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Heroines of Cinema: 10 Things You Really Should Know About Kathleen Kennedy

Indiewire By Matthew Hammett Knott | Indiewire February 8, 2013 at 7:0AM

While most of the attention for "Lincoln" has been devoted to three men -- director Steven Spielberg, writer Tony Kusher and lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis -- there's a woman without whom the film never would have happened. In fact, without her scores of some of the most popular movies ever made wouldn't have happened.  Her name is Kathleen Kennedy, and here's 10 things you really oughta know about her:
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Kathleen Kennedy

While most of the attention for "Lincoln" has been devoted to three men -- director Steven Spielberg, writer Tony Kusher and lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis -- there's a woman without whom the film never would have happened. In fact, without her scores of some of the most popular movies ever made wouldn't have happened.  Her name is Kathleen Kennedy, and here's 10 things you really oughta know about her:

1. She is the most Oscar-nominated producer in history
Kathleen Kennedy has been nominated for Best Picture eight times in total over a thirty year period - more than any other producer, and vastly more than any other woman. Five times she has shared the nomination with her long-time collaborator Steven Spielberg, and four times with her husband and frequent producing partner Frank Marshall.

2. But she's never won
In a recent and fascinating Hollywood Reporter profile, Kennedy jokingly admits “I’d love to get this over with”. She in fact developed “Schindler’s List” for Spielberg - his only film to win Best Picture - but parted company before it went into production in order to start a family.

3. She produced the highest grossing film of the 1980s and the 1990s
Her first full producing credit was on “E.T.”, which she produced aged 28 for a promised fee of $50,000. She ended up earning fourteen times that amount after the film went on to become the most successful film ever at the time (and still, adjusting for inflation, the fourth biggest in US history behind “Gone with the Wind”, “Star Wars” and “The Sound of Music”). “E.T.”’s record was only toppled in 1993 - by the success of Spielberg and Kennedy’s “Jurassic Park”.

4. She was inspired to work in film by Spielberg… then got her first job working for him.
Turn to the Hollywood Reporter profile for a much more detailed account of this, but it was seeing Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” which gave Kennedy the filmmaking bug. After getting her first job as assistant to John Milius, executive producer of Spielberg’s “1941”, it was not long before she found his way into the production office of Spielberg himself... and the rest is history.

5. She is in charge of the Star Wars and the Indiana Jones brand
As if she hadn’t already steered enough international brands to billion dollar grosses, Kennedy’s most recent appointment came in June last year as head of LucasFilm, following the company’s acquisition by Disney for $4 billion. The plans to resume production of Star Wars films have been widely panned, but Kennedy’s hiring of writer Michael Arndt ("Little Miss Sunshine," "Toy Story 3) and director JJ Abrams have assuaged some doubters.

"E.T."
6. It’s not just about Spielberg and Lucas
Kennedy’s full producing resumé includes over 90 credits, for films that have gathered north of 120 Oscar nominations. Among her many hits for Amblin Entertainment are the Back to the Future films and Martin Scorsese’s “Cape Fear”. After leaving Amblin, she produced Clint Eastwood’s “The Bridges of Madison County”, M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” and David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, among many, many others.

7. She likes smaller films too
$14 million is positively micro budget by Kennedy’s standards, but that was the tab for 2007’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”. Originally developed by Universal as a Johnny Depp vehicle, the decision to allow Julian Schnabel to make the film in French, starring the little-known Mathieu Amalric, made it a risky proposition. Nonetheless, it turned into a critical favourite and awards darling, including a surprising four Oscar nominations.

8. And supporting lesser-known filmmakers
Kennedy approached Marjane Satrapi, the Iranian-French co-director of “Persepolis”, with a view to acquiring the rights. Though Satrapi declined, Kennedy came on board as executive producer, securing production funds through an American distribution deal while leaving Satrapi and her fellow first-time director in full creative control. The end result? Awards and nominations everywhere from the Oscars to Cannes.

9. She doesn’t have a great record with female directors
Kennedy states that she is gender blind when it comes to working with directors, and her experience with Marjane Satrapi hardly leaves that in doubt. Nonetheless, she almost always works with powerhouse male directors, not challenging the status quo in Hollywood that rarely sees women hired to direct mega budget productions. The pressure should fall on all industry heavyweights - not just the women such as Kennedy and Sony chair Amy Pascal - to do more to encourage diversity behind and in front of the camera. But as several participants in Melissa Silverstein’s recent New York Times debate concluded, women are in dire need of powerful industry advocates - and Kennedy, who is also the mother of two teenage daughters, would be nothing if not a good place to start.

10. But watch this space
Kennedy has stated that she plans to turn LucasFilm into a fully fledged production company, and none can doubt her ability to make good on that promise. Incidentally, one of LucasFilm’s most high profile employees is Brenda Chapman, who joined the company to work on a mystery project after being controversially fired from Pixar’s “Brave” (of course, both companies are now owned by the same parent organisation). Meanwhile, the latest rumours circling Star Wars VII suggest that the franchise may relaunch with something entirely unprecedented but very much in the spirit of LucasFilm’s new boss - a female protagonist.

Matthew Hammett Knott is a London-based filmmaker and writer and contributor to Indiewire's Lost Boys blog. Follow him on Twitter.

This article is related to: Heroines of Cinema