Jonathan Frederick "J. F." Lawton (born August 11, 1960) is an American screenwriter, producer and director. His screen credits include the box office hit Pretty Woman, Mistress, Blankman, Under Siege, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, The Hunted, Chain Reaction, DOA: Dead or Alive, Jackson, and the TV series V.I.P. Under the assumed name J.D. Athens, he wrote and directed Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death and Pizza Man.
Lawton was born in Riverside, California. He is the son of author and novelist Harry Lawton and Georgeann Leona Lawton (née Honegger), a pianist. The couple met in Berkeley while attending the University of California. They later moved to Riverside, where Harry was hired as a reporter for The Press-Enterprise.
As a child, he suffered from severe dyslexia making school life very difficult. It took him many years of practice and hard work to control his learning disabilities. Despite the challenge, he decided to become a writer like his father. Harry Lawton made sure to give him as much incentive as possible. To this day Lawton credits his father for always being supportive of him, and his mother for going the extra mile to help him overcome his obstacles.
When Lawton was still in elementary school, his father's novel, Willie Boy: A Desert Manhunt, was made into a film starring Robert Redford. During the making of Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, Harry Lawton would take J.F. to the set, exposing him to the process of filmmaking. From that moment on, fascinated, he determined that he would become a screenwriter. Always curious, Lawton would observe his surroundings and write about them, although due to his dyslexia, it would take him double the time to put his stories down on paper.
In high school, he continued to write short stories, plays, and scripts. After graduating from John W. North High School in Riverside, he enrolled at California State University in Long Beach to study filmmaking. There he wrote, directed and edited two short films, The Artist and Renaissance. The first was a futuristic thriller placed in which the main character kills his victims, takes their pictures and puts them in his art exhibitions. The second, Renaissance, was a short horror film in which a sadistic sexual predator, dominates and kills his victim every night, but revives her the next morning only to start the cycle all over again. Both shorts won awards on the college circuit.
After college, the California native moved to Los Angeles, settling near Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue, one of the toughest areas of Los Angeles at the time. Living among prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, junkies and the homeless, the setting gave Lawton a wide range of inspiration for his stories. He wrote a number of screenplays while working at several post-production companies.
During that time he met producer Charles Band, for whom he would direct his first feature film. Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death is a take-off of both Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Francis Ford Coppola's feature Apocalypse Now. Shot in less than two weeks in his hometown of Riverside, the film starred his longtime friend, comedian Bill Maher, Playboy Playmate Shannon Tweed and horror actor Adrienne Barbeau. It became a cult favorite and late-night cable staple.
After Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, Lawton also wrote and directed Pizza Man, a political satire about a delivery man investigating a comical government conspiracy. Talk show host Bill Maher also stars in Pizza Man, along with comedian Annabelle Gurwitch. In both movies, he used the pseudonym J.D. Athens.
His script for the film Three Thousand was accepted by the Sundance Institute in the late 1980s. Executives at Touchstone Pictures, a division of The Walt Disney Studios, became interested in making the movie. He changed the title to Pretty Woman, and with over $400 million in worldwide box office, the movie became the largest grossing live-action film in Disney history. Directed by Garry Marshall, with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, the film is a story about Vivian Ward, a prostitute who is hired by a wealthy businessman, Edward Lewis, to be at his beck and call for one week while he is in town on business. Although they come from different backgrounds and lifestyles, they end up developing a relationship based more on genuine love than money and convenience. Pretty Woman was a huge success and got Lawton nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award and a British Academy Award for his screenplay. Julia Roberts won a Golden Globe Award for her role and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Lawton given an executive producer credit for his next original screenplay, Under Siege, based on his million-dollar spec script Dreadnought. The idea came when Lawton, who had served time in the Coast Guard Reserve, read that the Navy was retiring the USS Missouri (BB-63). The film stars Steven Seagal as a disgraced Navy Seal working as a cook on a battleship. Seagal's character must face off against a psychopathic ex-CIA agent (Tommy Lee Jones), who leads a group of mercenaries on a takeover of the battleship on its final voyage, so he can steal its arsenal of nuclear Tomahawk Cruise Missiles. The movie broke box office records and a successful sequel followed, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory.
With Barry Primus, Lawton co-wrote Mistress, a comedy starring Robert De Niro, Danny Aiello, Christopher Walken and Martin Landau. The movie is about a Hollywood screenwriter, Marvin Landisman, whose career is going downhill until he meets a has been hustler-producer who tries to help him get his career back. Starring an all-star cast, Mistress was one of the first films produced by Tribeca Productions, Robert De Niro's production company, and it was released in the summer of 1992.
Lawton worked with radio host and media personality Howard Stern on the script for The Adventures of Fartman, a fictional superhero character created by Stern for The Howard Stern Show. With two major studios willing to produce, the movie was put into hold due to a MPAA Film Rating System dispute, as Lawton and Stern felt the content of the film was better suited for a mature audience, and wanted an R-rating for the film instead of a PG-13 rating. The film was put on hold, and Howard Stern included a a five-page Fartman story in comics form in his 1995 book, Miss America, which was based on Lawton's script. The book reached number one on the New York Times Best Seller list within days of its release.
For Columbia Pictures he co-wrote the 1994 film Blankman, a film starring and produced by Damon Wayans who plays Darryl, a nerdy, comical ghetto superhero with a pure heart ready to fight criminals in his own style. The film also stars Jason Alexander, who previously had worked with Lawton in Pretty Woman, and Greg Kinnear early in his career.
Lawton went on to write and direct The Hunted (1995), a thriller set in Japan starring Christopher Lambert, John Lone and Joan Chen. Written and directed by Lawton, the movie traces Paul Racine, a computer-chip executive from New York in one of his many business trips to Tokyo. Local authorities and a legendary ninja cult get involved in an electric chase after a crime occurs in a hotel room. The Hunted was released on February 25, 1995 and distributed by Universal Studios. The score, featuring music by acclaimed Japanese taiko troupe Kodo, was especially requested by Lawton.
Lawton's next film project was the 1996 action thriller Chain Reaction, which starred Morgan Freeman, Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz. Filmed in Chicago, Illinois, the movie was released on August 2, 1996, and grossed over $60 million worldwide.
In 1998 Lawton created and executive produced Sony Pictures Entertainment hit syndicated show V.I.P. through a successful four-year run until 2002. The adventure series starred Pamela Anderson as Vallery Irons, a small-town girl who comes to Southern California looking for a break when she stumbles into the glamorous role of heading up a Beverly Hills bodyguard agency called Vallery Irons Protection. The series saw Anderson often poking fun at her tabloid image,
In 2006, Lawton co-wrote for Paramount Pictures a film based on the video game series DOA: Dead or Alive, starring Eric Roberts, Jaime Pressly and Devon Aoki.
Lawton wrote and directed the 2008 film Jackson, a comedy-drama-musical starring Barry Primus, Charlie Robinson, Steve Guttenberg, Debra Jo Rupp and opera singers Ella Lee, Shawnette Sulker and Clamma Dale. The movie takes place on a single day involving two homeless men surviving on Los Angeles's Skid Row. Lawton wrote two songs for the movie, "Downtown Birthday" and "Love Cannot Be". Jackson was shot mainly in Downtown Los Angeles, except for one scene shot in Kentucky.
Lawton suffers from dyslexia and ADHD, and is an avid advocate for charities related to both issues. He is also a supporter of PETA, along with his good friends Bill Maher and Pamela Anderson. Environmental issues, human rights, cancer, poverty and 9-11 are very close to his heart.
He is married to journalist, writer and LGBT activist Paola Lawton.