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Overview for Dennis Kohler
Dennis Kohler

Dennis Kohler


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With his skill for writing character-driven blockbusters, screenwriter David Koepp emerged from his native Wisconsin to become one of the most consistent and highly-sought writers in the business. Thanks to several mega-hits under his belt, including "Jurassic Park" (1993), "Mission: Impossible" (1996) and "Spider-Man" (2002), Koepp also developed into one of the highest paid scripts doctors in Hollywood. Though just a small sample of his resume would account for several billion dollars of international box office take, Koepp has had his share of critical and financial failures, notably films he directed himself - "The Trigger Effect" (1996), "Stir of Echoes" (1999) and "The Secret Window" (2004). Regardless of such setbacks, Koepp managed to keep his name on the short list for the industry's top directors - namely Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma and Sam Raimi - as their go-to writer for Hollywood's biggest summer movies, enhancing his reputation as perhaps the most successful A-list screenwriter of his generation.

Born June 9, 1963 in Pewaukee, WI, Koepp was the youngest of four children raised by his father, the owner of a billboard company, and mother, a nurse-turned-family therapist. His grandfather, meanwhile, served as mayor of Pewaukee. Koepp attended Kettle Moraine High School, where he first developed a love for drama, but at that time, simply as an actor. After graduation, he went on to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison, further immersing himself into theater by writing plays, while continuing his acting ambitions. But a professor recognized that every play turned in had the same amount of scenes in them, leading him to conclude that Koepp should be writing screenplays instead. Imbued with the advice and new purpose, Koepp transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles in order to be around other people pursuing the same ambition. Upon arrival, Koepp hit the ground running, landing a job as a script reader for a seller of B-grade American movies to foreign markets, which led to writing his first film, "Apartment Zero" (1988), a dark political drama about a nervously repressed cinephile (Colin Firth) who rents a room to a Hollywood-esque charmer (Hart Bochner) suspected in a series of murders.

Though he had his first writing credit under his belt, Koepp remained a struggling screenwriter looking to establish his career. Which made it all the more surprising when he turned down a major studio who liked his script, "Bad Influence" (1990), a dark psychological thriller that Universal Pictures wanted to turn into a comedy. He balked at the idea, eventually managing to have the film made with a smaller production company, which stuck to Koepp's original idea about a successful marketing executive (James Spader) menaced by a psychopathic drifter (Rob Lowe). Despite his refusing a major studio, Universal was duly impressed with both the final product and the young writer's moxie, giving him an exclusive first-look deal. Koepp was then earning a regular paycheck with an office on the lot, where he began churning out scripts for major Hollywood features and never looked back. After penning the adventure thriller, "Toy Soldiers" (1991), about a group of prep school students held hostage by Columbian terrorists, Koepp had his first substantial hit with "Death Becomes Her" (1992), a dark supernatural comedy about a vain actress (Meryl Streep) looking for the fountain of youth with her nebbish plastic surgeon husband (Bruce Willis), only to find competition with her ex-best friend (Goldie Hawn).

Koepp made the jump from working screenwriter to top of the A-list almost instantly when he adapted the Michael Crichton thriller, "Jurassic Park" (1993), for Steven Spielberg, an unprecedented box office hit about a dinosaur park created from fossil DNA. Though a stunning special effects extravaganza, some critics derided the lack of appealing characters and complex human emotion. He next adapted two novels for "Carlito's Way" (1993), a compelling, but ultimately mundane look at the Puerto Rican mafia in the 1970s, as seen through the eyes of an ex-con (Al Pacino) trying in vain to retire from his life of crime. After writing lesser known features like "The Paper" (1994) and "The Shadow" (1994), Koepp indulged his ambition to direct with the 13-minute short, "Suspicious" (1994). Screened at film festivals and on PBS, "Suspicious" starred Janeane Garofalo as a nervous young woman who drives into a gas station late at night and finds an attendant (Michael Rooker) whose intense stares make her uncomfortable. Koepp returned to big budget Hollywood to serve as one of a number of screenwriters on De Palma's "Mission: Impossible" (1996) for producer-star Tom Cruise. Despite complaints of narrative incoherence, the film emerged as one the major summer blockbusters, grossing over $175 million domestically.

With another massive success on his resume, Koepp made his feature debut as a writer-director with "The Trigger Effect" (1996), a grimly stylized psychological thriller inspired by the BBC documentary series, "Connections" (1979-1997). Despite an abrupt and confusing ending, Koepp adeptly wove an intricate, character-driven yarn full of suspense and mysterious happenings. Meanwhile, Koepp reunited with Spielberg for the much anticipated, but ultimately disappointing sequel, "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" (1997). Koepp next penned Brian De Palma's "Snake Eyes" (1998), an energetic, but convoluted thriller about a corrupt cop (Nicolas Cage) tasked to protect the U.S. Secretary of State (Joel Fabiani), only to see him assassinated at a sports arena on his watch. Koepp stepped behind the camera once again to direct the more effective "Stir of Echoes" (1999), a supernatural thriller starring Kevin Bacon as a working class stiff whose doubts about hypnosis lead his sister-in-law (Illeana Douglas) to put him under and plant the suggestion that he be more open-minded. Instead, he becomes psychic and sees visions of a murdered woman's ghost. The movie earned its share of critical kudos, but faired poorly at the box office.

Despite hitting a few bumps along the road, Koepp remained one of the top - if not the top - screenwriter in the business. He hit pay dirt with his next feature, "Spider-Man" (2002), the Marvel Comics blockbuster that raked in over $400 million in domestic box office. Though based on a comic book and chock full of CGI effects, "Spider-Man" earned high praise for its strong storyline and character development - rare qualities for a summer action flick. After churning out pages for "The Panic Room" (2002), a tense, but paper thin thriller about a thirty-something divorcée (Jodie Forster) fending off would-be thieves from the confines of an impenetrable vault built into her New York apartment, Koepp penned the sequel, "Spider-Man 2" (2004), which once again resulted in high critical praise and ridiculous box office totals. In 2002, Koepp delved into television, creating the CBS crime-drama, "Hack" (2002-04), starring David Morse as a disgraced cop who loses everything - including his wife and son - after taking money from a crime scene. But his new job as a cabbie offers him the opportunity to help people and possibly redeem himself in the process. The show lasted a full two seasons until the network decided to scrap its Saturday night lineup.

Koepp returned to the director's chair with "Secret Window" (2004), a low-key thriller about a writer (Johnny Depp) whose pending divorce stifles his creativity. Making matters worse is a psychotic stranger (John Turturro) who demands satisfaction after accusing the writer of plagiarizing his work. Koepp's third directing effort earned middling praise and a mediocre take at the box office. Once more, Koepp joined Spielberg for an adaptation of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" (2005), starring Tom Cruise as a dockworker who does everything in his power - except jumping on sofas - to protect his children from an alien invasion. Also that year, Koepp penned the script for "Zathura" (2005), a quirky space adventure about two squabbling siblings (Josh Hutcherson and Jonah Bobo) who find a mysterious board game that suddenly propels them - and their family's house - into outer space, where they do battle with dangerous robots and menacing aliens, while trying to find away to get back home. After a couple of years off, Koepp returned to write "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (2008), becoming one of several A-list writers - including Jeffrey Boam and Frank Darabont - to pen drafts for Spielberg and producer George Lucas. Koepp's take focused on Jones (Harrison Ford) traveling to Peru during the height of the Cold War to find the legendary Crystal Skull of Akator before the Soviets, who plan on using its powers to dominate the world.

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