War Horse movie Producer Kathleen Kennedy is a six-time Academy Award® nominee and one of the most successful and respected producers and executives in the film industry today. She’s somewhat of a fixture in the film community and has previously held the position of governor and officer of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Kennedy is currently serving on the board of trustees. Among her credits are three of the highest grossing films in motion picture history: “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Jurassic Park” and “The Sixth Sense.”
Kennedy launched her producing career by developing a successful association with Steven Spielberg, which began when she served as his production assistant on the film “1941.” After that she worked as his associate on “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” associate producer of “Poltergeist,” and producer of “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.” While “E.T.” was becoming an international phenomenon, Spielberg, Kennedy and Frank Marshall were already in production on “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” which she and Marshall produced with George Lucas.
In a recent interview she talked about how she discovered War Horse, working with Director Steven Spielberg and the challenges faced in making this film.
Q: How did you discover “War Horse”?
A: We were going over to Europe and taking our girls, so I was looking for various things that we could do with them. My intention of going to see “War Horse” was literally to take them to something that I thought they might enjoy, but halfway through the play, Lilly, our now fifteen-year-old, leans over and says, “Mom, I don’t think I can make it. I think I have to go.” She was so emotionally caught up in the play. And I looked around and saw how incredibly moved everybody else was in the theatre.
I felt that emotion too, but you don’t necessarily think that that’s how everybody else is feeling. I couldn’t get the story out of my head. When I came back to L.A. after our vacation, I was on the scoring stage with Steven, [Spielberg] doing the score for “Tintin.” We were just sitting chatting in between cues and I said, “I just saw this amazing play in London and I think it might be a movie.”
I got my computer and pulled up a little sequence that was on YouTube and showed him what the play was. He was very interested and literally within three or four weeks Stacey Snider, who runs DreamWorks, flew over to London to see the play. Stacey felt the same way I did. We were in the middle of negotiations within a week and the deal closed very quickly. We started to work with a writer and had a screenplay within three months. We were in pre-production about six months after deciding that this is what we wanted to do. It was quite extraordinary.
Q: Were you surprised that Steven Spielberg was immediately attracted to this and wanted to embrace it?
A: No, I really wasn’t surprised that Steven [Spielberg] was immediately attracted to this. One of the first things he said was, “I’ve made ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and I’ve done ‘Band of Brothers.’ I’m not interested in making another war movie.” But he was interested in “War Horse” because he loved the relationship between the boy and the horse and he loved the journey that the horse went on.
Q: This story really seems to appeal to everybody. Why do you think that is?
A: I think there’s something about the idea that makes people invest their emotions in this horse. The horse is this innocent victim that allows us to witness war somewhat from a distance but at the same time everything that’s horrible about what happens in war is emotionally vested in this animal. I think that everybody can identify with that. Everybody cares about what happens to that animal and projects that on the character.
Q: How does the story inform the audience about World War I?
A: What’s interesting about this story is that you’re watching the horse go through the war but you’re not necessarily watching a war film. It’s not a story that’s designed to take you to the front lines to watch what happens to these animals in war. It’s really a story about how the horse comes into contact with all the aspects of the war and the people who represent all the different sides of the war. You see the goodness in people who are the innocent victims of the war.
Q: You’ve had experience working with horses on “Seabiscuit.” What was different about this experience?
A: Working on “Seabiscuit” was fantastic as a precursor to what was required with this movie. It’s a huge undertaking and very time consuming in the process of shooting, too, because you have to take into consideration that these are animals that have to be taken care of and they get tired just like other actors. And we knew that those were shots that we really had only two or three takes to get right because the horses would get tired. They were running over long distances. So it’s a challenge. But I think there’s something really nice about having animals on a set.
Q: In terms of finding someone to play Albert, how difficult was the search for him and what led you to him?
A: Albert in the story has to play sixteen, seventeen years old. There was a possibly that we would find somebody that was known, but I think Steven [Spielberg] has a nice track record of making some really wonderful discoveries and I think he was looking forward to doing that. So, we spent a great deal of time interviewing a vast number of English actors and we went out into the countryside and looked for actors, hopefully, who had some experience either on a farm or with horses. Then we found Jeremy Irvine, who lived outside of London and had some limited experience with horses, but had been on a farm. He really turned out to be fantastic for the role.
Q: What challenges did you have to embrace making “War Horse”?
A: I would say that this was a difficult movie to make. I think in some respects the liberal use of effects and the ability to say, “Oh, we’ll just do that on the computer,” or “We’ll take care of that in post,” has made it too easy. Making “War Horse” forced us to do things in reality and made us accept the challenge that we’ll do the best we can with what we have and, if we can’t do it, then it’s not meant to be.
Q: What makes the movie retain its own identity but also stay a family picture?
A: We were very well aware that we were making a PG-13 movie. We said that from the get go. Obviously when you’re trying to depict the realities of World War One, you are aware of the fact that it was a very brutal war. We’re not in any way trying to downplay that. But what we did do was to very consciously avoid graphic violence.
Kennedy recently completed her term as President of The Producers Guild of America, where she received its highest honor, the Charles Fitzsimmons Service Award, in 2006. In 2008, she and Marshall received the Producers Guild of America’s David O. Selznick Award for Career Achievement.
Currently, Kennedy heads The Kennedy/Marshall Company, founded by Kennedy with director/producer Frank Marshall in 1992. Current projects include: “The Adventures of Tintin” released in late 2011 and Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” to be released in 2012.
DreamWorks Pictures’ “War Horse,” director Steven Spielberg’s epic adventure, is a tale of loyalty, hope and tenacity set in the beautiful countryside of rural England and Europe during the First World War. “War Horse” begins with bond between a horse named Joey and a young man called Albert, who tames and trains him. When they are forcefully parted, the film follows the extraordinary journey of the horse as he moves through the war, changing and inspiring the lives of all those he meets—British cavalry, German soldiers, and a French farmer and his granddaughter—before the story reaches its emotional climax in the heart of No Man’s Land. “War Horse” will be released in theaters on December 25, 2011. Fans can “Like” WAR HORSE on Facebook and follow along on Twitter