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Ken Kwapis

Ken Kwapis
Born Kenneth William Kwapis
(1957-08-17) August 17, 1957
East St. Louis, Illinois
Residence Los Angeles, California
Occupation Film and television director and screenwriter
Spouse(s) Marisa Silver

Kenneth William “Ken” Kwapis (born August 17, 1957) is an American film and television director and screenwriter. He specialized in the single-camera sitcom in the 1990s and 2000s and has directed feature films such as Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and He's Just Not That Into You.[1]


  • Personal life 1
  • Career 2
    • 1980s 2.1
    • 1990s 2.2
    • 2000s 2.3
    • 2010s 2.4
  • Filmography 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Personal life

Kwapis was born in East St. Louis, Illinois, and grew up in neighboring Belleville.[2] He is the son of Marge (Wells) and Bruno Walter Kwapis, who was an oral surgeon.[3][4][5] He is of Polish descent[6] and was raised Catholic,[7] attending the Jesuit preparatory academy St. Louis University High School. He earned a Bachelor's degree at Northwestern University's School of Speech, after which he traveled west to enroll in the M.F.A. program at the USC School of Cinema-Television.[8] Kwapis' twenty-four minute thesis film, For Heaven's Sake, won the Student Academy Award in 1982. The film is a contemporary adaptation of Mozart's one-act opera Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario).

Kwapis is married to Marisa Silver, with whom he has two sons.[9][10]



In 1983, Kwapis directed Revenge of the Nerd for CBS' Afternoon Playhouse, followed by Summer Switch for ABC's Afterschool Special. Starring Robert Klein, Summer Switch is an adaptation of the novel of the same name, the sequel to a young adult fantasy, Freaky Friday. For the Scholastic Book Company, Kwapis directed his first feature film The Beniker Gang, starring Andrew McCarthy.

Kwapis' next film was Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird (Warner Bros., 1985). The film was the big-screen debut of the Sesame Street ensemble (Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, The Count, Bert & Ernie, et al.). Follow That Bird tells the story of Big Bird's quest to live with a family of his own kind; namely, birds. A social worker arranges for Big Bird to move in with a family of Dodo Birds in Oceanview, Illinois.

In 1987, Kwapis made his prime time television debut, directing an installment of Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories.

Kwapis' second feature Vibes (Columbia, 1988) was made under Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's fledgling Imagine banner. Written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, Vibes is the tale of two psychics (Jeff Goldblum and Cyndi Lauper) who are enlisted by a fortune hunter (Peter Falk) to divine the whereabouts of a treasure hidden in the Andes. The film was shot on location in Ecuador, and features a pan pipe-flavored score by James Horner.


Kwapis began the 1990s with a feature-film project, He Said, She Said (Paramount, 1991)—co-directed by his now-wife Marisa Silver. The film, written by Brian Hohlfeld, is a romantic comedy in which the same events are recounted twice—once from each partner's point of view. The woman's (Elizabeth Perkins) portion of the film was directed by Silver and the man's (Kevin Bacon) by Kwapis. The film also features Sharon Stone and Nathan Lane. Soon after the release of He Said, She Said, the film's title (coined by Silver) entered the vernacular as shorthand for any situation involving "testimony in direct conflict".[11]

Kwapis then moved into series television, directing the pilot of HBO's comedy The Larry Sanders Show. He directed twelve episodes of the series.

Kwapis also contributed two episodes to the sci-fi series Eerie, Indiana.

Kwapis' fourth feature, Dunston Checks In (Twentieth Century Fox, 1996), stars Jason Alexander as the manager of a grand hotel in New York City, which is owned and operated by a tyrant in the Leona Helmsley mold (Faye Dunaway). An aristocrat of dubious origin (Rupert Everett) checks into the hotel with an orangutan jewel thief.

Kwapis' next film, The Beautician and the Beast (Paramount, 1997), evokes the Ruritanian comedies of Ernst Lubitsch. Fran Drescher plays a New York cosmetologist who is mistakenly hired to tutor the children of the despotic president of Slovetzia (Timothy Dalton).

In the late 1990s, Kwapis directed two episodes of NBC's short-lived Freaks and Geeks and nineteen episodes of Fox's Malcolm in the Middle, winning an Emmy nomination for his work as a producer-director.


In 2001, Kwapis helped develop The Bernie Mac Show for Fox, directing the pilot and ten additional episodes, including the series finale, "Bernie's Angels". Also for Fox, Kwapis was one of the main creative forces behind Grounded for Life, a hybrid comedy combining single- and multi-camera techniques. Kwapis experimented with the form even further in the pilot of Watching Ellie, Julia Louis-Dreyfus' follow-up to Seinfeld. The distinctive pilot has a story that unfolds in real time, with an on-screen clock. Playing the role of Ellie's ex-boyfriend is Steve Carell, with whom Kwapis would shortly collaborate on his next major project.

In 2005, Kwapis worked on The Office which was an adaptation of the BBC mockumentary of the same name. He directed the pilot and twelve additional episodes, including the 100th episode of the series, "Company Picnic". His work on the third season premiere, "Gay Witch Hunt" earned him a second Emmy nomination. He also directed the series finale.

For Showtime Independent Pictures, Kwapis wrote and directed Sexual Life (2005), loosely based on Arthur Schnitzler's satiric story taking place in fin-de-siècle Vienna, La Ronde.

Kwapis' next feature was another adaptation, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Warner Bros., 2006), based on the bestselling young adult novel by Ann Brashares. Sisterhood, a coming-of-age story about four sixteen-year-old friends, stars Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel, America Ferrera, and Blake Lively (her screen debut).

His next feature, License to Wed (Warner Bros., 2007), follows a young couple (Mandy Moore and John Krasinski), as they embark upon an unorthodox pre-marital course, devised by a highly mischievous and somewhat perverse minister (Robin Williams). Designed to determine their compatibility, the course compresses the first ten years of marriage into one week.

Kwapis' follow-up was another look at romantic entanglements, He's Just Not That Into You (New Line Cinema, 2009). The film is adapted from the bestselling advice book by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, which encouraged people to learn to read romantic signals correctly. The film stars Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly, Kevin Connolly, Bradley Cooper, Ginnifer Goodwin, Scarlett Johansson, and Justin Long.


Kwapis launched his seventh series and directed his tenth feature film in 2010. He was the executive producer and director of the pilot of Outsourced, a half-hour comedy for NBC. Adapted from the 2006 feature film of the same name, Outsourced tells the story of a Kansas City-based novelties company that ships all of its customer service jobs to India. The one American employee not to be fired, Todd Dempsey (Ben Rappaport), goes to Mumbai to oversee the call center.

For Working Title Films, and Universal Pictures, Kwapis directed the rescue adventure Big Miracle, starring Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski.[12] Based on a real event that took place in 1988, the film tells the tale of a small town newsman (Krasinski) and a Greenpeace volunteer (Barrymore) who are joined by rival world superpowers to save a family of gray whales trapped in the ice of the Arctic Ocean. The film was shot during fall 2010 in Alaska and released in 2012.

In 2013, nine years after bringing the pilot to US television, Kwapis directed the series finale of The Office. He also produced the half-hour Showtime pilot Happyish, written by Shalom Auslander and starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. The project stalled after Hoffman's death, but was eventually recast with Steve Coogan and made its debut on Showtime in April of 2015.

Most recently, Kwapis directed the feature film A Walk In The Woods, based on the bestselling travel memoir by Bill Bryson. The film stars Robert Redford and Nick Nolte as two old friends who decide to walk the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail. The film, which was co-produced by Redford, also stars Emma Thompson and Mary Steenburgen, and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2015. A Walk In The Woods was released by Broad Green on September 2, 2015.



  1. ^ Longwell, Todd (2 February 2006). "'"Big 'Mac. Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 2006-05-13. Retrieved 2006-03-15. 
  2. ^ Anderson, Carla Keller (29 April 2005). "Before they were stars...". Belleville News-Democrat. Archived from the original on 2005-10-28. Retrieved 2006-03-15. 
  3. ^ "ABOUT KEN KWAPIS". Belleville News-Democrat. February 8, 2009. 
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Kasindorf, Martin (February 17, 1991). "What They're Saying He Said, She Said' chronicles the war of the sexes from both sides. Guess What: The viewpoints differ". Newsday. 
  7. ^ Grove, Martin A. (June 20, 2007). "Sick of fantasies? 'Wed' offers return to reality". The Hollywood Reporter. 
  8. ^ "Notable Alumni". USC School of Cinema-Television. Archived from the original on 2006-02-16. Retrieved 2006-03-15. 
  9. ^ Rochlin, Margy (January 30, 2009). "Keeping Things Human Size, Despite the Stars".  
  10. ^ Alger, Derek (July 1, 2010). "Marisa Silver". Pif Magazine. 
  11. ^ For the etymology of the phrase, "He said, she said", see William Safire, "On Language; He-Said, She-Said", .
  12. ^ 

External links

  • Ken Kwapis at the Internet Movie Database
  • Ray Pride, "Where have the Grown-ups Gone?", Pride Unprejudiced, 28 June 2005, . An interview with Kwapis.
  • Madelyn Ritrosky-Winslow, "Ken Kwapis's Sexual Life – His Film, That Is", Entertainment Magazine, Overview of Sexual Life and Kwapis' work in 2005.
  • Margy Rochlin, "Keeping Things Human Size, Despite the Stars", The New York Times, January 20, 2009, Profile of Kwapis.
  • Geetika Tandon Lizardi, "Don't hate 'Outsourced'", LA Times, March 21, 2011,,0,885246.story
  • Kim Masters, "NBC's controversial 'Outsourced' and directing TV pilots", "KCRW", September 13, 2010,
  • Ken Kwapis, "Office Work", DGA Quarterly, Summer 2013,
  • "Follow that Bird is indelibly tragic", "AV Club",
  • Odie Henderson, "30 Years of Road-Tripping: "Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird", "Movie Mezzanine",
  • Ben Travers, "Consider This: 'Happyish' Director Ken Kwapis on the 'Bold' Choice to Question God in a Half-Hour Comedy", "Indiewire",
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