The talented, prolific, and in-demand screenwriter David Koepp was the mind behind many of the late-'90s and early-2000s biggest pictures. Writing for directors such as Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, Ron Howard, and Brian De Palma, Koepp was responsible for penning some of the highest-grossing films of all time. Comfortable working within any genre, Koepp takes pride in creating both character-driven pieces, like De Palma's Carlito's Way (1993) and his own Stir of Echoes (1999), and unforgettable action sequences like the T-Rex/jeep chase in Spielberg's Jurassic Park and Tom Cruise's aerial infiltration of the CIA in De Palma's Mission: Impossible (1996).
Raised in the Midwest, Koepp began writing short stories in grade school. He eventually enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied playwriting and acting (his uncle was actor Claude Akins). More impressed with Koepp's writing than his acting, a professor convinced him to move out West and take up screenwriting. Koepp transferred to the University of California at Los Angeles, and began studying screenwriting techniques and film history. After graduating in 1986, he accepted a full-time position with a film distributor that allowed him time to write at night. Then, while working as a script reader, he met actor/director Martin Donovan who asked Koepp to collaborate on what would become his first feature film.
Together with Donovan, Koepp wrote Apartment Zero (1988), a psychosexual thriller featuring Colin Firth as a shy cinephile who rents to a mysterious lodger in order to support his failing movie theater. The project turned out to be a moderate success. In the meantime, Koepp's fifth spec script, a thriller called Bad Influence (1990), had made its way around Hollywood. Universal Studios executive Casey Silver offered to produce the piece if Koepp turned it into a comedy. The screenwriter declined, and held out until director Curtis Hanson agreed to film it as is. Starring James Spader and Rob Lowe, Bad Influence tells the story of a timid financial analyst who becomes entangled with a psychopathic stranger. The final product still dazzled Casey Silver, who offered Koepp a rare and highly coveted job as a contract screenwriter on the Universal lot, which gave him access to the studio's top projects and allowed him to freelance for other companies.
Koepp went to work on Daniel Petrie Jr.'s Toy Soldiers (1991). Based on the novel by William P. Kennedy, the film features Sean Astin, Wil Wheaton, and Keith Coogan as teenagers who must defend their boarding school from Colombian terrorists. Reviewers nicknamed the picture "Red Dawn meets Dead Poets Society," but it has since become a cult favorite. Koepp then re-teamed with Martin Donovan to compose Robert Zemeckis' Death Becomes Her (1992), an inventive black comedy starring Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn, and Bruce Willis. Shortly afterward, Universal asked Koepp to co-write Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park (1994). The film -- about a theme park populated with real dinosaurs that are created from prehistoric DNA molecules -- was at the time the highest-grossing movie in history.
Despite his success in blockbusters, Koepp made his next two films more personal, people-driven dramas. In 1993, he condensed author Edwin Torres' two-part character study of a professional criminal into Brian De Palma's celebrated Carlito's Way, which stars Al Pacino in the title role. Then, in 1994, he collaborated with his brother, Stephen Koepp (a writer for Time magazine), on Ron Howard's The Paper. Called "the Best Journalism Film Ever," by Larry King, The Paper features Michael Keaton, Robert Duvall, and Glenn Close as the eccentric staff of a New York City daily newspaper.
After adapting the classic radio series The Shadow (1994), for Russell Mulcahy, Koepp tried his own hand at directing. He wrote and helmed the short film Suspicious, starring Janeane Garofalo and Michael Rooker. Based on the urban legend about a woman that had a man with an ax hiding in the back of her car, the short appeared at film festivals, on PBS, and on the SCI FI Channel. Koepp then co-wrote 1996's Mission: Impossible for De Palma before writing and directing his first feature, The Trigger Effect (1996). The film, which paid distinct homage to an episode of The Twilight Zone that starred Koepp's uncle, featured Dermot Mulroney, Kyle MacLachlan, and Elisabeth Shue as Californians coping with an unexplained national power outage.
In the late '90s, Koepp returned to Spielberg's lucrative Jurassic Park franchise to write its second installment, The Lost World (1997). This time, he even gave himself a role in the film: Making his acting debut as "Unlucky Bastard," Koepp is gobbled by a Tyrannosaurus Rex that takes over San Diego. Though he earned 1.5 million dollars for his efforts on the sequel, Koepp chose not to be part of Jurassic Park III (2001). After penning Snake Eyes (1998), his third screenplay for Brian De Palma, Koepp directed his second feature film, Stir of Echoes (1999). Based on pulp writer Richard Matheson's novel (which Koepp discovered while rummaging through a used book store), the psychological thriller follows a telephone lineman (Kevin Bacon) who begins to see ghosts after he is hypnotized at a party. Produced by Artisan Entertainment and shot on location in Chicago, the haunting, low-budget film was a minor hit.
The new millennium saw Koepp returning to blockbusters. His spec script for David Fincher's Panic Room (2002) sold in a major bidding war to Columbia Pictures for four million dollars. Starring Jodie Foster as a woman trapped in the "panic room" of a New York City town house that is infiltrated by burglars, the much-hyped film broke box-office records in its opening weekend. Columbia also tapped Koepp to write its highly anticipated big-screen adaptation of Marvel Comics' biggest franchise, Spider-Man (2002). Directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire, Koepp remained the only credited screenwriter on the film, which was based on a treatment by James Cameron. Also in 2002, he sold his original script, The Superconducting Supercollider of Sparkle Creek (co-written with John Kamps), to Disney and planned on not only writing but directing the adaptation of Stephen King's novella Secret Window, Secret Garden. He also developed the CBS show Hack -- about a cop-turned-taxi driver -- for the network's Fall 2002 lineup, and made his second onscreen appearance in Barry Sonnenfeld's Big Trouble (2002).
~ Aubry Anne D'Arminio, All Movie Guide