Fresh out of college, Kathleen Kennedy landed work at a San Diego TV station producing a popular talkshow. Her future partner Frank Marshall never planned for a movie career, but his sense of showmanship pointed him in that direction (he used to perform as a magician and, for fun, has continued the act as “Dr. Fantasy”). The duo were naturals, says publicity maven Marvin Levy, who’s watched their rise from his post as Steven Spielberg’s marketing guru.
“I met Kathy first, when I was still at Columbia, and then Frank,” he recalls, “and several things struck me right away. First, they were both very smart and hard-working, and they’ve also got taste and talent, which is a big advantage. Second, they were very down-to-earth, normal people. They live normal lives and always have. And both were avid runners, and they’d go running with people who had nothing to do with the movie business, which tells you a lot.
“Once Steven formed Amblin with Kathy and Frank, then I worked with them on every project we did, and their other producing strengths quickly became obvious,” Levy continues. “They are familiar with, or have done, virtually every job in making a movie. Even visual effects. They know all the technical aspects, and they both started learning that stuff early on. So they know the nuts and bolts of filmmaking inside and out, and they’re terrific at cutting through problems.”
Sometimes the business at hand wasn’t so pleasant, Levy recalls. “On ‘Back to the Future,’ they — along with Steven and Bob Zemeckis — had to replace the lead actor in the first week of shooting, but it had to be done, and they were decisive. And they helped rescue the first ‘Bourne’ film when it ran into trouble.”
When it comes to marketing and publicity, the pair were “always highly aware” of new-media opportunities and quick to capitalize on them, he says. “When we did ‘Minority Report,’ they wanted to use the Internet to reach all the sci-fi fans and make them feel part of the process,” he recalls. “But you’re not going to have Steven or Tom Cruise (participating while shooting), so they got this idea of ‘the Bagel Cam’ — a camera set up by the crafts services table, as it’s the most frequently visited place on any set.”
In Levy’s eyes, the pair are the consummate producers “because they run each movie like its own business — and I never hear anyone else say it that way.”