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Alumni filmmakers take an unexpected journey to the Academy Awards

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is up for three Academy Awards this year. If not for Ken Kamins (C83), however, there’s a decent chance that it, the two Hobbit movies that will follow it, and its very successful companion trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, might never have seen the light of day. Kamins is the manager for Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, the filmmaking duo behind the two Tolkien trilogies, as well as movies like King Kong and The Lovely Bones.

Back in the mid-1990s, when Jackson was trying to get the Rings movies off the ground, everyone in Hollywood, it seemed, was scared off by the project’s cost and scope. Kamins, who was then the executive vice president of international operations at ICM (in addition to being Jackson’s manager), deftly managed the negotiations that led to the first film being made, saving the project from what looked like certain obscurity. His efforts were substantial enough that Factory magazine nicknamed him the Lord of the Deals.

Today, Kamins is serving as executive producer on all three of the Hobbit movies. If he is, as this story would attest, the franchise’s advance man, then it’s fair to call Josh Levinson (C89) its closer.

Levinson, who started his Hollywood career back in the early 1990s as Danny DeVito’s assistant, quickly rose to do production work on movies like Get Shorty, Erin Brockovich, and Pulp Fiction. He is now the post production supervisor on all three of the Hobbit movies, which means he’s in charge of each movie’s budget and scheduling, as well as delivering on the editing, sound mixing, and visual effects for each.

It was a windfall for him and Kamins, then, to learn, in January, that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey had received Academy Award nominations for Best Production Design, Best Visual Effects, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling. (School of Communication alumni had a hand in other nominees, too, including Jonathan Gordon (C92), who produced Silver Linings Playbook, the first film in 31 years to receive a nomination in all acting categories, and Michael Knobloch (C92), head of music for Universal Pictures, which produced the musical Les Misérables. Both films are up for Best Picture, among many other awards.)

Levinson said he was excited by the Oscar nominations, but, being that he’s right in the middle of post-production work on the second Hobbit movie, The Desolation of Smaug, he hasn’t had a lot of time to revel in it. “Post-production schedules are kind of nuts,” he said. “You work forty, fifty, sixty days in a row. I like to say it’s like a combination of the military and circus, only there’s better coffee and no chance of getting shot.”

Kamins looks forward to seeing what shakes out at the awards ceremony this weekend. “The happiest part of being a producer,” he said, “is when something you believed in deeply, but struggled to get off the ground, finds the light of day. The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit each struggled to come together. Getting the green light on each project was very gratifying, but seeing an audience react positively has been even more so.”