film | December 05, 2012

Making History: How Documentary Filmmaker Ken Burns Got His Big Break

Before Ken Burns earned his place as one of America's greatest filmmakers—before the Central Park Five and The Dust Bowl; before Baseball, Jazz and The Civil War; and certainly before the advent of what is now commonly known as the Ken Burns effect—he was a young man trying to bring history to life in a way that had never been done before.

In a candid new interview on Mediabistro TV, the prominent documentary filmmaker describes the events that inspired him to get into the industry and how he got his first break with Brooklyn Bridge. He explains that one of the most influential lessons he learned growing up was that "there's much more drama in what is and what was than anything the human mind can dream of." Despite first being inspired by the works of the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Burns says that he eventually realized he wanted to focus on telling true stories and turning history into "something more than homework". He wanted to make documentary films that would bring new appreciation to historical events and "give the experience of the past something that feels real and human."

From the age of 12, he says that he wanted to make films. He tells the story of being a young kid trying to make it on his own by starting his own production company and struggling to find people to back his ideas. Eventually, however, he explains that his hard work paid off.  One thing led to another and not only had he completed his first film, The Brooklyn Bridge—but that film had been also been nominated for an Academy Award. He remembers feeling humbled by the experience and says that he kept the hundreds of rejections letters he received from those who didn't think the film would amount to anything. "Nothing will be given to you," he said. "What is required in this medium is a degree of perseverance." His dedication to the craft certainly paid off as he has since won two Oscar nominations, two Emmys and a Peabody award for his refreshing and unique work. Not only is he a gifted storyteller behind the camera, but also in front an audience as well. He is one of the great orators of our time and he shares stories that not only document some of the greatest events in history—but also remind us of the powerful potential that exists in the strength of the human condition.

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social change | December 04, 2012