Producer and Director. Nationality: American. Born: Los Angeles, 13 September 1946. Education: Attended University of California, Los Angeles, as political science major. Family: Married the producer Kathleen Kennedy. Career: Protégé of Peter Bogdanovich, working on his production crew and serving as an assistant on Targets , 1968, location manager on The Last Picture Show , 1971, and What's Up, Doc? , 1972; line producer on Orson Welles's The Other Side of the Wind (unreleased); 1981—began collaboration with Steven Spielberg as a producer for Raiders of the Lost Ark ; 1982—with Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, formed production company,
Paper Moon (Bogdanovich) (asst)
Daisy Miller (Bogdanovich) (asst)
At Long Last Love (Bogdanovich) (asst)
Nickelodeon (Bogdanovich) (asst)
The Last Waltz (Scorsese—doc) (line pr); The Driver (W. Hill)
The Warriors (W. Hill) (exec)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg) (+ ro as pilot)
Poltergeist (Hooper) (co)
Twilight Zone—The Movie (Landis, Spielberg, and Dante) (exec)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Spielberg) (co-exec); Gremlins (Dante) (co-exec)
Fandango (K. Reynolds) (co-exec); The Goonies (R. Donner) (co-exec); Back to the Future (Zemeckis) (co-exec); Young Sherlock Holmes (Levinson) (co-exec); The Color Purple (Spielberg) (co)
An American Tail (Bluth—animation) (co-exec); The Money Pit (Benjamin) (co)
Innerspace (Dante) (co-exec); *batteries not included (M. Robbins) (co-exec); Empire of the Sun (Spielberg) (co)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Zemeckis) (co); The Land before Time (Bluth—animation) (co-exec)
Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade (Spielberg) (co-exec); Dad (Goldberg) (co-exec); Back to the Future Part II (Zemeckis) (co-exec); Always (Spielberg) (co)
Back to the Future Part III (Zemeckis) (co-exec); Gremlins II (Dante) (co-exec); Joe Versus the Volcano (Shanley) (co-exec)
Cape Fear (Scorsese) (co-exec); Hook (Spielberg) (co); An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (Nibbelink and Wells—animation) (co-exec)
Noises Off (Bogdanovich)
Swing Kids (Carter) (co-exec); A Far Off Place (Salomon) (co-exec); We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story (D. & R. Zondag, Nibbelink, and Wells—animation) (co-exec)
Milk Money (Benjamin) (co)
The Indian in the Cupboard (Oz) (co)
Olympic Glory (Merrill) (co-prod); The Sixth Sense (Shyamalan); Snow Falling on Cedars (Hicks) (+ 2nd unit director); A Map of the World (Elliott); Sports Pages (series)
Arachnophobia (+ co-exec pr); Tummy Trouble (live-action only, short); Rollercoaster Rabbit (live-action only, short)
Congo (+ co-exec pr)
Wells, J., "Producer Frank Marshall on Poltergeist," in Film Journal , 24 May 1982.
Chase, Donald, "Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy: Executive Producers Back to the Future," in Millimeter , December 1985.
McDonagh, Maitland, "Paramount Gears Up for Final Indiana Jones ," in Film Journal , May 1989.
Avins, Mimi, "Director Frank Marshall Sets Up a Superspider's Revenge in Arachnophobia ," in Premiere (New York), July 1990.
Spotnitz, F., "Frank Marshall, the Amblin Producer Finds His Stride in the Director's Chair," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), March 1991.
Avins, Mimi, "Shot by Shot: Alive," in Premiere (New York), 1 March 1993.
Clark, John, "Hollywood and Vines: Congo Serves Up Old-Fashioned Jungle Adventure with New Fangled Special Effects," in Premiere (New York), July 1995.
Fischer, Dennis, "Congo," in Cinefantastique (New York), 1 August 1995.
Ojumu, Akin, "When They Talk, Spielberg Listens," in The Observer (London), 23 April 2000.
* * *
Frank Marshall is one of the most respected filmmakers working in the film industry today. Though perhaps best known for his hugely successful collaborations with producer Kathleen Kennedy and director Steven Spielberg, Marshall started out as a protégé of Peter Bogdanovich and gained valuable experience through collaborations with such legends as Orson Welles, Martin Scorsese, and George Lucas.
All of these directors were unabashed film buffs who imbued Marshall with a certain sentimentality for things past and a desire to entertain audiences the same way that they had been entertained by the great films of yesteryear. These traits show clearly in his own initial directorial efforts, particularly Arachnophobia and Congo , which hearken back to such great sci-fi classics as Tarantula (1955) and King Kong (1933) and feature strong story lines at a rudimentary level and depend on technical craftsmanship and strong special effects to captivate the audience.
Marshall's career appears to reflect three significant turning points in an evolution from apprentice to producer and ultimately to producer/director. As a political science student at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the late 1960s, he had a chance introduction to the film historian Peter Bogdanovich who was about to make his directorial-debut film Targets , financed by Roger Corman. The minuscule budget meant Marshall was involved in all aspects of making the film. He later said this experience was the best introduction to the film industry.
Working with the always cash-poor Bogdanovich gave Marshall insights into the difficulties inherent in the film business and allowed him to develop a sense of what he saw as his primary function as a producer. To Marshall, the producer is the person who serves as a direct line to the director and his needs, and it is the producer's job to fulfill those needs. In this view, the finished film should reflect the creative vision of the director and not the producer.
The Bogdanovich-Marshall pairing included some of the director's most successful films including The Last Picture Show , Paper Moon , and What's Up Doc? , but it was the producer's work on the less successful Daisy Miller that led to another turning point in Marshall's professional development. Steven Spielberg was in Europe promoting his film Duel and dropped by the studio to have lunch with Bogdanovich when Marshall came in to ask his director about a problem on the set. Marshall later learned that Spielberg was impressed with the way that he handled himself and was the type of person Spielberg wanted working with him. He wanted a producer who could "take care of things on the set." Five years later, when George Lucas asked Spielberg who he wanted as producer for Raiders of the Lost Ark , Spielberg's response was: "See if that guy Frank Marshall is available." Marshall was and a long association with one of the most successful directors in the history of film was begun.
The producer and director, joined by Marshall's future wife Kathleen Kennedy, formed Amblin Entertainment Company in 1982. According to Marshall, the main criteria behind the films "greenlighted" into production for Amblin was story content. The most important factor to him was that the film tell a good story—one that he would like to see himself. Just as he would come to emphasize in his directorial efforts, he looked for films that reminded him of the matinee films of his youth. Such films as Back to the Future , Poltergeist , E.T.—The Extra-Terrestrial , and Hook have timeless themes and are demographically perfect for capturing the widest possible audience—the 13-to-25 age group. Nevertheless, a number of Marshall's productions, including The Color Purple , Empire of the Sun , and Always , while less successful financially than other Amblin films, reflected strong story lines aimed at adult audiences. Marshall and Spielberg were not afraid to deal with less-commercial material if solid story content was there.
Although Amblin has become identified in the popular mind as being virtually synonymous with Steven Spielberg, Marshall and his co-producer Kennedy exercised considerable influence on the director's choice of projects and exercised control over the broad range of corporate output. Within the company, if Spielberg was directing, Marshall and Kennedy were always the producers. If other directors were doing Amblin projects, the two would either co-produce or executive produce depending on the work load within the company. This versatility allowed Amblin to produce a phenomenal output in its relatively short existence.
The association with Spielberg provided a third turning point in Marshall's evolution as a producer and director. First, working on "A" projects with some of the most talented people in the business gave the producer an opportunity to hone his skills at the highest level. His strength lies in the day-to-day details of production. As Spielberg has noted, Marshall is an "on the set" producer who employs a hands-on approach and likes to keep his crews as small as possible. He also prefers to work with the same group of people again and again because he considers communication behind the camera to be the most important aspect of making things run smoothly. His people are now so familiar with his style that they can anticipate many of his techniques to support his director.
Second, while keeping up with his production duties in the late 1980s, Marshall took advantage of his association with Spielberg to learn the craft of directing. As a second-unit director on the famous director's recent films, he prepared himself for a 1990 directorial debut on Arachnophobia . Although the light horror film may not have been the aspiring director's first choice, it was a green-lighted project, ready to go, and he jumped at it. The project was unique in that it allowed Marshall to utilize both his producer and directorial skills. Having been a producer, Marshall understood the importance of combining the creative with the business aspects of making a film. Indeed, from a producer's point of view, a film about killer spiders terrorizing the Midwest was a tough sell. The original draft of the screenplay was stark horror with no letup. At least in Spielberg's Jaws (1973), audiences knew that the danger only lurked in the water. On land, you were safe. Here, there was no shelter; spiders could be lurking anywhere, even in your popcorn.
As a director who knew that his audience was composed of people with conflicting views of spiders, Marshall was able to leaven the terror through the device of a comic exterminator played by John Goodman who broke the tension in some of the story's climactic scenes. This provided a "word of mouth" that would intrigue both horror fans and John Goodman fans. This combination of producer and directorial psychologies has contributed to the success of Marshall's subsequent directorial efforts Alive and Congo .
The year 1999 was busy for Marshall, with four projects coming to completion and release. The Bruce Willis vehicle The Sixth Sense turned out to be the most successful of these, continuing Marshall's involvement with projects reminiscent of cinema past: the child Cole Sear's troubling declaration that "I see dead people" might easily have come from The Exorcist , for example. Other films of that year, such as Snow Falling on Cedars and A Map of the World , deal with the more adult themes of love and loss. Olympic Glory is a well-meaning but overly sentimental documentary, filmed in the large IMAX format, about the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Olympic Glory nevertheless deserves a look if only to experience the ski-jump projected on the IMAX screen.
Marshall, having the choice of either directing or producing films, has the responsibility of having to make the decisions on all of the creative aspects of, a film he is directing while in the producer role, he likes being the support system for the film and keeping the momentum going on the set. For example, early in his producing career, to keep spirits up on one particularly difficult shoot, Marshall put on a magic show starring himself as Dr. Fantasy. This magic show has now become a tradition on all Marshall productions. This is indicative of the producer/director's philosophy of filmmaking. For him, making films is like putting on one big expensive magic show and he plans to keep on pulling films out of his hat for a long time to come.
—Sandra Garcia-Myers, updated by Chris Routledge