On the road with Ken Burns

The award-winning filmmaker prefers driving and has a method for picking restaurants in unknown towns.

By Diane Tegmeyer, contributor

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns at his home in Walpole, N.H.; the barn doubles as his office.

(Fortune Magazine) -- Though planes are a necessary evil when fundraising, shooting, or giving speeches, famed Americana documentary filmmaker Ken Burns has a secret: He'd rather travel by car.

"I drive as much as I can to eliminate airline tyranny," he says. Besides, a car was necessary to get him up close to the subjects of his latest film, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea."

And though his favorite drive is the one that takes him home to his wife, Julie, and 4-year-old daughter in Walpole, N.H., he shared his tips for making travel as smooth a production as possible.

1. Days on the road - Depending on where I am during the filmmaking process, I can be away from home as many as 200 days a year.

2. Why driving trumps flying - I do a lot of my thinking on the road. I work out film problems and compose ideas while I'm driving. Plus, there's nothing I love more than to be on a road I've never traveled before.

3. Top model - I drive a Saab 9-5.

4. Airline rituals - I never sleep on a plane. I only sleep about four hours a night anyway. Instead I do the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink. And, of course, I also do some work. I write everything out by hand -- I'm practically a Luddite.

5. Staying off the beaten path - When I'm driving with my film crew, we'll often stay in the only place available, which might be a hotel room in some place like Green River, Wyo., for a few bucks a night. Often it's where the train crews stay. When I have the option, I love the Four Seasons in Washington, D.C. The service is impeccable.

6. Carry-on - I do only carry-on because I hate lost luggage and delays. I use a blue Ralph Lauren canvas duffel bag that I got at the Telluride Film Festival six years ago. When I need a suit, I take a black Travelpro suit carrier.

7. Flying attire - I wear blue jeans, a dress shirt, and a sport coat by Ralph Lauren when necessary. Otherwise I wear one of the sweaters I've had for years, over a T-shirt. I usually wear black Cole Haan shoes.

8. Meals worth traveling for - The best two meals of my life have both been at Zacaria's on the Amalfi coast of Italy. The bruschetta, the seafood, and the pasta are the freshest ever. When I'm home in Walpole, I eat at Burdick's, a French restaurant that I co-own. When I'm on a road trip and I come into an unknown town, I look for a restaurant with a first name. In other words, I'd rather eat at Betty's than at Mrs. Smith's. That said, dining at a place with a last name is better than eating at a restaurant called something like the Golden Horseshoe.

9. Lens man - I am religious about taking pictures with my Pentax 35mm SLR K1000 to send to my 4-year-old daughter. I want her to be engaged in my travels as much as possible.  To top of page

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