist and Dodgers' fan I hope not...

MrKenBurns98 karma

Okay, so I live in New England and have since 1971. So... I am a purist but a huge David Ortiz fan. So... not a purist.

CineCraft35 karma

Mr. Burns, many new and emerging documentary filmmakers struggle with the catch-22 of fundraising - they have trouble securing funds because they are unknowns without an established body of work, yet how can one establish a name and a body of work without needed funds and support? I'm wrestling with that now on my current production.

How did you manage to get funded in the early years when you were an "unknown?" How did you convince funders to lend support to your early efforts, and persuade them that a film about the Brooklyn Bridge, or shakers, was worth their consideration?

MrKenBurns67 karma

I moved to New Hampshire from New York. I knew it was a place I could live for nothing and make the films I wanted to make. That was 35 years ago. I'm still there. That sacrifice is more responsible for breaking your catch-22 than any other thing, except maybe persistence and hard work.

g10lafleur35 karma

Many thanks for Baseball - I've watched it numerous times and it's all all-time favorite.

Following Jazz, any plans to take on Rock and Roll in a future doc?

MrKenBurns74 karma

Not right now. But we are doing a history of Country Music due in 2018.

skullturf32 karma

How often do you get mistaken for Dave Barry?

MrKenBurns43 karma

All the time. In fact, my twenty-year-old beard hasn't helped a bit.

robolson30 karma

Hi Ken! "The War" is by far one of my favorite documentaries of all time. I was curious on how you managed to choose the four towns featured in "The War"?

MrKenBurns53 karma

We started with Waterbury, realized we couldn't do just one town (not enough combat veterans still alive), fell into Mobile, Alabama, because of a great memoir by Eugene Sledge, called With The Old Breed, wanted to do Japanese Internment but didn't want a "familiar" West-Coast city and chose Sacramento, and finally met a pilot named Quentin Aanenson who grew up in Luverne, Minnesota.

mrbronyman2329 karma

What were 3 key turning points in your life that got you involved in documentary film making?

MrKenBurns62 karma

1) My mother dying of cancer in 1965. 2) My father crying over a movie. 3) Going to Hampshire College and studying with Jerome Liebling.

kitlyn26 karma

Hi Ken! I recently heard Siddhartha Mukarjee speak at a breast cancer conference, and he told us about your plans to make a series from his book "Emperor of All Maladies". When can we expect to see it?

MrKenBurns32 karma

It'll be here in 2015. Our series is based on his superb book.

pmreddick24 karma

Has your favorite part of making documentaries changed over the last 30 years?

MrKenBurns38 karma

Nope. Three things: 1) shooting and knowing that archive or that interview or that live cinematography is going to be in the final film. 2) that moment in editing when you change something for the better -- sometimes it's adding, sometimes it's subtracting, sometimes it's rearranging. 3) and right now, evangelizing.

chris122724 karma

Mr Burns, your documentary Baseball is ridiculously good. What is your favorite moment or quote from the series?

Delaywaves43 karma

I'm not Ken, but I feel like this has gotta be the best moment.

MrKenBurns73 karma

There are lots of great moments from the series. But Buck singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" has got to be the best.

Senor_Met22 karma

what, in your opinion, is the greatest baseball game ever played?

Also, what's your favorite team?

MrKenBurns43 karma

Sixth game, 1975 World Series.

Which makes the second question kind of obvious.

MrThingyman21 karma

Hello Mr. Burns :D

  1. What's a topic, concept or story idea that you'd really like to work with, but haven't gotten around to yet for some reason?
  2. Is there any one small piece of specific advice that you could give aspiring filmmakers? Any one thing, in any connection, that you learned and that you think others should know, no matter how specific. Often filmmakers will give general advice, but I think it'd be really interesting to learn something specific.

Thanks for doing this AMA :)

MrKenBurns35 karma

  1. If I were given a thousand years to live, I wouldn't run out of topics in American history. Stay tuned.
  2. It's going to sound like platitudes, but you have to know who you are and how to persevere. Everything else -- talent, luck, etc. -- don't come from you.

thebiglibrarian21 karma

What's your favorite book and why?

MrKenBurns54 karma

Jeez. That's impossible. I love Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, just about everything Mark Twain and Tolstoy ever wrote, and... who am I leaving out? Oh yeah, Shakespeare. And lots of others.

maggiefiasco20 karma

Hello Ken! First off I wanted to thank you for all your work, I adored Horatio's Drive and Prohibition.

Obviously your work is extremely well researched, so you must learn a lot about each topic you cover. My question is: What have you learned throughout the course of making your films that surprised you the most?

MrKenBurns29 karma

Every film is a million, literally a million, surprises. Rather than tell you what you should know -- that's homework -- I'd rather share with you our process of discovery, which is about being surprised every moment.

MrSlinkerton20 karma

Hi Ken, huge fan of your baseball documentary. Have you ever thought about doing another sport on the same format?

MrKenBurns50 karma

I love other sports, especially football and basketball, but none of them come close to baseball. So no.

anne_zeiser19 karma

Ken: Have you ever thought of making games or content on other media platforms, or is film your preferred medium?

Just think, Bootleg Bounty for Prohibition!?

MrKenBurns28 karma

That's what the Ken Burns app is trying to do. We've "curated" playlists of recurring themes in our films, a new way to see them. It's pretty cool. Check it out.

just_wow_18 karma

Hi Ken, Loved your Baseball Documentary. How different would the ending have been if your had to include the full fall out from the steroid era? Is your love of baseball still intact?

MrKenBurns36 karma

I'd refer you to our 2010 update of Baseball, called the Tenth Inning, where we did deal with the fallout of steroid era. Fortunately, it's mostly in our baseball rearview mirror. And my love hasn't wavered.

MWinchester16 karma

Mr. Burns, I absolutely love your work. You are a real inspiration.

I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about your research process. When you have a topic how do you begin to dive in?

Also, were you ever enticed to make a fiction film? Ever considered it? Or were you always a documentarian through and through?

MrKenBurns20 karma

Well we don't have a lot of researchers. The writer, the producers, myself, and a couple of other people do the bulk of the research. The key is that we never stop researching. It's never a finite initial period in our production process. We're always open to new information.

unmined16 karma

Thanks so much for answering questions. What is your decision process when choosing subjects for your films?

MrKenBurns45 karma

They choose me. I feel like I'm Samoa or Guam. I'm an American possession. I come across a good story, and I can't say no.

kfrank3rd15 karma

Good afternoon Ken, Thank you for your National Parks special. I wanted to ask you about the National Parks but instead I'm going to ask you - With the 50 year anniversary of the Beatles coming to America have you ever contemplated doing a documentary on the Beatles. Also, what are your thoughts on the Beatles. Like them? Love them? Thank you Ken Frank

MrKenBurns34 karma

I make films on American history. They've certainly changed it and influenced it, but I can't foresee doing something right now. However, I love them. My first record was I Want to Hold Your Hand, their first American hit. And they have the best line in all of music: "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

Evan_Waffle14 karma

Hi, Mr. Burns. I loved your series on baseball. I try to watch it during spring training every year.

I'm looking forward to your new Jackie Robinson documentary. Did you learn anything new?

MrKenBurns21 karma

Tons. And we focus on how he got to baseball and what he did afterwards as much as we retell his remarkable almost-Christlike forbearance while playing.

Funky_Farkleface10 karma

Mr. Burns, what is your personal favorite historical period? If you haven't already made a documentary on it, do you have plans to?

MrKenBurns24 karma

I have no favorite period. I have tried to "visit" nearly all of them, but I'd sure like to meet Abraham Lincoln.

elohssaetaroproc9 karma

You've done a film on Jazz and and will release one on country music. Are there any plans to do rock-n-roll?

MrKenBurns10 karma

I'd love to do rock-n-roll, but it's not on the immediate dance card.

mfalsett9 karma

Hi Ken Thanks for this AMA.

What is your opinion on most of the documentaries today and their effectiveness of narrative story telling? Do you think that the way documentaries portray and tell stories has changed from the time you have worked on your pieces featuring Baseball and WWII?

By the way, I really enjoyed your documentary on WWII in that it gave multiple perspectives of families affected by the war in many different parts of America.

MrKenBurns25 karma

You know documentary is a really unfortunate word. It doesn't do justice to the range of films that are made under its banner. These range from nearly dramatic films to the so-called cinema verite, with many styles in between. It's been constantly changing, and I think mostly for the good. I believe the old forms of Hollywood are fairly well exhausted, and folks have had to look to documentaries and television for the really good stuff.