Ken Burns

Ken Burns

Filmmaker (Director, Producer, Writer)


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.


High School
Hampshire College


Filmmaker (Director, Producer, Writer)

I make historical documentary films and series for PBS.

Career Roadmap

My work combines:
My work combines:
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:



The Noise I Shed

From Society in General:

"You should work for someone else, not yourself"

Challenges I Overcame