“J.F. Lawton wrote something like twelve unproduced screenplays before he sold Pretty Women. This doesn’t mean that every screenwriter is destined for financial success. You just have to believe that the more you write, the greater the chances are that you can write something that will sell.”
Director Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman)
“[The movie] Ed Wood is the story of my life.”
Screenwriter J.F. Lawton (Pretty Woman)
The success of the movie Pretty Woman is an interesting case study in the world of filmmaking. The original script was written by J. F. Lawton. His journey to being a million dollar screenwriter by the time he was 30 is also worth a look.
Lawton was born in 1960 and raised in Riverside, California (about an hour directly east of L.A.) where his father (Harry Lawton) was a writer who wrote the novel Willie Boy: A Desert Manhunt, which became the movie Tell Them Willie Boy is Here starring Robert Redford.
Despite being dyslexic J.F. Lawton wrote short stories, plays and screenplays through high school before going to Cal State Long Beach to study filmmaking. There he made a couple award-winning short films. According to Wikipedia, after college he moved to a seedy section of Hollywood and landed editing jobs and wrote screenplays on spec.
I’m not exactly sure when Lawton sold his first script, but things seemed to take off from him around age 29. He wrote and directed two low-budget features starring his friend Bill Maher, Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death and Pizza Man. And he used the backdrop of hookers, pimps and drug dealers around where he lived to write a script called $3,000— which was the amount a businessman paid a prostitute to be his escort for the week.
“Dressed in a tight purple leather mini-skirt, black stockings and a white imitation fur jacket, Vivian is twenty-two years old. She has been hooking for over six years. Heavy make-up gives her pretty face a dangerous and hard look.”
Page one introduction of Vivian (the Julia Roberts character) in a draft of the J.F. Lawton script that would become Pretty Woman.
The script got accepted into the Sundance Institute for further development, and despite being a story that involved a drug addicted prostitute was sold to Disney. Disney in turn brought on director Garry Marshall to turn the story into a romantic comedy. Which he successfully did with several writers.
In part 2, we’ll look at the transformation that took place to turn $3,000. into Pretty Woman. But yesterday I read a version of $3,000 written by Lawton and I was amazed at how much of the story and the characters were intact. It’s not like the script was like Se7en or Chinatown in tone like I was lead to believe over the years. More realistic than fantasy. And it’s darker ending, but doesn’t end with Vivian in a pool of blood. I actually liked the small, quiet victory at the end of $3,000. But wish-fulfillment was one of the key elements that made Pretty Woman one of the biggest box office hits in romantic comedy history.
Lawton was not happy with the changes made to his script, but its success helped bring him more attention and more money. Around this time he sold his spec script Dreadnought for a million-dollars and it became the movie Under Siege.
I had a hard time finding interviews online of Lawton, so if you have any links please pass them on.
P.S. While I was in film school in the ’80s I worked as a driver for BERC (Broadcast Equipment Rental Company) which was located in Hollywood, and I got used to seeing hookers on the streets at all hours of the day and night (even at 6 :30 AM ) when I made my deliveries. BTW—None of them looked like Julia Roberts. During the 20th anniversary of Pretty Woman some people said that they should do a sequel. Really? What do you think the odds are that Gere and Roberts lived happily ever after? Pretty slim, I’d say. I have an idea, why don’t we let Lawton get his revenge by letting him write and direct the sequel?
P.P.S. Last week it was announced that a remake of the Garry Marshall directed film The Flamingo Kid (1984) was in the works, so how far can we be from a reboot of Pretty Woman? (I’m sure a Diablo Cody version of Pretty Women would be fun.) But heck, I’d really pay to see David Fincher’s version of the original $3,000. script.