Correction Appended: November 3, 2007
Director. Actor. Key Grip. Foley Mixer. Driver for Mr. Damon. Special-effects supervisor ... Can't stay in your seat till the end of the credits? That's because moviemaking is an extreme team art form, requiring a throng of people with specialized skills to gather for a few months, often in a strange land, and spend long hours in the frequently divergent pursuits of creativity and profit. The director is their aesthetic leader, but the producer is their boss. And the bosses everyone wants to work for in Hollywood are a married team: Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall.
Kennedy and Marshall's credits read like a history of blockbuster cinema, from popcorn pictures like those in the Indiana Jones and Back to the Future series to thrillers like The Sixth Sense and critics' faves Schindler's List and Seabiscuit. Their shared filmography adds up to more than $5 billion at the U.S. box office. This year the Kennedy/Marshall Co. produced the blue-chip franchise flick The Bourne Ultimatum and two ambitious independent films with Oscar buzz, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Persepolis. They're also at work on a some of 2008's most anticipated movies, including the fourth Indiana Jones installment and a Brad Pitt-Cate Blanchett epic romance called The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. "They have impeccable taste--in people, in material," says DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg. "People will follow those two into the impossible."
In an interview at their airy Santa Monica, Calif., office the day after a 15-hour stint on the set of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Kennedy, 54, and Marshall, 61, finish each other's sentences. You might expect as much from a couple married for 20 years and working side by side for 26. On a Kennedy/Marshall set, "it's like a family, and we're the parents, keeping the morale up, making sure everybody's happy," explains Marshall.
They met during Raiders of the Lost Ark, after Marshall had produced several films with Peter Bogdanovich. Kennedy at the time was Steven Spielberg's assistant. They started dating but kept it a secret. "It was the early '80s, and I knew the business," says Marshall, "and I knew if we were going out when Kathy got her first opportunity to produce something, people would say, Oh, Frank's doing that."
Kennedy and Marshall worked with Spielberg again on E.T. and Poltergeist, and in 1982 they formed a production company with him, Amblin Entertainment. Ten years later, as Spielberg prepared to found DreamWorks, Kennedy and Marshall decided to strike out on their own. "We wanted to have a family"--the traditional kind, says Kennedy. (They have two daughters, 9 and 11.) "We didn't want to become movie moguls and move into being executives within a company. We like making movies." Husband and wife produce films separately as well as together. Bourne is Marshall's baby, Diving Bell Kennedy's. Crystal Skull is a joint project. What the two share is a basic philosophy: "We're helping the director get his or her vision up onscreen," says Marshall.
Thanks to their money-in-the-bank track record, studios trust them, so Kennedy and Marshall manage to talk executives into some extraordinary things. Shortly before the opening of The Bourne Supremacy, Marshall got a call from its star, Matt Damon, who was on the Lake Como, Italy, set of Ocean's 12. Damon had talked with a screenwriter there and come up with an ending for Supremacy that he and the director, Paul Greengrass, liked better than the original, which left test audiences unmoved. "I said, 'Matt, the movie comes out in two weeks. What are you talking about? We're done,'" recalls Marshall. After hearing the idea, however, Marshall was convinced it was worth the risk, so he and Damon called then Universal chairwoman Stacey Snider and pitched it. "I said, 'I don't want to hear it,'" says Snider, who is now at DreamWorks. But she did. Damon recalls, "There was a long pause, and she said, 'S___, that's good.'" Snider ultimately agreed to spend an extra $200,000 to film a new ending, and within days Marshall secured locations and flew Damon from Lake Como for a reshoot. "As much as I adore Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass, it was Frank who I could look at and say, 'Can you really accomplish this?'" says Snider. The movie tested 10 points higher with the new ending and made $176 million at the box office.
While Marshall was shooting the third Bourne film, Kennedy was putting together Diving Bell, directed by the artist Julian Schnabel and adapted from a memoir by French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby, who was almost completely paralyzed. Casting the behind-the-camera personalities on the film took some craftsmanship. Kennedy recruited Spielberg's director of photography to help Schnabel deliver a bold visual style, shooting as if the viewer were inside the paralyzed man's body. When the film's French production company balked at the price of an A-list cinematographer, Kennedy persuaded them to find the money elsewhere in the budget. "They see talent," says Brad Grey, CEO of Paramount. "They understand it. They know how to get the most out of the folks who work for them and with them."
Kennedy and Marshall have one of Hollywood's best Rolodexes and an instinct for building a team around a movie. "It's casting personalities as well as skills," says Kennedy. "If you have somebody who's intensely creative but they can't manage their way out of a paper bag, you bring somebody else in to augment that." The two producers also like to pair inventive directors of smaller-budget films (like Greengrass before Bourne and Schnabel now) with studio-caliber crews to surround an artistic mind with precision and experience.
Kennedy and Marshall have different strengths. Kennedy favors development--reading scripts, matching talent and material. "I'm more of a big-picture, conceptual kind of thinker," she says. Marshall, who directed the movies Alive and Congo, excels at the problem-solving required by a logistically complex film. "I love math and making things work," he says. Even on the most meticulously planned movie, however, something will go wrong. There are too many people, too much expensive equipment, too many unpredictable factors like weather and local crowds. On those rocky days, "sometimes you walk on a set, and you'd think people are doing brain surgery," says Kennedy. "People take what they're doing so personally. It's a reflection of who you are." It's in these moments that Kennedy and Marshall fall most naturally into their roles as set parents, calming and focusing their film family toward a hopefully beautiful ending.
The original version of this article misstated the ages of the daughters of Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall. They are 9 and 11, not 8 and 15.