Ken Burns on America, Selling His First Film, PBS's Long Deadlines and More

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tags: documentaries, Ken Burns, television

With such an acrimonious election, we turn tonight to a man who tells the story of America in all her divisions and struggle for unity. Ken Burns' documentaries range from "The Civil War" to "Baseball," Vietnam, and last year's, "Country Music." Burns calls himself an emotional archeologist. He excavates lost love letters, forgotten photos and overlooked heroes. Research so deep, viewers can feel like strangers discovering America for the first time. His films ask what it means to be American. So, we asked, what does it mean to be Ken Burns? Ken Burns: I have had the privilege of spending my entire life making films about the U.S., capital U, capital S. But I've also had the privilege of making films about 'us,' the two-letter, lowercase, plural pronoun, that has a kind of intimacy and warmth to it. Scott Pelley: In the "Country Music" film, Merle Haggard says, country music is "about those things we believe in but can't see, like dreams and songs"-- Ken Burns: Songs and souls-- Scott Pelley: --"and souls." Ken Burns: It's telling us that there is in front of us a kind of rational world, in which one and one always equals two, but that the thing that compels us forward as human beings, is that we look for one and one equaling three. We find that in our faith. We find that in our art. We find that in our love of each other. And I think one of the things I discovered working on "Country Music" is that when I understood this dynamic between the U.S. and us, lowercase, uppercase, that I realized there's only us, no them.

With such an acrimonious election, we turn tonight to a man who tells the story of America in all her divisions and struggle for unity. Ken Burns' documentaries range from "The Civil War" to "Baseball," Vietnam, and last year's, "Country Music." Burns calls himself an emotional archeologist. He excavates lost love letters, forgotten photos and overlooked heroes. Research so deep, viewers can feel like strangers discovering America for the first time. His films ask what it means to be American. So, we asked, what does it mean to be Ken Burns?

Ken Burns: I have had the privilege of spending my entire life making films about the U.S., capital U, capital S. But I've also had the privilege of making films about 'us,' the two-letter, lowercase, plural pronoun, that has a kind of intimacy and warmth to it. 

Scott Pelley: In the "Country Music" film, Merle Haggard says, country music is "about those things we believe in but can't see, like dreams and songs"--

Ken Burns: Songs and souls--

Scott Pelley: --"and souls." 

Ken Burns: It's telling us that there is in front of us a kind of rational world, in which one and one always equals two, but that the thing that compels us forward as human beings, is that we look for one and one equaling three. We find that in our faith. We find that in our art. We find that in our love of each other. And I think one of the things I discovered working on "Country Music" is that when I understood this dynamic between the U.S. and us, lowercase, uppercase, that I realized there's only us, no them.

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