How to Make Documentary Film: The Ken Burns Method

How to Make Documentary Film: The Ken Burns Method
By [] Peter J Harris

One under-explored method of low cost film production is a documentary short which is essentially a “super-charged slideshow” (for lack of a better term) in which a filmmaker uses pre-photographed photo stock much in the style of a Ken Burns documentary. This can be a very effective method of communicating ideas at very low cost. In fact, beyond the cost of editing software and time, it can be totally free.

Through some links at the end of this article I’ll share an example of this type of film and provide a link to a more thorough explanation. For now, a simple introduction…

Ken Burns is famous as much for the content of his documentaries (the Civil War and baseball to name a few) as much as his editing style. He is a master at using every inch of a single photograph, telling the story with gentle zooming camera moves and simple fades and blurs in conjunction with discreet sound design and excellent voice overs. But this style is not only suitable for historical subjects; it can also be employed for more contemporary subjects.

Utilizing photographs under the Creative Commons license, abundant supplies of stock photography can be found through Google images and Using the advanced search functions on both sites, one can easily obtain hundreds of quality photos suitable for making a documentary short film.

Creative Commons is a unique licensing agreement between the original producer of a work and someone who wants to re-use it for their own purposes. Rights conditions vary, but the most common is the attribution license in which anyone is allowed to use a photo (including making design modifications) as long as they give credit to the original photographer. As long as you take good notes when gathering photos it’s possible to use as many photos as you need, crediting the photographers when necessary.

Using off the shelf software like Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere, filmmaker/editors can make these types of short films at very little cost. The range of subjects is only limited to the imagination!

To explore more of these ideas, visit my tutorial about []How to Make a Documentary Film. You can also check out a sample of this type of film-making in this []climate change film which I produced using Apple’s Final Cut Pro and Motion.

Article Source: [] How to Make Documentary Film: The Ken Burns Method

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