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Ken Kwapis

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Ken Kwapis
Kwapis in Los Angeles in 2008.
Kenneth William Kwapis

(1957-08-17) August 17, 1957 (age 66)
EducationNorthwestern University, University of Southern California
Occupation(s)Film and television director, screenwriter, author
Years active1983–present
Notable work
SpouseMarisa Silver

Kenneth William Kwapis (born August 17, 1957) is an American film and television director, screenwriter, and author. He specialized in single-camera sitcoms in the 1990s and 2000s and has directed feature films such as Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird (1985), The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005), and He's Just Not That Into You (2009).[1]

Personal life[edit]

Kwapis was born in East St. Louis, Illinois, and grew up in neighboring Belleville.[2] He is the son of Marge (née 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 at 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 author and film director Marisa Silver, with whom he has two sons: Henry and Oliver.[9][10][11]



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, Cookie Monster, Grover, Bert and Ernie, et al.). Follow That Bird tells the story of Big Bird's quest to return to his family on Sesame Street when a social worker arranges for Big Bird to move in with a family of his own kind, the Dodo Birds, in Oceanview, Illinois.[12]

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. Silver gave the film its title, based on a phrase that has been used to mean either "cross-gender discourse" or "testimony in direct conflict."[13]

Kwapis then moved into series television, directing the pilot of HBO's comedy The Larry Sanders Show, which influenced many subsequent shows.[14] 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 cult following show Freaks and Geeks.


In the first decade of the 2000s, Kwapis directed nineteen episodes of Fox's Malcolm in the Middle, earning a Primetime Emmy Award 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 was instrumental in adapting the BBC mockumentary, The Office, for American television under the same title, for NBC. He directed the pilot and had a significant impact on the look of the entire program—including the iconic set design.[15] Showrunner Greg Daniels, production designer Donald Lee Harris, and he developed an open floor plan that allowed camera operators to catch characters "unaware". And they purposely created an office layout with immovable walls to emphasize its airless, claustrophobic atmosphere.[15] Kwapis went on to direct 13 additional episodes, including the 100th episode of the series, "Company Picnic", and the series finale. His work on the third-season premiere, "Gay Witch Hunt", earned him a second Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series.

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.[16] 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 U.S. 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. It made its debut on Showtime in April 2015 and, in addition to producing, Kwapis directed four of its episodes.[17]

In 2014, 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.

Kwapis returned to single-camera half-hour comedy in 2016 and directed four episodes of Tig Notaro's semi-autobiographical Internet television series, One Mississippi—two per season in 2016 and 2017.[18] The show was produced by Amazon Studios.[19] For Netflix, he has directed episodes of Santa Clarita Diet, a comedy starring and produced by Drew Barrymore and first released February 3, 2017.[20]


In April 2020, Netflix released the first season of the show #BlackAF, created by and starring Kenya Barris, three episodes of which were directed by Kwapis.[21]

Kwapis was a guest on the July 15, 2020 episode of the podcast Office Ladies, hosted by The Office stars Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey, to discuss his work on The Office and, specifically, the season two finale, Casino Night, which he directed.[22]

An autobiographical memoir of Kwapis' career in film and television—But What I Really Want to do is Direct—was released October 6, 2020 by St. Martin's Griffin.[23][24] An excerpt was published in The Los Angeles Review of Books[25] and Entertainment Weekly and the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch featured interviews with Kwapis about it.[26][11] Film academic David Bordwell favorably reviewed it, saying, the book "...ranks with Sidney Lumet's Making Movies and Alexander Mackendrick's On Film-Making, the most acute personal reflections on Hollywood directing."[27] Kwapis has used his book as the premise for master classes at the Sundance Institute and the St. Louis International Film Festival.[28][29]

Producer Greg Daniels and actor/producer Steve Carell, both of whom worked with Kwapis on The Office, hired him to direct all seven episodes of season two of Space Force, which was released by Netflix on February 18, 2022. Producer Daniels explained that they refocused the tone and emphases of the show for the second season and that they had brought Kwapis in to help achieve that goal.[30][31][32]




Year Title Director Producer Notes
1983 CBS Afternoon Playhouse Yes No Episode "Revenge of the Nerds"
1984 ABC Afterschool Special Yes No Episode "Summer Switch"
1987 Amazing Stories Yes No Episode "Lane Change"
1992 Eerie, Indiana Yes No 2 episodes
1992–1993 The Larry Sanders Show Yes No 12 episodes
1993 Route 66 Yes No Episode "The Stolen Bride"
Bakersfield P.D. Yes No 3 episodes
1998 The Wonderful World of Disney Yes No Episode "Noah"
1999–2000 Freaks and Geeks Yes No 2 episodes
ER Yes No 2 episodes
2000–2004 Malcolm in the Middle Yes Yes 19 episodes
2001 Grounded for Life Yes No 4 episodes
2001–2006 The Bernie Mac Show Yes Yes 11 episodes
2002 Watching Ellie Yes Yes 3 episodes
2003 About a Boy Yes No Unsold pilot
2005–2013 The Office Yes Executive 13 episodes
2010 Parks and Recreation Yes No Episode "Galentine's Day"
2010–2011 Outsourced Yes Executive 2 episodes
2015 Happyish Yes Executive 4 episodes
2016–2017 One Mississippi Yes No 4 episodes
2017–2019 Santa Clarita Diet Yes No 5 episodes
2018 The Dangerous Book for Boys Yes No Episode "How to Build a Treehouse"
2020 #BlackAF Yes No 3 episodes
2022 Space Force Yes No 7 episodes


  1. ^ Longwell, Todd (February 2, 2006). "Big 'Mac'". Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on May 13, 2006. Retrieved March 15, 2006.
  2. ^ Anderson, Carla Keller (April 29, 2005). "Before they were stars..." Belleville News-Democrat. Archived from the original on October 28, 2005. Retrieved March 15, 2006.
  3. ^ "ABOUT KEN KWAPIS". Belleville News-Democrat. February 8, 2009.
  4. ^ "Our War: Korea ... Belleville surgeon Dr. Bruno Kwapis rebuilt faces of war | Belleville News-Democrat". Bnd.com. September 19, 2010. Retrieved April 4, 2017.
  5. ^ "Bruno W. Kwapis Obituary: View Bruno Kwapis's Obituary by Belleville News-Democrat". Legacy.com. Retrieved April 4, 2017.
  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. Archived from the original on September 15, 2007.
  8. ^ "Notable Alumni". USC School of Cinema-Television. Archived from the original on February 16, 2006. Retrieved March 15, 2006.
  9. ^ Rochlin, Margy (January 30, 2009). "Keeping Things Human Size, Despite the Stars". The New York Times. Retrieved November 18, 2011.
  10. ^ Alger, Derek (July 1, 2010). "Marisa Silver". Pif Magazine.
  11. ^ a b Pennington, Gail (October 2, 2020). "Ken Kwapis, who got 'The Office' off the ground, has advice for aspiring directors". Post-Dispatch. Retrieved October 7, 2020.
  12. ^ Follow That Bird (1985) - Plot - IMDb, retrieved August 13, 2023
  13. ^ Safire, William (April 12, 1998). "On Language; He-Said, She-Said". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 5, 2024.
  14. ^ Cheadle, Harry (March 1, 2011). "Your Favorite Comedy Exists Because of 'The Larry Sanders Show'". Vulture. Retrieved March 5, 2022.
  15. ^ a b Glassman, Thea (March 19, 2020). "How the Remarkably Unremarkable World of Dunder Mifflin Was Built". Architectural Digest. Retrieved March 8, 2022.
  16. ^ "Director Ken Kwapis hunts 'Whales'". Archived from the original on June 9, 2009.
  17. ^ Friedlander, Whitney (July 24, 2015). "Showtime Cancels 'Happyish' After One Season". Variety. Retrieved November 2, 2016.
  18. ^ "Ken Kwapis - IMDb". imdb.com. August 17, 1957. Retrieved September 21, 2017.
  19. ^ Andreeva, Dominic Patten, Nellie (January 18, 2018). "'One Mississippi', 'I Love Dick' & 'Jean-Claude Van Johnson' Canceled By Amazon". Deadline. Retrieved January 18, 2018.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  20. ^ "Ken Kwapis". TV Guide. Retrieved May 17, 2017.
  21. ^ "#BlackAF Full Cast and Crew". IMDB. Retrieved July 30, 2020.
  22. ^ "Episode 36: Casino Night Revisited with Ken Kwapis". Office Ladies. July 15, 2020. Retrieved July 30, 2020.
  23. ^ Kwapis, Ken (2020). But What I Really Want to do is Direct: Lessons from a Life Behind the Camera (First ed.). New York, NY: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 978-1-250-26012-3. OCLC 1130362898.
  24. ^ "But What I Really Want To Do Is Direct - Official Website". But What I Really Want To Do Is Direct. Retrieved September 1, 2020.
  25. ^ Kwapis, Ken (October 5, 2020). "Hal's Ready for His Close-up: An Excerpt from But What I Really Want to Do Is Direct". {{cite magazine}}: Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  26. ^ Sanchez, Omar (October 6, 2020). "'The Office' director Ken Kwapis on creating a non-toxic set: 'It's honestly not that hard'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved October 6, 2020.
  27. ^ Bordwell, David (May 30, 2021). "Five Critics, One of Them a Killer". Observations on Film Art. Retrieved June 2, 2021.
  28. ^ "Master Class Archive: Lessons from a Life Behind the Camera with Ken Kwapis". Sundance Institute. Retrieved June 27, 2022.
  29. ^ Gabe, Sheets (November 13, 2020). "SLIFF Interview: Director Ken Kwapis - Master Class Class Subject November 14th". We Are Movie Geeks. Retrieved June 27, 2022.
  30. ^ Weintraub, Steve (January 27, 2022). "Exclusive: 'Space Force' Creator Greg Daniels on How They Refocused the Show in Season 2 and Why They Brought in Director Ken Kwapis". Collider. Retrieved March 2, 2022.
  31. ^ Miller, Liz Shannon (February 26, 2022). "'Space Force' Director Ken Kwapis on Making Changes For Season 2". Consequence. Retrieved March 2, 2022.
  32. ^ Darwish, Meaghan (February 17, 2022). "'Space Force' Season 2 Director Ken Kwapis on Reuniting With 'The Office' Team". TV Insider. Retrieved March 2, 2022.

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