Steven Spielberg has enjoyed a number of incredibly fruitful, longtime collaborations throughout his career, but few of them have endured as well as his with Kathleen Kennedy. For almost 30 years, she has served as Spielberg’s producer, helping him bring to life some of the most successful movies of all time, not to mention some of the greatest artistic achievements of his career. Their latest partnership is for The Adventures Of Tintin, an adaptation of the Herge comic book character whose exploits will provide the foundation for not just one but three separate adventures. Movies.com sat down with Kennedy at the recent New York press day for Tintin, where the acclaimed producer discussed her longtime partnership with Spielberg, talked about how the two of them worked together to create the Tintin franchise, and offered her observations about the past, present and future of performance-capture technology, and, more importantly, storytelling.
Movies.com: Just to get started, talk about your longstanding relationship with Spielberg. How long did it take for you two to fall into lockstep with one another?
Kennedy: Well, I think that we were kind of in lockstep right from the beginning, just in terms of taste and interest and the kind of movies Steven likes to make. And when I saw Close Encounters, it was really the inspiration for me to even want to get into the movie business. So, right from the beginning he was somebody that I had always admired. So I think then you get to a point where I am now, where I’ve done this long enough that there’s a kind of intuitive sense in how I approach things and I have very much a comfortable sense of what Steven’s expectations are. So I can often interpret what it is we’re trying to achieve and help communicate that to the vast number of people that have to execute along with us. So that’s a big part of the job, and I think that it took a long time to even get to that place. But I started working with him in 1978, so I’ve kind of been in lockstep with him for at least the last 20, 25 years.
Movies.com: Spielberg has talked in other interviews about how when he did this and Crystal Skull, he’s really trying to satisfy the fans of these properties, that his focus was on sort of fulfilling what they wanted. Do you see a difference in him making a film he doesn’t need to necessarily do creatively, than something like say War Horse, or something that maybe he would consider to be more personal?
Kennedy: I don’t know that I see something necessarily different, because Steven always throws himself into whatever it is he’s doing. But I think he carries with him a real responsibility when he knows that he’s trying not to let the fans down and also not let himself down. Because when you’re involved in a franchise like that, you’re trying to remind yourself all the time what it is that you got really excited about initially. And we’re going through that right now in working on the script for Jurassic - we don’t want to do it unless there’s a real reason to do it. So like any development, you’re trying to tell a good story, but I think when you’re trying to carry on a franchise like that, there’s an even heightened burden to it.
Movies.com: Having spent so much time working with Spielberg, whose technical proficiency has only evolved, when you come on to something like this, which even though he hasn’t done, it’s certainly something that he’s been working towards, is it a pretty easy thing to integrate into his existing skill set?
Kennedy: No, I think the interesting thing with this is, is that we certainly knew by seeing Avatar that a number of the obstacles that were preventing us from doing the movie in performance capture to begin with, they were on their way to resolving. Now, that doesn’t mean that you look at something like that and you say, “Okay, piece of cake,” but I think that the great thing about Steven is that his attention to detail is so phenomenal and he never, ever settles. I think that’s what I always find invigorating. Because it’s so easy to get to a point where you think, “Okay, that’s good enough. Because it’s already really good.” But in a great way, he will pose questions constantly to the people around him, so that even as we were moving through the process of Tintin and knowing what everybody was capable of, he didn’t really know how far he could push it - but he never stopped pushing it. And I think that’s what people around him really like, is that he manages to draw from them something much more than they thought they were capable of. And it’s not because he’s finding fault with anything that they’re doing, but he’s just wondering if it could just be a little bit better. And oftentimes it can, and that’s why the cumulative result of that little bit of pushing, he often breaks through into the next level, and I think that’s what Tintin did. Suddenly, performance capture, the bar moved to a point where people were saying, “Wow, I don’t know what I just saw, I don’t know what I’m looking at.” Because there’s, you know, there’s something so photo-real about what they’re seeing, and yet these characters are not, you’re not expected to believe they’re real, living, breathing human beings. But at the same time, there’s a reality to it that is not really like anything you’ve seen.
Movies.com: What sort of aesthetic throughline did you guys conceive for this, given the fact that it was conceived as a film series? Are there certain hallmarks, be it say the opening credit sequence, which is almost like a Bond movie or something, where it’s all the same and that sort of unifies it, notwithstanding each director’s style?
Kennedy: Yeah, I think they’ll be a real consistency. I mean, the opening credit sequence, it’s beautiful. And I think that, you know, letting that continue to just evolve but to stay within the same sort of graphic sensibility, I think we’ll probably want to maintain. But in saying that, I won’t sit here and tell you that we defined that early on and said, “Okay, this is going to be the style of the movie,” it just kind of evolved. But I do think that we’ll hold on to that. And I also think, you know, we have a real touch stone in Hergé, because that’s what inspired all of to begin with, was his color palette, his sense of timelessness, the style in which he, the stories are told. I think that defines what the movie, the stylistic approach to the movies and I think all the directors will follow that. It doesn’t mean that somebody can’t put their own imprint.
But I think that’s what’s remarkable about watching this movie, is that you’ve never quite seen a director’s style be so literally interpreted into animation. And I think that was again a huge technological breakthrough that Steven was able to step into this volume of space and be able to actually use camera techniques and whatnot, that he’s used to using in live action, and be able to make choices and react to things much the way he does in live action and have that be literally interpreted into animation. I think that kind of gives it its individual mark. And I think the same thing is going to happen when Peter Jackson directs the movie. You’re going to have a sense of it being what you’ve just seen with this Tintin, but it’ll have Peter’s directing style. And if we bring in another director down the road, I think the same thing. And I think that’s exciting! You know? It probably is a bit like a Bond, where, you know, there are certain aspects of the storytelling that’ll remain consistent and then everybody’s individual style will be brought into the animation. I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen in the next two or three years with this technology. I mean, it’s just going to get better and better and better, it’s very, very exciting.
Movies.com: You talked about how you wanted to make a film that was fun and engaging and wasn’t necessarily plumbing the depths of the human experience. In this film, Haddock obviously has a strong emotional journey in this film, but Tintin does not. Do you see the sort of collective exploration of him in these films as the emotional journey that he’ll take?
Kennedy: You know, it’s hard to say and we talked about this a lot, because when Hergé created the series, Tintin was the character that every kid could be, so it was intentional that he was creating this character that each child or adult who’s reading the books could say, “Okay, I’m Tintin, I’m going on this journey.” And there’s something really nice about incorporating that sensibility into the movie. But as time goes on, we’re probably going go have to find some kind of subtext for Tintin’s journey and I think it’s kind of interesting. I mean, it’s sort of the mysteries that we talked about in the press conference, because we did sit there a lot saying, “Okay, we don’t know who his parents are, we don’t know anything about them, we don’t really know his back story, he seems to be totally on his own, he doesn’t have a girlfriend,” all of these things. And I’m not going to sit here and say, “Okay, we’re going to answer those questions, we’re going to give him a girlfriend;” we’re actually not going to do that, because I think that would be a huge mistake. But to enrich his back story a little bit, even maybe make him more mysterious and hitting those beats a bit, that could be fun. We’ll just have to see where that goes with the development. But I think we certainly started out great with the relationship between he and Haddock, I think that is a nice kind of entwisting relationship between the two unlikely friends. And there are a lot of things we can do with Snowy, too, so we’ll see. We’re going to introduce Calculus, I think, on the next one, too.
Movies.com: I was looking at the 400 projects that were listed as things that you were working on, including Roger Rabbit 2, and Indiana Jones 5, even Never Ending Story. How much of a reality is continuing these different stories?
Kennedy: You know, I never really know. Part of it is how long am I going to stay interested in something, and you can’t even know; I mean, with projects like this, we stayed interested for 28 years, so you don’t know. But also, there’s something very abstract about the development process and you make choices about who you bring in to write a script and you make choices about what the interpretation is going to be for a movie, and sometimes it gels and clicks and sometimes it doesn’t. And that part of it is a little bit out of my control, and so you wait to see if that script lands in your lap and it’s pretty close, and then you can start having a serious discussion. So I think that’s the sort of random aspect of the development process, is you get passionate about something and hopeful about something. And then sometimes it delivers and sometimes it disappoints, but you can’t predict that.
Movies.com: Well, are there projects, be it any of those that I mentioned or other ones, that the stars are definitely aligning to be your next project?
Kennedy: It’s hard to know. I mean, to be honest, I really want to take a break, so I’m trying to turn my mind off of having to think about what the next one will be. But I think [Robopocalypse] is going to be the next thing that Steven will do, and so turning our sights on that and getting that prepped and organized will probably be where I put most of my focus. And then, you know, I have little things here and there that, you know, I dabble in and we’ll see, I don’t know.
Movies.com: Performance capture has evolved so much in the last few years, but there’s a sort of a Luddite sort of perspective of going, “This will never be as good as something practical.” But for you, is the aim to create a photo-real universe, or do you feel like that performance capture creates something that transcends both animation and live action?
Kennedy: I think it is, and I think it’s only getting better. I think it is going to transcend. I mean, I would say, for instance, five years ago, and I’m sure Steven would agree with this, I don’t think we would have had any real interest in doing a movie that was predominantly virtual. I mean, without naming movies, it’s just, it’s not something that I’ve ever felt that I was very attracted to. I always have thought in the past that there’s something subliminally artificial about it, and I really like movies that are more reality-based. But I think as a tool in the toolbox right now, this is getting better and better and better, and consequently, I’m now drawn a little bit more to what it could offer. I think, for instance, what Andy Serkis and everybody did in Planet Of The Apes was pretty extraordinary. And I think that kind of technology and what Peter’s doing with The Hobbit, I think certainly what Cameron’s going to do with the next Avatar, I think it’s going to move the bar that much more and I think that’s very exciting. I think for filmmakers like Steven, where this is something they’ve essentially evolved with, their ability to use these tools in service to storytelling is tremendously exciting. I think just to use the tools to throw stuff up on the screen to impress people without the support of technique, style, storytelling, it’s not very interesting, but I think when you have people like Cameron and Peter and Steven that are working at the top of their game right now, using these tools, I think, who knows what stories they’re going to be able to tell? I think that’s tremendously exciting.