Blockbuster film producer Irish American Kathleen Kennedy named in ITLG Hollywood 50

22 Sep 2012

The ITLG has scored quite a coup in putting together an all-star line-up of some of the entertainment industry’s most senior executives for its annual Innovation in Entertainment event in Hollywood. Among those included on its top 50 listing of the most influential people in entertainment is the co-chair of Lucasfilm Kathleen Kennedy, one of the most successful and respected producers and executives in the film industry today.

Among Kennedy’s credits are three of the highest grossing films in motion picture history: E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Jurassic Park and The Sixth Sense

Her production credits include over 70 films including  the Back to the Future trilogy, the Indiana Jones series, The Bourne Identity series, Twister, Schindler’s List, The Color Purple, Munich, War of the Worlds, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Adventures of Tintin, War Horse, and most recently Lincoln which is set to release in the Autumn. 

Kennedy is the recipient of the Producers Guild of America’s prestigious David O. Selznick Award for Career Achievement and is currently on the Board of Governors for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  In June 2012 she joined George Lucas as Co-Chairman of Lucasfilm Ltd., to lead one of the most innovative and successful film and entertainment companies in the world.

Kennedy has collaborated with George Lucas on movies such as Indiana Jones: The Kindom of the Crystal Skull and she is tasked with carrying Lucas’s vision into the future. According to a report in the Hollywood Reporter Lucas said: “I’ve spend my life building Lucasfilm, and as I shift my focus into other directions, I wanted to make sure it was in the hands of someone equipped to carry my vision into the future. It was important that my successor not only be someone with great creative passion and proven leadership abilities but also someone who loves movies. I care deeply about my employees; it is their creativity and hard work that has made this company what it is today. As the company grows and expands, I wanted to be sure the employees of Lucasfilm have a strong captain for the ship.”

Kennedy, the daughter of a judge and attorney and a theatre actress, grew up in Berkeley, California,  and began her career in entertainment with a local TV station in San Diego where she held a number of technical roles including video editor, camera operator and floor director. She then moved to Los Angeles where she produced a local TV talk show.

Her break in the movies came when she got her first film production job working with John Milius who at the time was making Steven Spielberg’s 1941.

Impressed, Spielberg hired Kennedy as his secretary.

She received her first full producer’s credit with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in 1982 and her work on the Indiana Jones films propelled her to become one of the top producers in Hollywood.

More collaborations with Spielberg followed and she was executive producer both for Jurassic Park and Schindler’s list.

‘We look at films because they are winning awards, they’re good, and it has nothing to do with gender’

Kennedy has worked with some of Hollywood’s top directors including Martin Scorsese, Robert Zemeckis, Barry Levinson and Clint Eastwood.

Kennedy is also something of a beacon for other women who want to work in Hollywood at an executive level rather than being out in front of the camera and has helped dispel the myth of Hollywood being a male-dominated powerbase.

“Believe and set your sights on the fact that you can do it. It’s certainly a goal any woman can have, just like any man,” Kennedy is quoted in the Internet Movie Database.

“But what I always find interesting is when you take the areas of writing, producing and directing. I don’t think there’s a great deal of discrimination — although I’m completely perplexed and confused as to why there aren’t more women. For instance, if we’re looking for new, young directors, which is something we do all the time, we certainly never go look at films because they’re directed by a man or a woman.

“We look at films because they are winning awards, they’re good, and it has nothing to do with gender. And women certainly have equal opportunity to get into a university like UCLA or USC, to get into the film department, to take the same courses to allow them to make films, to deal with a whole gamut of subject matter, and yet I don’t know what happens. There’s something that happens in the process of getting there that seems to turn many women away.”

Kennedy’s new role as co-chair at Lucasfilm, one of the most exciting movie production houses in Hollywood, comes at a time of unparalleled and rapid upheaval in the entertainment industry.

From wrestling with challenges like piracy and copyright protection to seizing opportunities in streaming, social media, smartphones and HD and 3D content, Kennedy is well placed to be at the forefront of an industry not afraid to embrace new technology and shine.

The Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG) will be hosting its annual Innovation in Entertainment event on 27 September at Sony Pictures Studios in Hollywood. Executives in attendance represent some of the world’s leading entertainment companies, including HBO, Warner Brothers, Lucasfilm, Sony and DreamWorks.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years