Ken Burns' 9 Useful Tips for Sourcing Archival Footage
by Eguaogie Eghosa Dec 12, 2021 Views (148)
Using archival material in your documentary film can help it to stand out. Using historical footage, images, letters, newsreels, newspapers, and other forms of archive material can help your viewers connect with the topic and give your documentary film more integrity. These graphics aid the audience in completely comprehending events that they were not present for. Exploring digital film collections and image archives is an excellent approach to provide context to your historical documentary's talking heads.

Ken Burns: A Short Biography
For more than 40 years, Ken Burns has been making documentary films. Ken's films have received several accolades, including 15 Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards, and two Academy Award nominations. Ken was honoured by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the News & Documentary Emmy Awards in September of 2008. In a December 2002 vote, Realscreen magazine selected Ken Burns and Robert Flaherty as the "most influential documentary creators" of all time, with The Civil War (1990) in the runner-up position to Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North. Since his first film, the Academy Award-nominated Brooklyn Bridge, in 1981, he has continued to make documentaries, such as The Statue of Liberty (1985), Huey Long (1985), Baseball (1994), Jazz (2001), The War (2007), The Dust Bowl (2012), Jackie Robinson (2016), and The Vietnam War (2017) The Gene: An Intimate History, his latest PBS program, was released in April 2020.

9 Archival Footage Sourcing Tips from Ken Burns
To make a documentary film, you must collect as much historical video as possible and use the most relevant materials to supplement the information you already have. If you don't have access to reputable sources, some documentarians employ fair use stock film or stage re-enactments for B-roll. Check out these tips from world-renowned documentarian Ken Burns for further information on how to find vintage footage:

1. Examine average people's life
Ken argues that history should not be reduced to the great men theory, which focuses solely on presidents, generals, and well-known figures. In the crossroads between normalcy and greatness, there are several occurrences and truths to be discovered. "All of those famous people don't fight and die," Ken clarifies. "It's the 'regular' people," says the narrator. Ken and his crew are primarily interested in obtaining photographs, home movies, films, diaries, and letters from "regular" people who were there at amazing historical occurrences.

2. Keep your curiosity piqued
You may use the archive vault to convey your tale because it's full of content. Archival photographs, still images, moving images, news footage clips, Internet articles, paintings, etchings, sketches, letters, journals, and diaries are all examples of useful material, according to Ken. There are more for some themes. There are fewer in some subjects. 

It's critical to maintain as much curiosity as possible. Curiosity drives you to ask questions that can lead to incredible discoveries. Curiosity can lead to the discovery of previously unreleased news broadcasts, video clips, and recordings that you never expected to find.

3. Maintain your sources with tenacity
According to Ken, the photographs we're looking for originating from a variety of places. Some are public domain, which means you just have to pay for the copy print if you want to take them away. Some of it comes from commercial archives houses that charge per image. Negotiate pricing that permits you to shoot as much as you like but still have to pay for the equipment you use. When the footage becomes expensive, you must consider whether or not it is worth it. 

4. Always do your homework and research
Limiting oneself to one research time, one writing period, one shooting period, one editing period, or one finishing period precludes you from stumbling into a brilliant beginning while editing. From idea to completion, making a documentary film necessitates continuous research and tenacity. Keep your eyes peeled right up until the end.

5. You should collect more footage than you can use
To have enough archival material to work with, Ken normally has to acquire 40 to 50 times what the production team wants to use in the final film. You need to know what Brooklyn, New York looks like if your documentary is about the Brooklyn Dodgers. You must be familiar with the process of arriving in Brooklyn. You must be aware of the appearance of the subway. 

6. Consider both the story and the aesthetics
Ken spent around six weeks in the Library of Congress's Paper Print Collection during the creation of The Civil War (1990), looking for portraits of people with dark and light backgrounds and photographing them all. "At some point in your editing cycle, the value of a bright background works, and you're not aware of it." A darker background makes you feel as if you're part of a story. 

7. It takes time to conduct good investigative work
Documentary filmmaking necessitates good investigative work from the outset, including writing and archive inquiries. To find archives for your project, you'll have to apply your detective skills, which will take some time. You may need to make tens of thousands of phone calls. Hundreds of books will be examined. You'll look through the photo credits, search film archives, interview witnesses, and search stock footage libraries and Internet archives for stock footage and videos. If you're working with a limited budget, look for royalty-free images and movies. To augment the historical events in your nonfiction film, you'll need to be diligent in your search for writing, images, or film footage. 

8. Go a step further in your research
People tend to concentrate on their best hits while visiting the National Archives or other footage sources. Ken and his colleagues go a step further with this. "What was the original narrative that inspired this?" they inquire. Then there are occasions when stock material is unavailable and you must assemble a crew to record the location and create your video footage.

9. Make changes based on what you've learned
Ken confesses that he has come across photographs or footage that have altered his relationship with the subject and re-ignited his passion to tell the narrative correctly throughout his professional career. The Kent State shootings in May 1970 were only briefly mentioned in The Vietnam War (2017). Ken was given an exhibition on the sad event that included previously unreleased audio and home movies after delivering a speech at Kent State University. His team paid for the restoration of this historic material, and the scenario is now more than one sentence long.

According to Ken, It's a terrifying moment in the Vietnam War coming home to America. It doesn't change the situation drastically. It enables you to infuse extra significance into the item. 

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