One + One = Three, and Other Thoughts on Story from Documentarian Ken Burns

Ken Burns is so lauded in the field of documentary filmmaking, he has an effect in Apple’s iMovie video editing program named after him. Since 1980, the 58 year old filmmaker has created award-winning documentaries such as The Civil War, Baseball, Jazz, Brooklyn Bridge, and many others. What makes his films so prolific, impactive, and meaningful is Burns’s incredible vision for story telling.

Sarah Klein and Tom Mason of Redglass Pictures undertook the challenge of making a short documentary on the master of documentaries. The result is Ken Burns: On Story, a five minute look into Burn’s philosophy on storytelling, and his attempts to reanimate the dead through narrative.

The Atlantic asked Klein and Mason why they chose to explore storytelling as the concept for the short film on Burns.

Everyone loves a great story. Stories teach us things, move us emotionally, and form the basis of the way we understand the world. As filmmakers, we’ve been telling stories for a while now — but at a certain point we realized that it’s actually really hard to explain what makes a good story. We know it when we see it, but the recipe always proves elusive. Ken Burns has been telling incredible stories for decades, and we thought that if anyone would have a thoughtful perspective on this, it’d be him. So this project started as our own exploration to figure out what that magic dust is that brings his stories to life.

A good story is founded upon contradictions, from good guys with flawed character, from massive hypocrisy and contradiction, from manipulated audiences, from viewers who are forced to change—everything on its own is not enough. It takes an external element to make three come out of two.


Ken Burns on Why His Formula for a Great Story Is 1+1=3, The Atlantic

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