With his latest opus due out this month and a half-dozen more films on the way, the director and historian Ken Burns has learned a lot about how to manage big teams through even bigger projects.
A ward-winning filmmaker Ken Burns is responsible for such genre-defining and genredefying documentary seriesas The Civil War, Baseball, and Jazz, to name a few. As he and collaborator Lynn Novick prepare to debut their new 10-part documentary film series The Vietnam War on September 17 on PBS stations nationwide, we spoke with the tireless documentarian about leadership, productivity, managing gigantic projects, and how to achieve immortality through storytelling.
So you just finished this incredible documentary about Vietnam. Are you already thinking of the next three documentaries down the road?
Sorry to say, in a kind of admission of foolishness, I’m thinking usually about 13 or 14 films ahead. I’m now working on six or seven at the same time, which is insane. A lot of that has to do with the economies of scale that these labor-intensive historical projects require. The Vietnam War was more than 10 years in the making.
How do you choose your subjects?
It is not based on any market research; it’s a gut feeling. It’s the chemistry that happens between friends. You’ve got a lot of ideas—60, 70 film ideas—but then every once in a while, one drops from your head to your heart and you go, “Gotta do that one.” You sort of add that to the queue, and then it just becomes a matter of finding the bandwidth and figuring out who the collaborators are.
Your projects are massive undertakings. How do you keep your focus?
I feel comfortable. A lot of that has to do with [the patronage of] public television, and a lot has to do with my stubbornness. So many people ask me, “Ten years? Don’t you get bored?” But for me, each day it gets better and better. Plus I don’t live in Los Angeles or New York City. I live in a tiny village in New Hampshire, which permits us to do the deep dives, to do the necessary research, and keep the sanity in the course of a 10-plus-year project.
Can you give people a picture of the Ken Burns industrial complex? How do these films come together?
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
Staying Ahead of Change
Yousuf Ali had a successful career in marketing until he failed to embrace new technologies. Now, as a My Eyelab franchisee, embracing forward-thinking capabilities is the key to his success.
READY FOR A BIG RETURN
The end of the pandemic is in sight, and many franchises are anticipating an explosion in business. Leaders at four franchises share how their brands are working overtime to prepare for the rush and win back coveted business.
Creating Trust Where There Was None
Home renovations are full of headaches—but how do you fix an age-old industry woe? Here’s how Jean Brownhill, founder and CEO of Sweeten, built something better.
His Worst Five Years Were His Life's Best Gift
What is it like to build a hit business and then lose all control? The founder of Max Brenner: Chocolate by the Bald Man has a lot to say about that.
Managing Mental Illness Can Be a Team Effort
Like so many people—and so many entrepreneurs— my husband and business partner struggles with his mental health. I’m speaking up so others know: With the right understanding, life and business can still be good.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS STARTS WITH PROCESS
My business barely survived its first few years, and I nearly crumbled under the stress.Then I learned the greatest lesson of my career, which transformed our company into the go-to apron brand for restaurants everywhere: Without process, we are nothing.
Think Like a Disruptor
If you want to shake things up, you must have a mindset that’s different from everyone else’s. Here are three ways to reshape your thinking.
Can Creativity Be Created?
Your team has big ideas. To unlock them, you must first build an environment of support and encouragement.
Bethenny Frankel Is a Time-management Machine
She builds multimillion-dollar brands, stars in TV shows, and vigorously defends every moment of her day. The secret? It starts with deciding what matters (and what doesn’t).
Build Lasting Partnerships
Finding trustworthy vendors and partners is key to growing your business—but it’s a challenging relationship to perfect. We asked six entrepreneurs to share their best methods.
ARod's - PROMISE TO JLO
After Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez dialed back news of a split, the baseball great, dogged by rumors of a fling with reality star Madison LeCroy, was ready to grovel.
MIND GAMES: The Psychology of Board Games
What is the mind? For the ancient Greeks, the idea of the mind was synonymous with the concept of “soul.” Plato believed the psyche was immortal and became wiser and more perceptive after death. More recently, Freud and Jung refined the idea of seele (soul) as a subset of the overall psyche, that which governs thought and behavior — in short, personality. As a game designer and armchair psychologist, I am fascinated by what makes games tick. But even more, I love to discover what makes players tick. Games are products of the human mind, and the mind is the arena on which the contest is played. All the aspects of cognition — perception, thinking, judgment, language, memory, and more — play into the game experience.
WRITER AND SPORTS CARTOONIST MURRAY OLDERMAN ACCOMPLISHED A LOT IN HIS 98 YEARS, INCLUDING DRAWING SOME OF THE EARLIEST SKETCH CARDS
A NEW KING
1952 TOPPS MICKEY MANTLE SELLS FOR $5.2 MILLION – HIGHEST EVER FOR A BASEBALL CARD
GERBER’S TERRACRAFT FACES BOTH URBAN AND RURAL CHALLENGES LIKE A PRO
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE . . .
College baseball teams continue their search to make their sport a revenue generator
The 2021 college season will be unlike any before it, with more talent across the country than at any other time in the history of the sport.
More competitive than ever
College baseball enters a season of unprecedented depth and talent
Soured on Pickles
IT STUCK TO the bar of soap in the bathtub, so you didn’t want to wash with it.
HOW A FRANCHISE WAS BUILT
In 1981, Baseball America was launched to fill a void in scouting and player development coverage