Ken Burns on Storytelling: 'All Story is Manipulation'
Speaking of making storytelling a priority over camera tests, Ken Burns is in a league of his own when it comes to filmmaking. His documentaries are widely known and his visual techniques have been adopted by countless productions, so much so that panning and zooming into a still image has been dubbed the “Ken Burns Effect.” For once, however, the lens is turned the other way, and filmmakers Sarah Klein and Tom Mason have produced a short documentary called Ken Burns: On Story. In the film embedded below, Burns talks about good storytelling and the ways in which we manipulate audiences.
Ken Burns: On Story, directed by Sarah Klein and Tom Mason:
Ken Burns knows a thing or two about telling stories, but his ideas on storytelling apply to all filmmakers, and certainly to any other type of medium where we are trying to capture the attention of an audience. While he generally uses stock footage and interviews, you’d be foolish to think that he doesn’t have a grand idea for how he is going to put his story together before he begins.
The quote from Godard that Burns mentions in the interview is often shortened, but the full quote, which slightly changes the meaning, is actually very similar to Burns’ philosophy. Godard really said, “Film is truth 24 times a second, and every cut is a lie.” Godard was also referring to manipulation — using the images to move the audience in one direction or another. The best way we as storytellers can move an audience, is by being honest and genuine with ourselves. If it doesn’t move us or excite us personally, how can we expect an audience to feel anything?