Prolific producers leaving Universal Pictures

Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall are leaving Universal Pictures after a decade for a first-look deal at Columbia Pictures.

Deal, which begins April 1, will bring the prolific producing duo and frequent Steven Spielberg collaborator to the Culver City studio for an 18-month term.

The couple, who are married and partnered professionally in 1991 to form the Kennedy/Marshall Co., most recently produced “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Kennedy and Marshall, who together co-founded Amblin Entertainment with Spielberg and produced some of Universal’s biggest blockbusters, joined the U fold in 1999.

Kennedy/Marshall’s exit from Universal also severs one more link between the studio and Spielberg. The director and U’s relationship has been strained ever since Spielberg’s DreamWorks inked a distribution pact with Disney after having previously reached an agreement with Universal.

The Kennedy/Marshall deal appears to be a coup for Col, bringing the pair that regularly attracts top talent and awards-season recognition to the Sony lot.

Through their long association with Universal, duo helped generate such hits as “E.T.,” the “Jurassic Park” films and “Schindler’s List.” In recent years, however, Kennedy/Marshall made fewer films for the studio and last year produced two films for Paramount: “Benjamin Button” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”

Columbia became a good match for Kennedy/Marshall after the Culver City studio stepped in to co-finance the Spielberg-Peter Jackson collaboration “Tintin,” which Kennedy is producing through the couple’s shingle. Par is co-financing the first film in the planned trilogy, “The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn,” with Sony taking most international territories.

Studio execs, Kennedy and Marshall were all unavailable for comment after the pact was announced Wednesday.

Kennedy/Marshall’s most recent effort for Universal was “The Bourne Ultimatum.”

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