Ken Burns & Lynn Novick On How ‘The Vietnam War’ Tells All Sides Of The Story

Ken Burns

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s 10-part documentary series, The Vietnam Wartakes a sweeping look at the first war that came into America’s living rooms.

 While many stories have been told about the war, Burns said his series takes a different approach than other projects that come to mind.

“It was important for us to tell the variety of American experiences, from the deserters to Marines and Army men,” Burns said Sunday during Deadline’s The Contenders Emmy event. “But we wanted to give the other side, which is rarely told. Tell the other side,”

The documentary includes testimony from about 80 witnesses, including Americans who fought in the war, protesters, North and South Vietnamese soldiers, and civilians.

“We made a decision from the very beginning of the process that we wanted to get to know people that most of our audience wouldn’t be familiar with,” Novick explained. “We really wanted to explore the journeys of unfamiliar faces.”

In addition to the interviews, the music – scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – played a key role in the series. The PBS documentary was filled with songs from artists ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, to Led Zeppelin. All of those artists found the subject matter so irresistible that they gave permission for very reasonable rates. While that captured the period, it was the more subtle original compositions by Reznor and Ross that provided the beating heart to the documentary.

“We had a range of emotions that needed to be filled,” Reznor said of scoring the documentary.

Atticus added that the music and Burns’s approach to the project are what made it different from other films about the Vietnam War.

“What I could gather very early on was that I had never seen the story told like this and I never knew that some of the viewpoints even existed,”  he said.

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