Screenwriting And Filmmaking Education
A lone velociraptor stands poised, ready to attack. Encased in a glass box, this model raptor is the only overt piece of memorabilia from one of his own films that he displays in his office. And David Koepp refuses to have his picture taken with it. "I've had my picture taken with dinosaurs too many times," Koepp, the screenwriter for the blockbusters "Jurassic Park" and "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," explains.
Koepp, 34, is the latest UCLA screenwriting alum to make it big in Hollywood and then return to teach the art. "I went into screenwriting because I couldn't make it as an actor," jokes the writer as he relaxes in his office suite's dining area, listening to Portishead. Originally from Wisconsin, Koepp was enrolled in the playwriting program at the University of Wisconsin when a professor suggested a change of pace. "All the plays I wrote had about 37 scenes in them," he says. "So a professor suggested that I enroll in a screenwriting program at any of the film schools in California."
Koepp's experience at UCLA and pre-professional screenwriting career can apparently be summed up in one short sentence. "I wrote all the time, at school, at home, at night, at work, when my boss was out of town," he says. One of those scripts Koepp was constantly working on was called "Bad Influence." Soon after graduating from UCLA, Koepp sold the script, which got his foot in the door in Hollywood. He must have done something right since then, because a dozen scripts later, he's still going strong.
"I've had a good percentage of screenplays produced," Koepp notes. "Though I can't think of a time when I wasn't disappointed with a script. I like my stuff, but if you don't have a critical eye, then you end up writing something that's not your best work."
His latest film, called "Snake Eyes," is a mystery/suspense centering around an assassination at a boxing match in Atlantic City. The film stars Nicolas Cage and Gary Sinise, and is directed by Brian De Palma. "The film takes place in real time," Koepp explains. "There's a cop who's interviewing different witnesses to the same event, so you get to see the same incident from different perspectives." Koepp serves as one of the producers on "Snake Eyes." This isn't the first time the writer has had a dual role on one of his films; he also wrote and directed "The Trigger Effect" in 2006.
"Any screenwriter who says that they have no intention of directing is lying," Koepp says. "It's very tempting to direct because then you're the one in charge of the interpretation." It's easy to understand how Koepp could reach this conclusion, since he admits that it is often "boring" being on the set with nothing to do. "You end up doing a lot of unnecessary rewriting" when the screenwriter is on the set," he says.
Having worked with an almost unfair number of A-list directors (including De Palma, Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis), Koepp concedes that most of the films made from his scripts turned out better than they would have if he had been in the director's chair. Still, that desire to interpret the story every step of the way is powerful; Koepp is slated to direct another film this fall.