Rob Cohen, the renowned filmmaker behind such blockbuster hits as The Fast and the Furious, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, xXx, and Alex Cross has been named the Spring 2016 Marion Knott Filmmaker-in-Residence at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, recognized as one of the premier film schools in the United States. The announcement was made today by Dodge College Dean Bob Bassett.
Every semester, Dodge College hosts an expert filmmaker to meet with and counsel 10 selected scholars, as part of its Filmmaker-in-Residence program. The popular program includes regular, bi-weekly meetings with the filmmaker in a one-on-one setting where the student and mentor have the opportunity to creatively develop a specific project throughout the semester. In addition, the filmmaker interacts with the larger Dodge College community at weekly dinners open to students and screenings of the filmmaker’s films followed by an in-class Q & A led by professor and producer Alex Rose (The Other Sister, Overboard, Norma Rae).
“As a filmmaker who started in the business as an executive, then became a producer and is now one of America’s most versatile directors, Rob has a broad vision that he can share with students,” says Dean Bob Bassett. “His particular expertise in the action genre and his work in cutting-edge film technology are particularly compelling to the next generation of young filmmakers.”
Combining nearly three decades of motion picture experience, Cohen is well-known for his full-throttle action sequences, exemplified in his most notable work, including Universal Pictures’ The Fast and the Furious and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Sony Pictures’ xXx and Summit Entertainment’s Alex Cross, proving that Cohen is often on the cutting edge of cultural (pop and otherwise) and technological developments. Cohen’s films as both producer and director have swept across a wide range of topics and backdrops, revealing a filmmaker constantly in search of broadening his cinematic horizons. Cohen is currently in pre-production on the action-thriller Risk.
In 2000, Universal Pictures released Cohen’s provocative thriller The Skulls, which revealed the machinations of Ivy League secret societies. The film starred Joshua Jackson, Paul Walker and Leslie Bibb. His critically acclaimed The Rat Pack, an HBO television movie that starred Ray Liotta as Frank Sinatra, Joe Mantegna as Dean Martin and Don Cheadle as Sammy Davis, Jr., chronicled an entire era as it told the story of Hollywood and Las Vegas’ most famous swingers in their heyday. The Rat Pack received 11 Emmy Award nominations (winning three), won Cheadle a Golden Globe Award and earned Cohen a Directors Guild of America nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television and Miniseries.
Cohen’s debut film, A Small Circle of Friends, starred the late Brad Davis and Karen Allen in a romance set against the political turmoil of late-1960s Harvard University (Cohen’s alma mater). Heralded by both critics and audiences, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, both written and directed by Cohen, humanized the legendary Hong Kong-born action hero for new generations and made stars of both Jason Scott Lee and Lauren Holly.
In 1996, visual effects made a quantum leap in Dragonheart, Cohen’s epic fable of an unlikely alliance between a knight (Dennis Quaid) and a fierce but noble dragon endowed with the powers of speech (voiced by Sean Connery). Cohen was intricately involved with both the design of the massive creature and implementation of the state-of-the-art effects from Industrial Light & Magic, the first time a major motion-picture character was fully rendered digitally. The film garnered a Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film and a nomination for an Academy Award® for Best Visual Effects.
Born in New York, Cohen attended Harvard University and began his career in film during his sophomore year when he assisted director Daniel Petrie in making Silent Night, Lonely Night, an NBC made-for-television movie. After graduation, Cohen moved to Los Angeles, where as a reader for International Famous Agency (IFA), he discovered the now-classic The Sting. He left IFA for 20th Century Fox Television and quickly acquired the title director of television movies, developing such projects as Mrs. Sundance and Stowaway to the Moon. Pursuing his desire to expand into feature films, Cohen joined Motown as an EVP of the motion picture division while still in his early twenties. There he produced and executive produced some key entries in 1970s cinema, several of them antidotes for the “blaxploitation” films of the era, such as The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, which starred Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones and Richard Pryor, and the television movie Scott Joplin, which also starred Williams, telling the story of the great early 20th-century ragtime pianist and composer. Mahogany and The Wiz were both produced by Cohen and starred Diana Ross. The former was a romantic drama set against the world of high fashion; the latter a screen adaptation of the smash-hit Broadway musical. The Wiz received the NAACP Image Award for Best Picture.
At Motown, Cohen also produced Thank God It’s Friday, the decade’s quintessential disco movie. The film featured superstar diva Donna Summer and young talents, such as Jeff Goldblum, Debra Winger and Terri Nunn (who later became the lead singer of the music group Berlin), at early stages of their careers.
Cohen’s television directorial credits include a Primetime Emmy-nominated episode of Miami Vice, as well as segments of the series thirtysomething, Hooperman, A Year in the Life and Private Eye. He also created, wrote and executive produced the series Vanishing Son, notable for being one of the very few to focus on Asian characters with Asian actors filling all of those roles. Vanishing Son won two MANAA (Media Action Network for Asian Americans) Awards for its positive portrayal of Asians in media, one for the program itself and another for star Russell Wong.
Past notable Filmmakers-in-Residence at Chapman have included Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Academy Award®-winning producer Cathy Schulman (Crash, The Illusionist, Salvation Boulevard), Academy Award®-nominated producer JoAnne Sellar (There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights, Magnolia), award-winning director Donald Petrie (Miss Congeniality, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Grumpy Old Men, Mystic Pizza), Hollywood producer Cathleen Summers (The Sandlot, Stakeout, Another Stakeout), director and producer Betty Thomas (Dr. Doolittle, Private Parts, Brady Bunch Movie, I Spy), screenwriter and producer Leslie Dixon (Mrs. Doubtfire, Hairspray, Limitless), director and producer Jonathan Sanger (Vanilla Sky, The Elephant Man, The Producers), director Sheldon Epps (Friends, Frasier), producer Michael Phillips (Taxi Driver, Close Encounters of the Third Kind), director Martha Coolidge (Real Genius, Rambling Rose, Valley Girl), and film and TV producer Gary Foster (Daredevil, Sleepless in Seattle, Ghost Rider).