the revenant the revenant Producers are often the unsung heroes of cinema. (Photo: The Revenant)

7 of the hardest-working film producers in Hollywood

From 'The Revenant' to 'Star Wars,' every great film starts with a producer who took a chance on bringing it to life.

The genesis of every great film generally begins not in the director's chair, but in the office of a producer. These unsung heroes of the modern cinema are responsible for lighting the spark that transforms an idea into a massive production of crew, screenwriters, visual effects artists, actors and actresses. Many are hands-on, working side-by-side with a director on everything from music cues to budget concerns. Others fan the initial flames and then govern from afar, preferring to let a film develop organically under a shared vision.

Below are a handful of the most prolific producers in Hollywood working non-stop to entertain today's audiences. While their work takes place largely behind the curtain, their impact is nothing short of blockbuster.

Irwin Winkler

If your heart raced watching "Rocky" or flinched during "Goodfellas," you can thank Irwin Winkler for making it happen. The 84-year-old American producer and director has helped craft more than 55 Hollywood productions, with "Creed," "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "The Gambler" among his most recent.

In an interview with Premium Hollywood, Winkler said the key to being successful is to create a "good" film.

"The only genre that works is the ‘good’ genre," he said. "In other words, you make a good movie and people are going to see it…When we made ‘Rocky,’ everybody said ‘nobody wants to see boxing movies.’ ‘Women won’t go to see a boxing movie.’ ‘She’s not the prettiest in the world; he’s not the handsomest in the world – it’s not Robert Redford up there.’ Yet, people went to see it. I think the best advice we could have for ourselves is ‘make something good and, hopefully, they’ll come.'"

Arnon Milchan

With producing credits on such cinematic classics as "Pretty Woman," "Heat" and "Gone Girl," prolific Israeli filmmaker Arnon Milchan has enjoyed a storied career unmatched in Hollywood. His most recent film, "The Revenant" starring Leonardo DiCaprio," has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. In addition, he served as a producer on "The Big Short," starring Brad Pitt, which is also nominated this year. (Legend has it, he's also the man who introduced Pitt to Angelina Jolie on the set of another one of his hits, "Mr. and Mrs. Smith.")

In a recent interview, Milchan, 71, revealed that he's made more than 120 movies and personally read every single script. The secret to his success? Intuition.

"I first do and then I think," he said. "I never go and have a game plan in my life. I actually don't have a business plan in my life. I get instinctive, and then I say, how do I get out of it now? Or how do I make it work? I fall in love and then I give all my energy to make it work."

Kathleen Kennedy

With more than 60 films and 120 Academy Award nominations, American producer Kathleen Kennedy is one of the most sought-after executives in Hollywood. Not bad for someone who got her start in the industry as the personal secretary to director Steven Spielberg.

Films ushered into theaters and, subsequently, pop culture history by Kennedy include "Jurassic Park," "Lincoln," "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" and "Twister." As the new president of Lucasfilm, the 62-year-old is also responsible for the revived "Star Wars" franchise. With "The Force Awakens" a bonafide hit, she'll next partner with prolific Israeli producer Ram Bergman and director Rian Johnson on "Star Wars: Episode VIII."

"I stay focused on doing the things I feel passionate about exclusively," she said when asked about the secret to her success. "I’m all about the work, I always have been, that’s the part that I enjoy. Each time, even as my kids have gotten older, I think maybe I should slow down a little bit, be around a little more, then I find myself getting caught up in something I never saw coming, and it’s hard to turn that off."

David Heyman

Thanks to a certain boy wizard, British producer David Heyman has very quickly become one of Hollywood's top producers. In 1999, the 54-year-old managed to secure the film rights to "Harry Potter," producing a franchise that would eventually cover eight installments. Other hits followed – including the Oscar-nominated space thriller "Gravity," the comedy "We're the Millers" and the family hit "Paddington."

Not content to leave the world of Harry Potter alone for long, Heyman will produce the next chapter in the series "J.K. Rowling's Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them." In a recent interview, he described the theme that's behind most of his films.

"What’s most important to me is stories that move me and stories I connect to," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "Many of my films are about outsiders because in some way I think we all feel like outsiders, whether it’s Harry Potter or Paddington. I’m not sure I realized that going in, but looking back on the films that I made, I see that continuum."

Nina Jacobson

A former Disney executive-turned-producer, Nina Jacobson recently finished a four-year run as the force behind the "Hunger Games" franchise. Other films under her belt include "Pearl Harbor," "The Princess Diaries" and "The Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise. Never one to shy away from ambitious stories, she's currently in the process of adapting Homer's "The Odyssey" for the big screen.

This month, Jacobson's production company will launch its first foray into television with the series "American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson."

When asked what captured her attention during a film pitch, Jacobson told Wired magazine that it all comes down to how the story moves her. "We start with the obligatory chat about the weather, traffic, sports or politics," she said. "Then somebody concludes the chitchat (usually me) and the writer does his or her spiel. The 'dog and pony.' The desired outcome is for me to love the story and want to buy it. But a big part of my job is to pass. I leap only once every six to eight weeks."

Kevin Feige

Just go ahead and call Kevin Feige "Mr. Marvel." The American producer, along with Israeli film giant Avi Arad, is behind the massive crop of superhero films planned for the next four years and beyond. The 42-year-old has been behind nearly every hit film from the Marvel universe, including "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Thor" and "The Avengers."

While he's now one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood, Feige says getting his start wasn't so easy. He was famously rejected five times from the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts before scoring a spot on his last try. For those who dare follow in his path, he recommends growing a thick skin.

“Rejection is a common occurrence,” he told USC students while delivering the school's 2014 commencement address. “Learning that early and often will help you build up the tolerance and resistance to keep going and keep trying.”

Frank Marshall

Considered the father of the modern-day movie franchise, American producer Frank Marshall has been behind such classics as "Back to the Future," "Indiana Jones," "Gremlins" and dozens of other hit films.

At only 69 years old, he's not planning on slowing down any time soon. In addition to scoring a massive hit with this summer's "Jurassic World," Marshall is once again teaming up with Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass on the fourth "Jason Bourne" film.

Marshall, who at one point almost considered a career in law (like another Hollywood star we know), says that he's always looking for a story that he finds interesting. The greatest reward, he told The Dartmouth newspaper, is what happens when the lights go down in the theater "and people are moved – whether laughing or crying or whatever. We’re entertainers. I think that’s the important thing you have to remember here."


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