While much of Hollywood endures an enforced vacation due to strike-related closures, Frank Marshall has a different way of keeping busy. For the past three years, the producer best known for overseeing the ‘Indiana Jones’ franchise with his wife Kathleen Kennedy has been moonlighting as a documentary filmmaker. “I’m lucky that as long as I’m even, I’m happy,” Marshall said during a recent interview with IndieWire. “I love the excitement and freedom that documentary cinema brings.”
Now, just weeks after traveling to Cannes for the premiere of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Fate,” Marshall arrives at the Tribeca Film Festival to premiere “Rather,” an affectionate portrait of 92-year-old news anchor Dan Rather. He has a feature film in production, the “Twister” sequel “Twisters,” which is halfway through (“they have a script,” he said), but other announced projects like “Spinal Tap II” have been put on hold. So Marshall is already busy editing another documentary, this one focusing on the Beach Boys. “I have no idea how long it will last,” he said. “When he’s a doctor, it doesn’t concern me.”
Still, the strike gave Marshall and Kennedy much to consider for the future. When asked about the WGA’s demands during a Cannes press conference for “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” Marshall relented to Kennedy, who was seated next to him. “I would like to see this whole situation resolved by really being in an environment where people can talk about some really complicated issues right now that are affecting the whole industry,” he said. “You can’t do any of this without great writing. … I’m in full support – I know most people are in full support – that writers get what they deserve.
Now, with the DGA avoiding a strike by agreeing to a new three-year deal with the studios and SAG voting to authorize a strike if it doesn’t reach a new deal by the end of the month, the situation has gotten more complicated. “We have to find a new formula,” Marshall said. “There are new things we have to deal with. I have been encouraged by the work of the DGA and hope this will lead both the WGA and SAG to come to terms with the manufacturers. We have to be fair to both sides. Both sides have points and must solve it.
The new ‘Indiana Jones’ film just so happens to reflect an ongoing concern for guilds, as the film makes extensive use of artificial intelligence to reconstruct Harrison Ford’s face and present an older version of the character that resembles his appearance in the films they produced four decades ago.
“You can’t just say ‘no AI,'” Marshall said. That is why these discussions must continue. We have to understand this. With “Indiana Jones,” Lucasfilm drew on decades of Ford footage to age its leading man. “This is a great tool,” Marshall said. “But it’s not something we’ll always use. It just doesn’t always do it. While the actors fear the AI could be used to exploit their likeness indefinitely, Marshall wasn’t convinced. “The key with Harrison was that we had so many references when he was that age, and we have him, so it’s different from actor to actor,” he said. “They have to find some sort of compromise that makes sense for everyone.”
Meanwhile, the WGA pressed a deal with the AMPTP that would prevent studios from having writers adapt AI-generated ideas unless the writers received original writing credit. For now, Marshall said, the technology didn’t seem like a major threat to the writing process. “It’s not the answer, it’s a tool,” he said. “I do not use it. We have to write from up here. People write about feelings. AI doesn’t have feelings, emotions, humor, all those things.
Like most of Hollywood, Marshall is no stranger to production disruptions. ‘Jurassic World: Dominion’ was the first major studio project to complete its production with the cast and crew in quarantine (a situation that inspired Judd Apatow’s Netflix comedy ‘The Bubble’). Then came “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Fate,” filmed throughout the second half of 2021 and into early 2022, as the pandemic continued to complicate plans. “It wasn’t as fun as the other four movies, but we made it,” Marshall said.
At Cannes, Ford received a lifetime achievement tribute that doubled as a salute to his most famous creation. “He was surprisingly emotional,” Marshall said. “When you really think about it, we’ve been a family for over 40 years.”
Marshall’s entry into the film business dates back much earlier, as he was enlisted to work on Peter Bogdonavich’s 1968 film debut “Targets” after meeting the director at a birthday party for John Ford’s daughter. Now, aged 76, Marshall looks back on that journey through 1970s and ’80s Hollywood with a certain nostalgia.
“Back then, studios all had their own identity,” he said. “When we were making the movie at Warner Bros., or Universal, or Paramount, or MGM, who was running it and what were they looking for. It’s now kind of a gumbo where everyone wants a franchise but they’re a small part of that company. Does it stream? Do you go to cinemas? There are so many pressures on young filmmakers.”
However, he saw a bright side. “You couldn’t make a movie on your phone then,” she said. “The good news is that there are so many other outlets for cinema. So make a good story, write a good script, it still boils down to this. Talent will increase. The entry point is just different.
Marshall said he felt an affinity with Rather, the subject of his latest documentary, as the reporter navigated the growing commercial demands of the television space across different eras. The film follows Rather from his breakthrough moment covering Hurricane Carla for the local Houston CBS affiliate in 1961 to his current status as a social media celebrity. “We all know what that corporate pressure is like,” Marshall said. “It’s ratings and eyeballs and clicks and data.”
As the documentary points out, Rather’s short-tempered character has transitioned well into the social media age, as his Twitter account has amassed nearly 3 million followers. However, his earlier career reached an unceremonious end point after reporting a story about George W. Bush’s military record was called into question during the 2004 presidential campaign. He was fired from the network two years After. (Marshall hasn’t seen “Truth,” the 2015 dramatization of these circumstances that starred Robert Redford as Rather.) “The story was true as far as I know,” Marshall said. “I feel like he looks back and thinks he could have done things differently back then. He wasn’t at all reluctant to talk about it. I think it’s a good thing that we all make mistakes.”
Marshall wasn’t sure that Rather’s particular brand of journalism and no-nonsense tone could survive in the current era of cable news. “We still need people who have principles, integrity and believe in speaking the truth,” he said. “The world has changed for all of us from an entertainment perspective. The studios are all owned by these large conglomerates. When those things started to change, when it was just about making money. He smiled, then added, “That’s a whole other documentary.”
“Rather” will have its world premiere at the 2023 Tribeca Festival.