John Dahl was born in Billings, Montana, the second of four children (his brother is filmmaker Rick Dahl). Dahl spent his young life in and around Montana all the way up through his college years. His interest in film began at the age of seventeen, when he first saw A Clockwork Orange, as told to Robert K. Elder in an interview for The Film That Changed My Life.
"This film captured my imagination so much. It was the first film that I saw that made me realize that somebody has to make this stuff. Somebody has to build those sets. Somebody has to paint those paintings. All of a sudden it became accessible. The movie was so compelling and interesting to me on so many levels. The one thing that struck me was that somebody made a movie, and that it was something that maybe, possibly, I could do."
He first attended the University of Montana, and then transferred to Montana State University's School of Film and Photography where he received a degree in film. While at MSU, Dahl was a student of Bill Pullman. His first feature film at MSU was titled The Death Mutants and made for $12,000. While at Montana State he played guitar in the punk rock band "The Pugs". He also met his wife, Beth Friedberg at MSU, and after graduation they both left Montana to attend the AFI Conservatory in Los Angeles. He entered the directors program and she entered the cinematography program.
Dahl started his career as a storyboard artist and assistant director. He continued through the eighties making short films and directing music videos for Kool and the Gang and Joe Satriani. He finally gained notoriety directing his first two films, Kill Me Again and Red Rock West. Both films were well received. His third feature film was crime thriller, The Last Seduction (1994). It starred Linda Fiorentino and aired on cable television before its theatrical release. It also starred his former college professor, Bill Pullman. It was critically acclaimed.
He did his television work in 1995, directing the episode "Tomorrow I Die" for the second season of Fallen Angels.
He directed the film Unforgettable (1996). The project starred Fiorentino and Ray Liotta. It was a financial failure. He next directed the film Rounders (1998). It starred Matt Damon and Edward Norton and charted the efforts of a reformed gambler to pay off his friends debts by returning to the poker table. It was critically acclaimed and a moderate financial success.
He directed the horror film Joy Ride, later re-titled Road Kill (2001). The project starred Paul Walker and Steve Zahn as a pair of brothers who draw the ire of a psychopathic trucker while on a road trip. The film was a moderate financial success and met mixed reviews.
He then helmed the war film The Great Raid. The project focused on a daring World War II rescue mission carried out by the US Army Rangers behind Japanese lines and starred Benjamin Bratt and James Franco. It was a financial disaster and received mixed reviews on its eventual release in 2005.
He returned to television in 2005, directing two episodes of the short lived poker drama Tilt. He then directed the television feature The Line-Up. He directed the film You Kill Me (2007). The black comedy starred Ben Kingsley as an alcoholic hitman. The film received positive reviews but failed to recoup its budget. In fall 2007 he directed "Powerless", a first season episode of the NBC crime drama Life, and "The Devil's Threesome", a first season episode of the Showtime series Californication.
In the 2008 to 2009 television season he directed "Mine" for new Home Box Office (HBO) supernatural drama True Blood. He also joined the crew of Showtime's crime thriller Dexter as an episodic director for the third season, helming "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and "Go Your Own Way". He returned to Californication to direct the second season episode "No Way to Treat a Lady". He helmed "Chance" for the short lived horror anthology series Fear Itself. He directed the episode "The Oath" for the fourth and final season of the SyFy science fiction drama Battlestar Galactica. The episode was written by future Falling Skies Co-Executive Producer Mark Verheiden. He directed "Down" for the second season of AMC crime drama Breaking Bad. He helmed "Snow" and "Betrayal" for the first season of the Showtime series United States of Tara. In summer 2009 he returned to True Blood to direct the second season episodes "Never Let Me Go" and "Timebomb".
In the 2009 to 2010 television season he returned to Californication to direct the third season episodes "So Here's the Thing..." and "Mr. Bad Example". He returned to Dexter to direct the fourth season episodes "Dex Takes a Holiday" and "Hungry Man". He joined the crew of the new CW supernatural drama The Vampire Diaries to direct the first season episode "Friday Night Bites". In summer 2010 he rejoined True Blood to direct the third season episode "Hitting the Ground". He joined the crew of new FX crime drama Justified as an episodic director, helming the tenth episode "The Hammer". The show was run by future Falling Skies Executive Producer Graham Yost and the episode was penned by future Falling Skies writer Fred Golan. He directed two episodes for the Battlestar Galactica prequel Caprica in 2009 but the show was canceled midseason and they did not air until fall 2010. He helmed "False Labor" and "The Dirteaters". Caprica was co-created by future Falling Skies show runner Remi Aubuchon.
In the 2010 to 2011 television season he returned to Californication to direct the fourth season episodes "Lawyers, Guns and Money" and "The Last Supper". He rejoined Dexter to helm the fifth season episodes "Hello, Bandit", "Circle Us", and "Hop a Freighter". He also went back to The Vampire Diaries, directing the second season episode "Brave New World". He was brought back to Justified to direct the second season episode "For Blood or Money". He also directed "Agua Caliente" for the short lived FX crime drama Terriers. He directed two episodes of the new CW high school drama Hellcats, "The Match Game" and "Fancy Dan". He directed a first season episode of Showtime drama Shameless, "Killer Carl".
In the 2011 to 2012 season he returned to Californication to direct the fifth season premiere "JFK to LAX". He was a regular director for the fifth season of Dexter, helming four of the twelve episodes. He directed the season premiere "Those Kinds of Things", "A Horse of a Different Color", "Just Let Go" and the season finale "This Is the Way the World Ends". He rejoined The Vampire Diaries to direct the third season episode "The Ties That Bind" and Justified to direct the third season episode "Measures". He was brought back to Shameless to helm the second season episode "Can I Have a Mother".
During Falling SkiesEdit
In summer 2012, he joined the crew of the second season of the Steven Spielberg alien-invasion drama Falling Skies. He served as an episodic director and helmed the episode "Love and Other Acts of Courage".
In the 2012 to 2013 season he directed "Quitters" for the sixth season of Californication. He returned to Dexter to direct the seventh season premiere "Are You...?" and the later episode "Run".
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