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Here’s How Kathleen Kennedy, Producer and Studio Exec Extraordinaire, Convinced J.J. Abrams to do Star Wars


The Hollywood Reporter has an in-depth of profile of LucasFilm President Kathleen Kennedy, and while the whole thing is worth a read—Kennedy “know[s] the difference between a Colt .45 and a Colt .45 Gold Cup” and started dating her future husband, Raiders of the Lost Ark producer Frank Marshall, behind the back of Kennedy’s long-time collaborator Steven Spielberg (“I wanted Kathy to be working with me as my assistant and Frank to be producing the movie, and never the twain shall meet,” recalled Spielberg, “But you can’t stop love.”)—what caught my attention as an inveterate Star Wars nerd was something different.

Namely, the story of the secret meetings where Kennedy got J.J. Abrams to direct Star Wars: Episode VII.

We already knew that Abrams initially turned down Star Wars because “just being a fan, I wouldn’t even want to be involved in the next version of those things… I’d rather be in the audience.” So how’d Kennedy change his mind?

Famously plain-spoken, she summarizes her pitch like this: “Please do Star Wars.”

Well, it worked.

There was more to it than just that, though. Kennedy also used Michael Arndt and The Empire Strikes Back writer Lawrence Kasdan being on board to write and consult, respectively: According to Kennedy, the director “was flipping out when he found out that Michael and Larry were on the movie already.”

Now that she had him hooked, it was time to reel him in. Recalls Abrams:

“I learned firsthand how incredible and persuasive she is.” Some — but not all — of his reservations were dispelled. “The thing about any pre-existing franchise — I’d sort of done that,” he says. “But when I met with Kathy, it was suddenly very tantalizing.”

Kennedy, Abrams and the writers met secretly for about three hours Dec. 19, and “J.J. was just on the ceiling when I walked out the door,” she recalls. But still, she says, Abrams had “very genuine concerns” about his obligations elsewhere and the impact on his wife and three kids, given the likelihood that the film would not be shot in Los Angeles. And then there was the unique nature of the franchise. “If there was any pause on J.J.’s part, it was the same pause everybody has — including myself — stepping into this,” she says. “Which is, it’s daunting.”

“We spent a lot of time talking about how meaningful Star Wars is and the depth of the mythology that George has created and how we carry that into the next chapter,” she says.” Finally, after a day of furious negotiation, the deal closed the afternoon of Jan. 25. To the bitter end, Abrams was telling associates that he still wasn’t fully committed to directing the project. But Kennedy is confident that he will be in the chair when the cameras roll.

So there you  have it. Kathleen Kennedy: Professional badass film producer/studio exec.

There are several other Episode VII-related tidbits to be found in the profile: Namely, that Kennedy shares Abrams’ willingness to push back the release date from 2015 (“Our goal is to move as quickly as we can, and we’ll see what happens. The timetable we care about is getting the story.”); that George Lucas called Spielberg and “actually asked for [Kennedy's] hand in business” (Spielberg’s words) before she was named president of LucasFilm; and that both Kennedy and Spielberg believe in Lucas’ ability to step back into the role of a consultant. Or, as Spielberg puts it, “He’s ready to start living without the burden and weight and responsibility of this huge corporate asset.” Good for him. Keep your fingers out of it, George.

(via: The Hollywood Reporter)

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  • Anonymous

    Well, if she’s one of Lucas’s legion of yesmen (yeswomen), then it’s not surprising she makes poor creative choices.

  • http://twitter.com/StevenRayMorris Steven Ray Morris

    Kathleen Kennedy produced Jurassic Park (among many other great films) so she’s pretty effing cool as far as anyone is concerned.

  • Anonymous

    With almost 4 decades and many many thousands of pages of stories in the Star Wars universe there’s an almost limitless number of characters with deep backstories. I still remember some of the books I read in the 80′s, or at least some of the scenes and story lines that occurred in those books. There’s a whole lot of potential in revisiting the franchise, and opportunities to introduce to the screen characters that have already proven themselves iconic, such as Luke’s wife or Han and Leia’s kids.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    I get that you don’t think Abrams is a good choice, but how are you dismissing her as “one of Lucas’s legion of yesmen”? She’s had a long, successful career wherein she’s proven herself an extremely talented producer.

  • Anonymous

    It’s not that I don’t trust her – I don’t trust Lucas’s ability to surround himself with anyone who isn’t willing to sycophanticly sign off on his every crappy idea. That’s how we got Episodes 1-3.

  • Anonymous

    I presume Monkey_pants is referring to the legion of yesmen who allowed Lucas to indulge his worst excesses in the prequels.

    She was NOT one of them. Lucas begging Spielberg refers to him asking for her to work on Episode VII.

    This will be the first Star Wars movie her name is attached to.

  • Anonymous

    I will grant you that – her producer credits include an impressive number of great movies (and a few stinkers). She’s no Jerry Bruckheimer, that’s for sure.

  • Anonymous

    I can only hope she’ll break the streak of crap. The cinematic skidmark, if you will.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    I see your point w/ the yes men—it’s hard to regain trust after the prequels, I know :)—but Kennedy came on to take over from Lucas, not work for him. As pointed out above, she wasn’t involved in the prequels. Maybe I’m just being naive, but I think Ep VII could turn out well now that Lucas is (mostly) out of it.

  • Anonymous

    Let’s not forget The Crystal Skull of Oh God, Why. I sincerely hope that her track record means that she’ll have the ability to reign in the worst impulses of Abrams (and Lucas, if anyone is still taking his creative input.)

  • Rebecca Pahle

    No, please, I really wanted to forget that, why would you bring it up?!

    Seriously though, yeah, there are some stinkers, but she’s been a producer for 30 years. It happens. I’m with you on hoping Ep VII isn’t one of them.

  • Anonymous

    Disturbingly, Steven freaking SPIELBERG couldn’t reign in Lucas’s worst impulses: http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Spielberg-Blames-Lucas-Crystal-Skulls-Proud-Nuking-Fridge-27548.html My only hope for Ep VII is that Lucas has limited input, and Kennedy has enough power to tell Abrams, “your idea is stupid.”

  • Anonymous

    I am a bit worried because she worked on War Horse, and that was pure unchecked Every Excess Spielberg Has.

    But I kind of got the feeling everybody involved knew that one wasn’t going to be great, and just kind of threw their hands up and sprinted through it.

  • Anonymous

    Boy howdy. War Horse was the first time in a long time I stopped a movie and didn’t finish it. I didn’t have much hope for Lincoln.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah. I finished it because I couldn’t believe it could get worse… but it proved me wrong.

  • John Wao

    I wish I could share your excitement but I was not that impressed with JJ’s Star Trek.

    In the sequel I’m going to assume that near the end they’ll travel back in time an undo whatever Cumberpatch has done.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    I hope he doesn’t two two time travel subplots in two movies. That would be awful.

  • Anonymous

    Nah, they can just use some convenient Applied Phlebotinum. Phlebotinum can do anything.

  • John Wao

    The question is why wouldn’t they? If you can go back in time and undo something bad once, why not do it every time?

    To paraphrase an Eddie Murphy joke, “it worked in the last movie, didn’t it?”

  • Anonymous