David Koepp

Biography: This young Midwesterner has emerged as one of the most successful screenwriters of mainstream 1990s Hollywood genre movies. Initially interested in acting, Koepp began writing plays as an undergraduate in his native Wisconsin. A viewing of Steven Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) inspired him to segue to screenwriting. Taking the advice of a writing professor, Koepp transferred to UCLA to study film history and screenwriting. While working as a script reader, he impressed the Argentine actor-turned-director Martin Donovan, who asked the then 23-year-old Koepp to collaborate on a project for an Italian producer. The result was "Apartment Zero" (1988), a dark psychodrama about a nervously repressed cinephile who rents a room to a mysterious young charmer suspected in a series of murders.
Koepp's first solo writing credit was the independently produced "Bad Influence" (1990), a story of a nice yuppie (James Spader) menaced by a psychopathic hanger-on (Rob Lowe). Prior
This young Midwesterner has emerged as one of the most successful screenwriters of mainstream 1990s Hollywood genre movies. Initially interested in acting, Koepp began writing plays as an undergraduate in his native Wisconsin. A viewing of Steven Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) inspired him to segue to screenwriting. Taking the advice of a writing professor, Koepp transferred to UCLA to study film history and screenwriting. While working as a script reader, he impressed the Argentine actor-turned-director Martin Donovan, who asked the then 23-year-old Koepp to collaborate on a project for an Italian producer. The result was "Apartment Zero" (1988), a dark psychodrama about a nervously repressed cinephile who rents a room to a mysterious young charmer suspected in a series of murders.
Koepp's first solo writing credit was the independently produced "Bad Influence" (1990), a story of a nice yuppie (James Spader) menaced by a psychopathic hanger-on (Rob Lowe). Prior to this production, the neophyte writer boldly turned down an offer from Universal exec Casey Silver who offered to buy and produce "Bad Influence", Koepp's fifth spec script, as a comedy. Impressed by both the finished product and the young writer's moxie, Silver, by then president of Universal Pictures, offered Koepp a regular paycheck as an "on-the-lot" contract screenwriter. Koepp accepted and, over the next four years, earned screenwriter credits on "Death Becomes Her" (1992), "Jurassic Park" and "Carlito's Way" (both 1993), and "The Paper" and "The Shadow" (both 1994).

Robert Zemeckis' "Death Becomes Her", a special effects-laden black comedy starring Goldie Hawn, Meryl Streep, and Bruce Willis, marked Koepp's rejoining Donovan as screenwriters. Far more momentous was his collaboration with Michael Crichton on the script the sci-fi spectacular, "Jurassic Park", for Steven Spielberg. This unprecedented box-office success catapulted Koepp to the A-list even if detractors found his screenplay deficient on a human level. Later that year, he followed up with another high-profile adaptation, "Carlito's Way", a socially conscious gangster movie for Brian De Palma. Generally perceived as an inferior retread of the previous De Palma-Al Pacino salsa-flavored gangster opus "Scarface" (1983), the film fizzled commercially.

On his own, Koepp first indulged his hunger to direct (as well as script) with a short entitled "Suspicious" (1994). Screened at film festivals and on PBS, the 13-minute film 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 subsequently provided the story and served 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 modestly budgeted ($8 million), grimly stylized think-piece in the Rod Serling tradition. The film, which opened to mixed reviews, depicted the psychological effects of an unexplained power outage on three characters in southern California played by Kyle MacLachlan, Elisabeth Shue and Dermot Mulroney. Rejoining Spielberg, Koepp penned the script for the much anticipated sequel "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" (1997). Koepp also kept his directing chops fine-tuned by helming second unit.

Koepp put pen to paper for Brian De Palma’s energetic, but convoluted thriller, “Snake Eyes” (1998), starring a flamboyant Nicolas Cage as a corrupt cop assigned to protect the U.S. Secretary of State, only to see the cabinet official killed by an assassin’s bullet on his watch. The movie, however, was more notable for its opening 15 minutes—a brilliant steadicam shot that wound its way through an arena before a boxing match. Koepp stepped behind the camera for his next film, directing 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. He becomes psychic instead and sees visions of a murdered woman’s ghost. The movie earned its share of critical kudos, but faired poorly at the box office.

Koepp 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; acclaim, however, that was largely heaped upon director Sam Rami. After churning out pages for “The Panic Room” (2002)—a tense, but thin thriller about a thirty-something divorcée (Jodie Forster) fending off would-be thieves from the confines an impenetrable vault built into her New York apartment—Koepp penned the sequel, “Spider-Man 2” (2004), which resulted in much of the same as the first installment: high critical praise and ungodly sums at the box office.

In 2002, Koepp tried his hand at television, creating the CBS crime-drama, “Hack” (2002-2004), starring David Morse as a disgraced cop who loses everything—including his wife and son—after taking money from a crime scene. His new job as a cabbie, however, 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 rejoined Spielberg yet again for the adaptation of “War of the Worlds” (2005), starring Tom Cruise as a dockworker who does everything possible—sans jumping on sofas—to protect his children from an alien invasion.
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David Koepp's Scores

  • Movies
  • TV
Average career score: 62
Highest Metascore: 73 Spider-Man
Lowest Metascore: 46 Secret Window
Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 9 out of 16
  2. Negative: 0 out of 16
16 movie reviews

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