In a recent visit to Rowan University on Feb. 13, Atlantic City Weekly was able to ask legendary filmmaker Ken Burns a few questions about his latest doc and HBO's 'Boardwalk Empire' series.
Nothing quite tells the story of Prohibition-era Atlantic City like the award-winning HBO series Boardwalk Empire — except for maybe Emmy award-winning documentarian Ken Burns' 2011 PBS film Prohibition, which also dives deeply into the time period.
Despite having similar settings, the two entities are separate and distinctly different from each other with one being a strictly factual documentary while the other is a cable crime drama.
Burns admits, however, that a lot of what you see in Boardwalk Empire is in fact true or fact-based, including a lot of the series' characters.
"The second season [of Boardwalk Empire] introduces George Remus who is this egomaniacal .... greatest bootlegger [and] is a big feature in our story as well."
The potential for rivalry between the PBS documentary and HBO series was possible, but Burns, like millions of others, is a fan of the show.
"Boardwalk Empire is a fantastic drama," he says. "It's probably one of the best that HBO's had in awhile."
In fact, Burns approached HBO with hopes of combining forces and co-promoting last summer as Boardwalk Empire was about to enter its second season and Prohibition was set to premiere, both in the fall.
The creative crew behind Prohibition, including Burns, has done a lot of gigs with the producers of Boardwalk Empire since he came up with the idea of joining forces. Burns recalls one press event when he showed a scene featuring Remus right after Boardwalk Empire's creator, Terence Winter, had just shown a similar scene from his show featuring the same character.
"One is a dramatic [show] and one is a documentary and we're sitting there looking at each other going, 'it's a good story!'"
Although Burns' Prohibition, which he co-produced with Lynn Novick, didn't come out until the second season of Boardwalk Empire premiered, he says that he locked his film in before it was even announced that Boardwalk Empire was being made.
"They were still shooting [the first season of Boardwalk Empire]," says Burns. "So there was no way that we were influenced any way by them or certainly them by us. What it means is, often [as it] has happened serendipitously in my professional life, that the topic that I have been dealing with has been what we wanted to know about in the zeitgeist — the Civil War, baseball, jazz, other things."
Burns says that he hopes his upcoming projects, including documentaries about Vietnam and the Roosevelt family (which he proclaims may be his "best yet") will follow the same fate.
Despite Burns' extensive knowledge of the history of the Prohibition era, he says he has no idea what may happen in the upcoming third season of Boardwalk Empire.
"You know what's great about drama? You can make shit up," he says.
By the summer of 1912, Atlantic City had established itself as a premier vacation resort. Its sun, surf and Boardwalk, along with adult offerings of alcohol, gambling and prostitution, could satisfy a variety of appetites.
“There was no crime in Atlantic City — they [the “organization”] took care of crime,” says local resident Richard Black, whose grandfather was a law enforcement official at the time.
Early in the premiere episode of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, a crowd of dapper Atlantic City movers and shakers, partying well into the night in a spiffy supper club, make a familiar countdown, cocktail glasses held high...
They never could enforce it, not really. In Atlantic City, the ban was a boon. The Amendment went out with the next tide.
The next-to-last Webisode in this 13-part series, "Success in A.C." aka "Gambling (Legal or Otherwise)" featuring Stockton College's Israel Posner
In the ninth episode of this multi-part series, a distinguished panel of Atlantic City historians and authors continue to discuss the history of sporting events in Atlantic City until the conversation turns to Camp Boardwalk, when the U.S. military took over AC's famed Boardwalk Hall during WWII.
In the 11th episode of this multi-part series, a distinguished panel of Atlantic City historians and authors continue to discuss the history of Atlantic City's famed Boardwalk.
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"The book is the book, the show is the show, the book is what inspired the show and the show, with the benefit of some really creative people, is going to re-tell the story of Prohibition through the eyes of criminals. And the focal point of that is Nucky."
Think about it — our nation was still engaged in the Civil War when Renault first opened its doors in Egg Harbor City. By 1870 he had introduced his New Jersey Champagne. Renault Winery soon won prizes for its wines and became the largest distributor of champagne in the United States.
Matchless documentarian Ken Burns captures this volatile, surreal scene in his new miniseries Prohibition, which premieres Oct. 2, 3 and 4 at 8pm on PBS. The three-part, five-and-a-half-hour film explores both the forces that produced the U.S. Constitution’s 18th Amendment and ...
Esteemed filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick explore America’s greatest social experiment in their latest documentary, Prohibition, set to debut Oct. 2-4 at 8pm on PBS. The three-part miniseries follows the rise and fall of the 18th amendment and the era that encompassed its rule.
A multi-part video series on Atlantic City's rich history in relation to HBO's Boardwalk Empire. Learn about the stories behind several facets of the resort's history such as the real Nucky Johnson, the African-American Experience, the Boardwalk and more.
With Sunday’s debut of Boardwalk Empire fast approaching, let’s look back on the period during which the series takes place, specifically the year 1920, the dawn of the Prohibition era.
"The ending caught me by surprise even though I know the history to which it's adhering. I thought it was such a bold and dramatic move. You sort of figured the series was going to be about these two characters and then one of them dies suddenly at the end of season two."
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