Kenneth Lauren Burns (born July 29, 1953) is an American filmmaker, known for his style of using archival footage and photographs in documentary films. His widely known documentary series include The Civil War (1990), Baseball (1994), Jazz (2001), The War (2007), The National Parks: America's Best Idea (2009), Prohibition (2011), The Roosevelts (2014), and The Vietnam War (2017). He was also executive producer of both The West (1996, directed by Stephen Ives), and Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies (2015, directed by Barak Goodman).
Burns in 2018
Kenneth Lauren Burns
July 29, 1953
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Residence||Walpole, New Hampshire, U.S.|
|Alma mater||Hampshire College|
Amy Stechler Burns (m. 1982–1993)
Julie Deborah Brown (m. 2003)
|Children||4, including Sarah|
Burns was born on July 29, 1953, in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Lyla Smith (née Tupper) Burns, a biotechnician, and Robert Kyle Burns, at the time a graduate student in cultural anthropology at Columbia University in Manhattan. The documentary filmmaker Ric Burns is his younger brother.
Burns' academic family moved frequently. Among places they called home were Saint-Véran, France; Newark, Delaware; and Ann Arbor where his father taught at the University of Michigan. Burns' mother was found to have breast cancer when he was three and she died when he was 11, a circumstance that he said helped shape his career; he credited his father-in-law, a psychologist, with a significant insight: "He told me that my whole work was an attempt to make people long gone come back alive." Well-read as a child, he absorbed the family encyclopedia, preferring history to fiction.
Upon receiving an 8 mm film movie camera for his 17th birthday, he shot a documentary about an Ann Arbor factory. He graduated from Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor in 1971. Turning down reduced tuition at the University of Michigan, he attended Hampshire College, an alternative school in Amherst, Massachusetts, where students are graded through narrative evaluations rather than letter grades and where students create self-directed academic concentrations instead of choosing a traditional major. He worked in a record store to pay his tuition. Studying under photographers Jerome Liebling, Elaine Mayes and others, Burns earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in film studies and design in 1975.
In 1976, Burns, Elaine Mayes, and college classmate Roger Sherman founded a production company called Florentine Films in Walpole, New Hampshire. The company's name was borrowed from Mayes' hometown of Florence, Massachusetts. Another Hampshire College student, Buddy Squires, was invited to succeed Mayes as a founding member one year later,. The trio were later joined by a fourth member, Lawrence "Larry" Hott. Hott did not actually matriculate at Hampshire, but worked on films there. Hott had begun his career as an attorney, having attended nearby Western New England Law School.
Each member works independently, but releases content under the shared name of Florentine Films. As such, their individual "subsidiary" companies include Ken Burns Media, Sherman Pictures, and Hott Productions. Burns' oldest child, Sarah, is also currently an employee of the company.
Burns worked as a cinematographer for the BBC, Italian television, and others, and in 1977, having completed some documentary short films, he began work on adapting David McCullough's book The Great Bridge, about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Developing a signature style of documentary filmmaking in which he "adopted the technique of cutting rapidly from one still picture to another in a fluid, linear fashion [and] then pepped up the visuals with 'first hand' narration gleaned from contemporary writings and recited by top stage and screen actors", he made the feature documentary Brooklyn Bridge (1981), which earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary and ran on PBS in the United States.
Following another documentary, The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God (1984), Burns was Oscar-nominated again for The Statue of Liberty (1985). Burns frequently collaborates with author and historian Geoffrey C. Ward, notably on documentaries such as The Civil War, Jazz, Baseball, and the 10 part TV series The Vietnam War (aired September 2017).
Burns has gone on to a long, successful career directing and producing well-received television documentaries and documentary miniseries on subjects as diverse as arts and letters (Thomas Hart Benton, 1988); mass media (Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio, 1991); sports (Baseball, 1994, updated with 10th Inning, 2010); politicians (Thomas Jefferson, 1997); music (Jazz, 2001); literature (Mark Twain, 2001); war (the 15-hour World War II documentary The War, 2007); environmentalism (The National Parks, 2009); and the Civil War (the 11-hour The Civil War, 1990, which All Media Guide says "many consider his 'chef d'oeuvre'").
According to a 2017 piece in the New Yorker, Burns and his company, Florentine Films, have selected topics for documentaries slated for release by 2030. These topics include country music, the Mayo Clinic, Muhammad Ali, Ernest Hemingway, the American Revolution, Lyndon B. Johnson, Barack Obama, Winston Churchill, the American criminal justice system, and African-American history from the Civil War to the Great Migration.
In 1982, Burns married Amy Stechler, with whom he had two daughters, Sarah and Lily; the marriage ended in divorce in 1993. As of 2017, Burns resides in Walpole, New Hampshire, with his second wife, Julie Deborah Brown, whom he married on October 18, 2003. She is the founder of the non-profit Room to Grow which aids soon-to-be parents living in poverty. They have two daughters, Olivia and Willa Burns.
Burns is a descendant of Johannes de Peyster Sr. through Dr. Gerardus Clarkson, an American Revolutionary War physician from Philadelphia, and he is a distant relative of Scottish poet Robert Burns. In 2014 Burns appeared in Henry Louis Gates's Finding Your Roots where he discovered startling news that he is a descendant of a slave owner from the Deep South, in addition to having a lineage which traces back to Colonial Americans of Loyalist allegiance during the American Revolution.
Burns is an avid quilt collector. Approximately 1/3 of the quilts from his personal collection were displayed for the first time at The International Quilt Study Center & Museum at the University of Nebraska from January 19 to May 13, 2018.
Burns is a longtime supporter of the Democratic Party, with almost $40,000 in political donations. In 2008, the Democratic National Committee chose Burns to produce the introductory video for Senator Edward Kennedy's August 2008 speech to the Democratic National Convention, a video described by Politico as a "Burns-crafted tribute casting him [Kennedy] as the modern Ulysses bringing his party home to port." In August 2009, Kennedy died, and Burns produced a short eulogy video at his funeral. In endorsing Barack Obama for the U.S. presidency in December 2007, Burns compared Obama to Abraham Lincoln. He said he had planned to be a regular contributor to Countdown with Keith Olbermann on Current TV. In 2016, he also gave a commencement speech for Stanford University criticizing Donald Trump.
The Civil War received more than 40 major film and television awards, including two Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards (one for Best Traditional Folk Album), the Producer of the Year Award from the Producers Guild of America, a People's Choice Award, a Peabody Award, a duPont-Columbia Award, a D. W. Griffith Award, and the $50,000 Lincoln Prize.
As of 2010, there is a Ken Burns Wing at the Jerome Liebling Center for Film, Photography and Video at Hampshire College.
In 2012, Burns received the Washington University International Humanities Medal. The medal, awarded biennially and accompanied by a cash prize of $25,000, is given to honor a person whose humanistic endeavors in scholarship, journalism, literature, or the arts have made a difference in the world. Past winners include Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk in 2006, journalist Michael Pollan in 2008, and novelist and nonfiction writer Francine Prose in 2010.
In 2013, Burns received the John Steinbeck Award, an award presented annually by Steinbeck's eldest son, Thomas, in collaboration with the John Steinbeck Family Foundation, San Jose State University, and The National Steinbeck Center.
Burns was the Grand Marshal for the 2016 Pasadena Tournament of Roses' Rose Parade on New Year's Day in Pasadena, California. The National Endowment for the Humanities selected Burns to deliver the 2016 Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities, on the topic of race in America. He was the 2017 recipient of The Nichols-Chancellor's Medal at Vanderbilt University.
Burns frequently incorporates simple musical leitmotifs or melodies. For example, The Civil War features a distinctive violin melody throughout, "Ashokan Farewell", which was performed for the film by its composer, fiddler Jay Ungar. One critic noted, "One of the most memorable things about The Civil War was its haunting, repeated violin melody, whose thin, yearning notes seemed somehow to sum up all the pathos of that great struggle."
Burns often gives life to still photographs by slowly zooming in on subjects of interest and panning from one subject to another. For example, in a photograph of a baseball team, he might slowly pan across the faces of the players and come to rest on the player who is the subject of the narrator. This technique, possible in many professional and home software applications, is termed "The Ken Burns effect" in Apple's iPhoto, iMovie and Final Cut Pro X software applications. It has long been used in film production where it is known as the 'rostrum camera'. Burns stated in a 2009 interview that he initially declined to have his name associated with the software because of his stance to refuse commercial endorsements. However, Apple chief Steve Jobs negotiated to give Burns Apple equipment, which Burns donated to nonprofit organizations.
As a museum retrospective noted, "His PBS specials [are] strikingly out of step with the visual pyrotechnics and frenetic pacing of most reality-based TV programming, relying instead on techniques that are literally decades old, although Burns reintegrates these constituent elements into a wholly new and highly complex textual arrangement."
Baseball is a 1994 American television documentary miniseries created by Ken Burns about the game of baseball. First broadcast on PBS, this was Burns' ninth documentary and won the 1995 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Informational Series.Brooklyn Bridge (film)
Brooklyn Bridge is a documentary film on the history of the Brooklyn Bridge. It was produced by Ken Burns, Roger Sherman, Buddy Squires, and Amy Stechler in 1981. The film included interviews with personalities such as New York Times architectural critic Paul Goldberger and writer Arthur Miller plus film clips featuring Bugs Bunny (Bowery Bugs) and Frank Sinatra. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. It was narrated by historian David McCullough who wrote the book the film was based on.The film was rebroadcast nationally twice: on January 29, 1992, preceding the then-new documentary from Burns, Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio, and on October 21, 2002, as part of Ken Burns: America's Stories.Huey Long (film)
Huey Long is an American documentary film on the life and career of the politician Huey Long. It was directed by Ken Burns, and produced by Ken Burns and Richard Kilberg in 1985. The film first aired on October 15, 1986. The film includes interviews with Russell B. Long, author Robert Penn Warren, and political contemporary and opponent Cecil Morgan. It was narrated by the historian David McCullough.Jazz (miniseries)
Jazz is a 2001 television documentary miniseries, directed by Ken Burns. It was broadcast on PBS in 2001, and was released on DVD and VHS on January 2, 2001 by the same company. Its chronological and thematic episodes provided a history of jazz, emphasizing innovative composers and musicians and American history. Swing musicians Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington are the central figures. Several episodes discussed the later contributions of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie to bebop, and of Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, and John Coltrane to free and cool jazz. Nine episodes surveyed forty-five years (1917–1961), leaving the final episode to cover forty years (1961–2001). The series was produced by Florentine Films in cooperation with the BBC and in association with WETA-TV, Washington.John Colby (musician)
John Andrew Colby (born April 23, 1949) is an American musician. He is a music producer composer and keyboardist.
He produced the score for the 1981 Academy Award nominated Ken Burns documentary Brooklyn Bridge, wrote and produced the score for the Academy Award nominee The Garden of Eden, and received a Grammy as producer for the soundtrack of Ken Burns' Civil War in the best traditional folk category.He was music director of ESPN from 1984–1992 and wrote the SportsCenter theme (dadada), the best known sports theme of its time.As keyboardist and band leader for Clarence Clemons, he produced Live in Asbury Park I and II.
Colby wrote the NFL theme for NBC in the 1990s and wrote the themes for Super Bowls XXVI and XXVII. His music is heard all over the world on ESPN, Fox, ABC, Comedy Central and Spike.
Three of his songs, "Gladiator," "Eric D.," and "Arnold," were commonly used on the ESPN show NFL Primetime.Ken Burns effect
The Ken Burns effect is a type of panning and zooming effect used in video production from still imagery.
The name derives from extensive use of the technique by American documentarian Ken Burns. The technique, previously known as "animatics", predates his use of it, but his name has become associated with the effect in much the same way as Alfred Hitchcock is associated with the dolly zoom. The feature enables a widely used technique of embedding still photographs in motion pictures, displayed with slow zooming and panning effects, and fading transitions between frames.Not for Ourselves Alone
Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony is a 1999 documentary by Ken Burns produced for National Public Radio and WETA. The documentary explores the movement for women's suffrage in the United States in the 19th century, focusing on leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. It won a Peabody Award in 1999. It was released on VHS on November 9, 1999.
Events covered in the documentary
"I wish you were a boy" The status of women in the mid-1850s
A drudge or a doll
Connections to the abolitionist movement
Temperance and reform
Mental Hunger - the restrictions leading to activism
The Seneca Falls Convention on women's rights
"A caged lion" - Susan B. Anthony
The Woman's National Loyal League and the American Civil War
The 15th amendment and women's rights
The Revolution (newspaper)
Done It! Women's rights before the courts
Spreading the Word
Division and unity - the American Woman Suffrage Association and the NWSA merge
Self Sovereignty - a philosophy of freedom
The Woman's Bible - a challenge to religion
The franchise comesProhibition (miniseries)
Prohibition is a 2011 American television documentary miniseries directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick with narration by Peter Coyote. The series originally aired on PBS between October 2, 2011 and October 4, 2011. It draws heavily from the 2010 book Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent.Ric Burns
Ric Burns (born 1955) is an American documentary filmmaker and writer. He has written, directed and produced historical documentaries since the 1990s, beginning with his collaboration on the celebrated PBS series The Civil War (1990), which he produced with his older brother Ken Burns and wrote with Geoffrey Ward.The Central Park Five
The Central Park Five is a 2012 documentary film about the Central Park jogger case, directed by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah Burns, and her husband David McMahon. It was released in the US on November 23, 2012.The Civil War (miniseries)
The Civil War is a 1990 American television documentary miniseries created by Ken Burns about the American Civil War. It was first broadcast on PBS on five consecutive nights from September 23 to 28, 1990. More than 39 million viewers tuned in to at least one episode, and viewership averaged more than 14 million viewers each evening, making it the most-watched program ever to air on PBS. It was awarded more than 40 major television and film honors. A companion book to the documentary was released shortly after the series aired.The series was rebroadcast in June 1994 as a lead-up to Baseball, then remastered for its 12th anniversary in 2002, although it remained in standard definition resolution. To commemorate the film's 25th anniversary and the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's assassination, the film underwent a complete digital restoration to high definition format in 2015. This completely restored version aired on PBS September 7–11, 2015.The Congress (1988 film)
The Congress is a 1988 documentary film directed by the Emmy Award-winning director Ken Burns. The Florentine Films production, which focuses on the United States Congress, aired on PBS in 1989. Narrated by David McCullough, the documentary features use of photographs, paintings, and film from sessions of Congress, in its implementation of the Ken Burns Effect. Scenes from the Academy Award-winning Frank Capra film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington are also used. The work features numerous interviews from writers and historians including Charles McDowell, David McCullough, Cokie Roberts, George Tames, David Broder, James MacGregor Burns, Barbara Fields, and Alistair Cooke. Many congressmen are specifically referred to, including Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Jefferson Davis, Thomas Brackett Reed, Joseph Gurney Cannon, George William Norris, Jeannette Rankin, and Everett Dirksen. The film also includes focus on the Congress' work during pivotal periods in United States history, including the Civil War, Civil Rights Movement, and Women's suffrage. The documentary was released by PBS, on DVD in 2004. Footage of the Capitol from the film was later incorporated into Burns' later masterpiece, The Civil War.The Roosevelts (miniseries)
The Roosevelts: An Intimate History is a 2014 American television documentary miniseries directed and produced by Ken Burns. It covers the lives and times of the three most prominent members of the Roosevelt family, Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican and the 26th President of the United States; Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, the 32nd President of the United States, and fifth cousin of Theodore; and Eleanor Roosevelt, the longest-serving First Lady of the United States, a niece of Theodore, and wife of Franklin. As a result of the influence of Theodore and Franklin as Presidents, as well as Eleanor as First Lady, a modern democratic state of equal opportunity was begun in the United States. The series begins with the birth of Theodore in 1858 and ends with the death of Eleanor in 1962.The Statue of Liberty (film)
The Statue of Liberty is a 1985 American documentary film on the history of the Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World). It was produced and directed by Ken Burns. The film first aired on October 28, 1985. It was narrated by historian David McCullough. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.The Vietnam War (TV series)
The Vietnam War is a 10-part American television documentary series about the Vietnam War written by Geoffrey C. Ward and directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The first episode premiered on PBS on September 17, 2017. The script is by Geoffrey Ward, and the series is narrated by Peter Coyote. This series is one of the few PBS series to carry a TV-MA rating.Thomas Jefferson (film)
Thomas Jefferson is a 1997 two-part American documentary film directed and produced by Ken Burns. It covers the life and times of Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd President of the United States.
In the film Jefferson is portrayed as renaissance man. Not only was he a dedicated public servant, but was also a writer, an inventor, and a noted architect. Burns captures both the public and private person.
Awards for Ken Burns