Ken Burns


Documentarian, Producer

About

Also Known As
Kenneth Lauren Burns
Birth Place
Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
Born
July 29, 1953

Biography

Celebrated American documentarian of the 1980s and 90s who gradually amassed a considerable reputation and a devoted audience with a series of reassuringly traditional meditations on Americana. Burns' works are treasure troves of archival materials; he skillfully utilizes period music and footage, photographs, periodicals, and ordinary people's correspondence, the latter often movingly r...

Family & Companions

Amy Stechler Burns
Wife
Frequent contributor to Burns' films; separated.

Bibliography

"Ken Burns's America: Packaging the Past for Television"
Gary R. Edgerton, Palgrave (2001)
"Mark Twain: An Illustrated Biography"
Geoffrey C. Ward. Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, Alfred A. Knopf (2001)
"Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony"
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, Alfred A. Knopf (2001)
"Jazz: A History of America's Music"
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, Alfred A. Knopf (2000)

Biography

Celebrated American documentarian of the 1980s and 90s who gradually amassed a considerable reputation and a devoted audience with a series of reassuringly traditional meditations on Americana. Burns' works are treasure troves of archival materials; he skillfully utilizes period music and footage, photographs, periodicals, and ordinary people's correspondence, the latter often movingly read by seasoned professional actors in a deliberate attempt to get away from a "Great Man" approach to history. Like most non-fiction filmmakers, Burns wears many hats on his projects, variously serving as a writer, cinematographer, editor, and music director in addition to producing and directing. He achieved his apotheosis with "The Civil War" (PBS, 1990), a phenomenally popular 11-hour documentary that won two Emmys and broke all previous ratings records for public TV. The series' companion coffee table book--priced at a hefty $50--sold more than 700,000 copies. The audio version, narrated by Burns, was also a major best-seller. In the final accounting, "The Civil War" became the first documentary to gross over $100 million. Not surprisingly, it has become perennial fundraising programming for public TV stations around the country.

Burns arrived upon the scene with the Oscar-nominated "Brooklyn Bridge" (1981), a nostalgic chronicle of the construction of the fabled edifice. The film was more widely seen when rebroadcast on PBS the following year. Though Burns has made other nonfiction films for theatrical release, notably an acclaimed and ambiguous portrait of Depression-era Louisiana governor "Huey Long" (1985), PBS would prove to be his true home. He cast a probing eye on such American subjects as "The Statue of Liberty" (PBS, 1985), "The Congress," painter "Thomas Hart Benton" (both PBS, 1989) and early radio with "Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio" (PBS, 1992).

Burns returned to longform documentary with his most ambitious project to date, an 18-hour history of "Baseball" which aired on PBS in the fall of 1994. He approached the national pastime as a template for understanding changes in modern American society. Ironically, this was the only baseball on the air at the time as the players and owners were embroiled in a bitter strike at the time.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

The Central Park Five (2012)
Director
Mark Twain (2001)
Director
Frank Lloyd Wright (1997)
Director
Huey Long (1985)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

Plimpton! (2012)
Himself
Wordplay (2006)
Himself
Gettysburg (1993)
Alone in the Dark (1982)
Take Off (1978)
Father

Cinematography (Feature Film)

Mark Twain (2001)
Cinematographer
Frank Lloyd Wright (1997)
Cinematographer

Writer (Feature Film)

The Central Park Five (2012)
Screenplay

Producer (Feature Film)

The Central Park Five (2012)
Executive Producer
The Central Park Five (2012)
Producer
Medal of Honor (2008)
Executive Producer
Mark Twain (2001)
Executive Producer
Mark Twain (2001)
Producer
Frank Lloyd Wright (1997)
Producer
Frank Lloyd Wright (1997)
Executive Producer
Huey Long (1985)
Producer

Special Thanks (Feature Film)

Class of '61 (1993)
Special Thanks To

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Wordplay (2006)
Other

Director (Special)

Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony (1999)
Director
Frank Lloyd Wright (1998)
Director
Thomas Jefferson (1997)
Director
Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery (1997)
Director
Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio (1992)
Director
Thomas Hart Benton (1989)
Director
The Congress (1989)
Director
The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God (1985)
Director
The Statue of Liberty (1985)
Director
Brooklyn Bridge (1982)
Director

Cast (Special)

The Making of Baseball (1994)
Baseball -- A Preview of the New Ken Burns Series (1994)
Host
The Making of Gettysburg (1993)
Public Television -- Public Debate With Charlie Rose (1992)
Guest

Cinematography (Special)

Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony (1999)
Cinematographer
Frank Lloyd Wright (1998)
Cinematographer
Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery (1997)
Cinematographer
Thomas Jefferson (1997)
Cinematographer
Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio (1992)
Cinematographer
Lindbergh (1990)
Additional Cinematography
The Statue of Liberty (1985)
Cinematographer
Brooklyn Bridge (1982)
Cinematographer

Writer (Special)

Thomas Jefferson (1997)
Screenplay
Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio (1992)
Screenplay
The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God (1985)
Writer

Producer (Special)

Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony (1999)
Executive Producer
Kurt Russell: Hollywood's Heavy Hitter (1999)
Executive Producer
Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony (1999)
Producer
Dinah Shore (1998)
Executive Producer
Frank Lloyd Wright (1998)
Producer
Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery (1997)
Producer
Thomas Jefferson (1997)
Executive Producer
Thomas Jefferson (1997)
Producer
Baseball -- A Preview of the New Ken Burns Series (1994)
Executive Producer
Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio (1992)
Producer
Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio (1992)
Executive Producer
Lindbergh (1990)
Producer
Thomas Hart Benton (1989)
Executive Producer
Thomas Hart Benton (1989)
Producer
The Congress (1989)
Producer
The Statue of Liberty (1985)
Producer
The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God (1985)
Producer
Brooklyn Bridge (1982)
Executive Producer

Editing (Special)

Brooklyn Bridge (1982)
Editor

Music (Special)

Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio (1992)
Music

Special Thanks (Special)

Thomas Jefferson (1997)
Screenplay
Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio (1992)
Screenplay
The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God (1985)
Writer

Misc. Crew (Special)

Frank Lloyd Wright (1998)
Dp/Cinematographer
Nixon (1996)
Creative Consultant

Director (TV Mini-Series)

Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip (2003)
Director

Cinematography (TV Mini-Series)

Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip (2003)
Director Of Photography

Producer (TV Mini-Series)

Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip (2003)
Executive Producer
Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip (2003)
Producer

Life Events

1981

Executive produced, directed, shot and edited his first documentary feature, "Brooklyn Bridge"

1985

Debut as producer and writer, "The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God" a documentary for PBS (also directed)

1990

Made his signature work, "The Civil War"; debut as musical director

1993

Acting debut, "Gettysburg"

1994

Produced, wrote, directed and sshot the nine-part TV documentary "Baseball" (PBS)

1997

Directed and produced the TV documentary "Thomas Jefferson"

1998

Earned praise for the TV profile of American architecht "Frank Lloyd Wright" (PBS), co-directed with Lynn Novick

1999

"Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony" aired on PBS (November)

1999

General Motors announced rare 10-year commitment to underwrite several film projects to be directed by Burns (June)

2001

Created and directed "Jazz", a 19-hour series for PBS; also served a director of photography

2001

Directed biographical documentary of "Mark Twain"; screened at Telluride Film Festival; aired on PBS in 2002

2003

Directed the PBS documentary, "Horatio's Drive" about the historic journey of motorist Horatio Nelson Jackson

2005

Helmed the PBS documentary about heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, "Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson"

2006

Directed "The War," a 14-hour documentary about World War II (aired September 2007 on PBS), earned a DGA nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary

2007

Extended his deal with PBS through the year 2022; which calls for him to deliver at least three major new series as well as several smaller-scale documentaries

Family

Robert Kyle Burns
Father
College professor. Taught anthropology.
Lyla T Burns
Mother
Diagnosed with breast cancer c. 1956; died when Burns was 11.
Ric Burns
Brother
Documentarian. Younger.
Sarah Burns
Daughter
Born c. 1983; pitches for the Walpole Blues, a Walpole, NH Little League team.
Lilly Burns
Daughter
Born c. 1987.

Companions

Amy Stechler Burns
Wife
Frequent contributor to Burns' films; separated.

Bibliography

"Ken Burns's America: Packaging the Past for Television"
Gary R. Edgerton, Palgrave (2001)
"Mark Twain: An Illustrated Biography"
Geoffrey C. Ward. Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, Alfred A. Knopf (2001)
"Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony"
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, Alfred A. Knopf (2001)
"Jazz: A History of America's Music"
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, Alfred A. Knopf (2000)
"The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God: The History and Visions of the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing from 1774 to the Present"
Amy Stechler Burns and Ken Burns, Aperture (1999)
"Baseball: An Illustrated History"
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, Alfred A. Knopf (1996)
"The Civil War: An Illustrated History"
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, Alfred A. Knopf (1990)