JON KASDAN's earliest childhood memory is truly cinematic. He was an actor sitting in a bathtub on the set of "The Big Chill," a film co-written and directed by his father, Lawrence Kasdan. "I remember noticing that rather than being a real bathtub in the wall, it was just a wood frame of a bathtub, and being a little disturbed by that," Jon said. He was 3 years old and overcame his misgivings enough to deliver an endearing rendition of Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World," belting out "Jeremiah was a bullfrog."
"Which, ultimately, no matter what happens in my life, will be the thing that I'm most famous for," he said.
It could be worse. Added his brother, Jake, "It's one of those moments that's made such an impression, I've spent my whole life since explaining to people that I'm not that kid."
Early high watermarks notwithstanding, the Kasdan brothers have managed pretty well since then. Jake, 32, wrote and directed the Bill Paxton-Ben Stiller movie "Zero Effect," directed episodes of the television shows "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared," and directed the feature "Orange County." Jon, 27, wrote for "Freaks and Geeks," then went on to "Dawson's Creek" for two years.
Sitting in a coffeehouse on Melrose Avenue recently, both in need of a shave, they contemplated the impending release of not one but two Kasdan pictures. Jake's film, "The TV Set," opened Friday. "In the Land of Women," Jon's feature debut as writer and director, opens April 20.
The former is a painfully funny view of the tortuous process a television pilot endures on its way to the small screen and stars David Duchovny and Sigourney Weaver. The latter, a more mainstream drama about losing love and finding one's way in the world, stars Adam Brody and Meg Ryan. Differing sensibilities inform each movie, but both are ultimately personal, character-driven stories, not unlike the work of their famous father. (Lawrence's other directing credits include "Body Heat," "Silverado" and "The Accidental Tourist"; he wrote or co-wrote those as well as "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Star Wars' " "Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back" and "Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.")
His work instilled in the brothers "the idea that there might be a forum for a certain kind of reflection and self-expression that can also be entertaining," said Jake.
That lesson was often taught by osmosis. As evidenced by Jon's bathtub memory, the boys grew up visiting their father's sets. Directing "was clearly very cool, and he loved doing it," Jake said. "It was sort of normal, but it was still a big deal every time."
In high school, Jake began writing plays, putting them up in small rented theaters in Hollywood. "Somewhere in that period of time I realized that I wanted to make movies," he said. "It was sort of late actually, given that I was around it forever." He was 16.
After a brief fling with higher education -- "I dropped out of two colleges in one year; that's hard to do" -- Jake went to work on his father's film "Wyatt Earp," documenting the making of the movie to write a book about it.
"He saw things that I don't know I've ever seen because directors are sort of out front leading the charge to the next place, the next setup," the elder Kasdan, who asks to be called Larry, said by phone from his Beverly Hills production office. "Jake would see all that, and then he would hang back and watch people pull cables and hang lights and talk to everybody, so he got an incredibly three-dimensional view of the process."
Meanwhile, Jon began writing essays for his high school paper. "It was my version of trying to write in the personal way that my father and brother were both doing, and from that it moved very fluidly into wanting to be a screenwriter."
And while the appearance of nepotism was a concern to Jake when he started out, Jon claims to embrace it or at least an offshoot of it. "It was completely because of Jake that I got to work on 'Freaks and Geeks' at age 19," Jon said. "That opportunity facilitated all my television work, and it was an incredibly cool credit to have."
The brothers (and for that matter the whole family) are great fans of each other's work. Jake calls Jon an extraordinary writer. Jon maintains that Jake is a superior director with a much better imagination. Jon, Jake and Larry always show their scripts to the family, including wife and mother Meg Kasdan, to read first.
"We never really encouraged them to do this," Larry said. "We encouraged them to do what they like. It was lucky that they both could write."
Their father's encouragement extended to his executive producing "Women" and, with Judd Apatow, "TV Set." After reading "Women," it was clear to the family that it was a movie that could be made with Jon as director. "I just came on to be helpful and protective," Larry said. In the case of "The TV Set," Larry helped Jake set it up outside the studio system, "so that he could make the movie he wanted to make."
Dipping into the gene pool