Lawrence Kasdan: From Advertising to Becoming One of the Most Successful Filmmaker of the 21st Century

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Lawrence Edward Kasdan (born January 14, 1949) is an American director, screenwriter, and producer. He is the co-writer of the 1980 movie Star Wars films The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi (1983), The Force Awakens (2015), and Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018). Kasdan also co-wrote the 1981 Indiana Jones film Raiders of the Lost Ark, and he is the writer-director of Body Heat (1981), The Big Chill (1983), The Accidental Tourist (1988), and Dreamcatcher (2004). 

Kasdan is famous for updating old Hollywood genres—film noir, science-fiction, westerns—in a classical dramatic style with quick-witted dialogue while at the same time dealing with contemporary social themes. As a director, Kasdan has made various personal films that examine characters and generations.

In recognition of his work as a screenwriter, film producer, and director, Kasdan has been nominated on four different occasions for the Academy Awards: as a producer for Best Picture nominee The Accidental Tourist, for which he was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Screenplay for both The Big Chill and Grand Canyon (1991). 

For most of his filmmaking career, Kasdan has often collaborated with his wife, Meg Kasdan, his brother, Mark Kasdan, and his two sons: Jonathan Kasdan and Jake Kasdan. He frequently casts Kevin Kline and William Hurt in his films.

After his initial search for a teaching position had returned empty, filmmaking for Kasdan began after he took a job as an advertising copywriter at the W.B. Doner agency in Detroit.

Although advertising was a profession he didn’t enjoy, he found success regardless; he won a Clio Award for his first TV commercial, as well as an award from The One Show. His supervisor, Jim Dale, remembered Kasdan “always said he was better at writing for TV than for print, and that was certainly prophetic.” Kasdan described his five years in advertising as “hellacious,” and he persisted in writing screenplays every day after work.

To his credit as a film producer, Kasdan has produced several films beyond those he directed, such as, 1987 movie Cross My Heart, Immediate Family in 1989—which was written by co-writer on The Big Chill, Barbara Benedek—Jumpin’ at the Boneyard in 1991, Home Fries in 1998, The TV Set (2006)—written and directed by his son, Jake Kasdan—and In the Land of Women (2007), which was written and directed by Jonathan Kasdan, also his son.

Kasdan has made several cameo appearances in his films: as River Phoenix’s lawyer in I Love You to Death, as a director in Grand Canyon, as a gambler in Wyatt Earp, and as a man walking a dog in Darling Companion. He played Jack Nicholson’s psychiatrist in As Good as It Gets (1997), directed by James L. Brooks.

In terms of recognition, in addition to his four Oscar nominations, Kasdan was a recipient of the Austin Film Festival’s Distinguished Screenwriter Award in 2001 and the Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement from the Writers Guild of America in 2006. He has three honorary doctorates: Humane Letters from the University of Michigan (1983) and West Virginia University (1999), and Fine Arts from the American Film Institute (2015). On May 22, 2016, he was honored by the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival and ArtsATL.org as the inaugural recipient of their ICON Award for Contributions to the Cinematic Arts in a ceremony held at the Woodruff Arts Center.

Kasdan has been married to Meg Kasdan (née Mary Ellen Goldman) since November 28, 1971. They met at the University of Michigan, where they were both English majors. Their two sons, Jake and Jonathan Kasdan, are involved in the film as actors, writers, producers, and directors and have frequently worked on Kasden’s movies over the years. He has three grandchildren.

Learn more about Lawrence via his IMDB Profile

Sources:

https://www.nytimes.com/1981/11/01/movies/how-he-became-hollywood-s-hot-writer.html

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lawrence-Kasdan

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