Laurie MacDonald and Walter Parkes Biography

Movie producers

Born Laurie MacDonald, c. 1954, in Watsonville, CA; married Walter Parkes, 1983. Born Walter Parkes, c. 1952, in Bakersfield, CA; married Laurie MacDonald, 1983; children: two. Education: Parkes graduated from Yale University, studied documentary film at Stanford.


Office— DreamWorks SKG, Motion Picture Division, 1000 Flower St., Glendale, CA 91201.


MacDonald modeled for a year in her twenties; produced a television talk show in San Francisco, CA; became junior executive at Columbia Pictures; co–produced True Believers with Parkes, 1988; co–head of Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, 1994; co–head of DreamWorks motion picture division, 1994—. Parkes began working in film industry after graduate school; first noted for his documentary The California Reich, 1975; wrote screenplays in the 1980s; produced Awakenings, 1990; co–head of Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, 1994; co–head of DreamWorks motion picture division, 1994—. Couple co–produced DreamWorks' first film, The Peacemaker, 1997; co–produced many popular mainstream movies, including Men in Black, Gladiator, The Tuxedo, Road to Perdition, The Ring, and Catch Me If You Can.


Laurie MacDonald and Walter Parkes belong to a rare breed in Hollywood. They have been married for more than 20 years, and they work together

Laurie MacDonald and Walter Parkes
every day as co–heads of the motion picture division of DreamWorks SKG. The couple produced DreamWorks' first film in 1997, and went on to produce a string of hits. MacDonald and Parkes produced seven films in 2002 alone. These included some of the highest–grossing movies of the year, such as Men in Black II and Minority Report . The two claim to have a remarkably unified vision, agreeing about most things movie–related, and their films seem to have a knack of attracting a very wide audience. MacDonald is said to be the more business–minded of the two, while Parkes, a former screenwriter, brings more writerly skills to movie producing. Few couples in any industry share a job of this magnitude.

MacDonald was born in Watsonville, California, where her father was a mining engineer. The family moved around, and she grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada, and in Pasadena, California. After modeling for a year in Paris, MacDonald went to work for a local television news program in San Francisco, California. She eventually began producing a live news talk show five nights a week. MacDonald began working as an executive at Columbia Pictures in the early 1980s. In 1982 she met Parkes, who was then a screenwriter. By 1985, MacDonald was vice president of production at Columbia. Her first collaboration with Parkes was in 1988, when they co–produced the film True Believers .

Parkes, the son of a plastic surgeon, grew up in Bakersfield, California. He attended Yale University, where he majored in anthropology, and then took graduate courses at Stanford in documentary film. He directed a film called The California Reich in 1975, about the American Nazi party. The California Reich was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Film that year. When Parkes met MacDonald, he was writing a film which won him his second Academy Award nomination, War Games . Parkes moved from writing to producing films. He produced Volunteers for TriStar in 1985 and Project X for Fox in 1987. After collaborating with MacDonald in 1988, the duo's careers became more and more intertwined.

The job of movie producer is a complex one, encompassing all aspects of developing a film, from the initial idea to the final product. As producers, MacDonald and Parkes read scripts or listen to pitches, set budgets, arrange financing, find locations, and develop marketing plans. After they married, the couple had two children, and they found that they could incorporate their family life into their careers by working together. Though the job was exhausting, it offered flexibility, and MacDonald and Parkes brought their children with them as they traveled to filming locations. Parkes produced a several movies in the early 1990s, including Awakenings in 1990 (for which he received an Academy Award nomination), Sneakers in 1992, and Little Giants in 1994. That year, the couple got an unusual offer from Steven Spielberg. Spielberg, one of Hollywood's best–known directors, traveled in the same social circle as MacDonald and Parkes. One day Spielberg and his wife got together with MacDonald and Parkes to watch an old movie, and a friendship blossomed. Spielberg soon asked MacDonald and Parkes to work for him. He made them co–heads of his film production company, Amblin Entertainment. A few months later, Spielberg formed a film, television, and music production company, DreamWorks SKG, with David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg. MacDonald and Parkes then took the position of co–heads of the DreamWorks film division. DreamWorks' first film was The Peacemaker in 1997, starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman, which MacDonald and Parkes produced. They also contributed to DreamWorks' next film, and first big hit, Saving Private Ryan . The couple continued to produce movies for other studios as well, including the very successful Men in Black for Sony in 1997.

MacDonald and Parkes seemed to have a clear vision of what made good general entertainment. In an interview with Daily Variety in January of 2003, Parkes described Men in Black as "the ultimate family movie in that it appealed equally to kids and adults." While others in the industry may have been looking more narrowly at marketing categories aimed at specific age groups, MacDonald and Parkes had a feel for mass–market films that brought in a mixed crowd. Working with Spielberg, they had the pick of good scripts, and Parkes had long–standing connections with successful scriptwriters. In the late 1990s, the couple rode a wave of hit films. They produced The Mask of Zorro for Sony in 1998, which eventually grossed $94 million at the box office in the United States. Their next picture for DreamWorks, 2000's Gladiator, grossed more than twice that. There was no doubt that the couple had an outstanding sense of what made a popular film. In 2001, the couple viewed a Japanese horror film called Ringu. Within hours of watching Ringu , they had bought the rights to it, and this became the heralded DreamWorks picture The Ring in 2002. That year, they produced an extraordinary seven films, five for DreamWorks, one for Fox, and the sequel to Men in Black for Sony. These were all strong movies, including the critically acclaimed science fiction film Minority Report and the Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle Catch Me If You Can. By 2002, the couple had more than two dozen films to their combined credit, and these had grossed some $4.3 billion worldwide.

MacDonald and Parkes had no intention of stopping after that banner year. They planned to follow up over the next few years with a sequel to The Ring , another remake of a Japanese film called Ikiru , Gladiator 2, and a film written by playwright Tom Stoppard, among other projects. The couple had an opulent deal with DreamWorks, giving them up to five percent of revenues from films they produced. In a world of three–week marriages and high–level executive fallings out, MacDonald and Parkes seemed uniquely talented in maintaining their flourishing dual careers.


Daily Variety, January 13, 2003.

Forbes, March 3, 2003, pp. 86–87.

More, June 2002, pp. 54–55.

A. Woodward

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