John Dahl was born in 1956 in Billings, Montana. After watching the cult classic film “A Clockwork Orange” as a teenager, Dahl knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. Although the picturesque Montanan sites and views were the idea of heaven to many, Dahl was much more interested in action, suspense, and directing excitement and drama into his world.
After graduating high school John attended the University of Montana where he studied music, but later transferred to Montana State University’s School of Film and Photography. While attending MSU, he earned his degree in film, and was even a student under Bill Pullman at one time. Dahl also directed his first film during his time at the college, titled “The Death Mutants”. The film was made with a $12,000 budget. The film was received well by his peers, and showcased the blossoming talent that Dahl had within him. He also played guitar in a punk rock band known as “The Pugs,” and met his wife, Beth Friedburg, while at MSU. The two shared an instant love of music film, and moved to Los Angeles to attend the American Film Institute Conservatory after graduation. Dahl was accepted into the AFI’s director’s program, and Friedburg joined the cinematography program. They would later marry and go on to have 4 children together.
Though his desire was to direct films, Dahl got his foot in the door of the cinema world by starting out as a storyboard artist and an assistant director. Throughout the 80’s he made multiple short films and even directed a few music videos for Kool and the Gang and Joe Satriani. In 1989 Dahl got his big break and made his feature debut with the film “Kill Me Again.” The film impressed directors, critics, and fans alike. Dahl’s attention to detail and his eye for dramatic elements was apparent throughout the film. Another noted director, Francis Ford Coppola, was so impressed and taken with the film that he helped Dahl get his 1993 film “Red Rock West” off the ground by convincing Nicolas Cage, his nephew, to take on the starring role. In 1994 Dahl directed the critically acclaimed crime thriller “The Last Seduction”, which starred Linda Fiorentino. The film and Fiorentino’s performance were highly praised, but unfortunately due to the fact that the film was aired on a cable network before the theatrical release the film was ineligible to receive an Oscar nomination. It’s noteworthy to mention that Dahl’s former professor, Bill Pullman, also appeared in the film under Dahl’s direction.
After “The Last Seduction”, Dahl had finally made his mark on Hollywood as a respected and talented director, and one that truly understood and captured the neo-noir genre. He went on to direct “Unforgettable” in 1996, a science fiction drama that unfortunately didn’t do well with either the critics or the fans. But, Dahl didn’t let the bad critiques keep him from doing what he loved and what he was made to do. In 1998 Dahl directed what many believe to be his true masterpiece, “Rounders”. The imaginative angles, gritty storyline and darkly alluring characters made for a film that was loved by the critics and the fans, and earned the cast huge praise. Matt Damon, Edward Norton, and John Malkovich truly captured the imaginations and attentions of viewers through their no-holds barred performances of violence, determination, and the epitome of “buddy drama”. Although Dahl’s 2001 film “Joy Ride” didn’t exactly rule the box office, critics still proclaimed that the director’s style and direction with the film was something to be appreciated and respected. He went on to direct two more feature films, 2005’s “The Great Raid” and 2007’s “You Kill Me.” Both received mixed reviews from critics and fans alike, but the general consensus was that the film’s were enjoyable, cinematically beautiful, and a true testament to Dahl’s directing style.
Although Dahl has had his successes with directing movies in his particular style of neo-noir, it seems that he’s truly found his niche within television. John has directed dozens of episodes on a myriad of television shows. From the show “Arrow” to “The Vampire Diaries”, Dahl has added his unique neo-noir style to the shows that millions upon millions of people enjoy. Chances are, if you’ve seen a particularly dark but beautiful episode of one of your favorite shows, Dahl may have had his hand in it. Or would that be eye? Either way, John Dahl has secured himself a well-earned place in the homes of millions of viewers, and I believe it’s safe to say that his work has spoken for itself. Although Dahl hasn’t made the millions that other well-known directors have pocketed, he HAS managed to make a name and a living for himself doing what he loves and staying true to his passions. Reportedly, Dahl is worth $900,000 and growing. Not a shabby living for following your dream and doing what keeps your artistic vision intact. Truly, Dahl will go down in history as one of the celebrated director’s of the neo-noir genre, and deservedly so.
By definition, neo-noir cinematography is a type of motion picture that celebrates and embraces the grit and dark beauty of the 1940’s and 50’s gangster scene. The genre has evolved through the decades to depict multiple characters and scenarios, but the premise stays the same: crime and drama, dark wit, untraditional camera angles and visually stunning scenes with highly skilled lighting…or lack thereof. This darkly beautiful and ever-growing genre peels back the usual gloss and shimmer of Hollywood films and instead lays bare the darker side of human emotions and actions. Truly, this is a genre that takes a special kind of director and/or writer to bring it to life and fully realize their vision. One such director and writer is John Dahl, and he definitely doesn’t disappoint.