Rather than make his name writing splashy blockbusters akin to his father Lawrence Kasdan's breakthrough script for The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Jake Kasdan earned his prodigy stripes with the sly, low-budget film Zero Effect (1998) and his astute direction on several acclaimed TV series. Born in Detroit, Kasdan was immersed in filmmaking since his early childhood. Growing up on his father's sets, Kasdan appeared onscreen in The Big Chill (1983), Silverado (1985), and The Accidental Tourist (1988), but he knew that he really wanted to direct. Becoming a playwright while still in high school, Kasdan also worked as a production assistant on his father's mid-life crisis drama Grand Canyon (1991) and penned a behind-the-scenes book about the Western epic Wyatt Earp (1994). Though the book was scrapped after Wyatt Earp tanked at the box office, Kasdan established a positive relationship with cast member Bill Pullman that would soon help Kasdan's nascent movie career. Dropping out of college to focus on his writing full-time, Kasdan subsequently started directing with a stage production of one of his works at the Hollywood Playhouse. Ready to write and direct his first film, and publicly noting that nepotism didn't guarantee him anything, Kasdan managed to sign Pullman to play the lead for his detective comedy Zero Effect. Featuring Pullman as brilliant, agoraphobic detective Daryl Zero and Ben Stiller as his edgy associate and public representative, Zero Effect's clever, offbeat humor and excellent performances boded well for the then-24-year-old Kasdan, although more than one critic noted that the pacing was too low-key for the film's good.
Further honing his skills on TV, Kasdan's wry sensibility adroitly complemented the almost painfully funny, emotionally authentic youth series Freaks and Geeks (1991) and Undeclared (2001). Despite critical accolades, however, Freaks and Geeks lasted only one season and Undeclared foundered in the ratings. Kasdan also helped give an extra insider edge to the witty teen soap spoof Grosse Pointe (2000), but it too failed to last beyond one TV season. Kasdan's proven ability with smart, teen-based comedy, though, earned him the directing job for Orange County (2002). Starring Jack Black and Hollywood progeny Colin Hanks and Schuyler Fisk, and scripted by Chuck and Buck's (2001) unconventional Mike White, Orange County seemed like an ideal match for Kasdan. The released film, however, was a disappointingly watered-down version of White and Kasdan's comic strengths.