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Posts Tagged ‘J.F. Lawton’

“All stories are about transformation.”
Blake Snyder

“Movies are all about rewriting.”
Garry Marshall

“When Disney first sent me the script for Pretty Woman, it was a dark tale about a cold and heartless corporate raider and a drug-addicted prostitute who had been hooking for six years. The relationship ended with the raider’s giving the prostitute three thousand dollars and knocking her to the ground. Vivian then screamed, ‘You go to hell! I hate you! I hate your money! I hate it! as he drove away leaving her in the gutter where he found her….What bothered me about the script was that it didn’t make me care about either of the characters. Neither of them generated much sympathy and I rooted for no one.”
Garry Marshall

In the book Wake Me When It’s Funny, Garry Marshall wrote that Jeffrey Katzenberg (then with Disney) brought him in to “supervise the rewrite and lighten it up” the script that would become the movie Pretty Woman.

“We had five different writers on Pretty Women and the first to attempt the rewrite was the original screenwriter, J.F. Lawton. Even  after Lawton took a stab, the studio still felt that the script needed some more work. Our approach to the film was to make it the story of two people from totally different backgrounds united in a fairy tale. In all the rewrites, the part of Vivian, the prostitute, came quite easily. It was the character of the businessman, Edward Lewis, that presented the most problems. Only Barbara Benedek, the sole woman writer in the group, got the voice of Edward down by creating a Donald Trump-style executive with a vulnerable side.”
Garry Marshall

One of the writers was Stephen Metcalfe;

“Whenever people ask me what I’ve ‘done’ as a writer, the easiest answer is Pretty Woman. Instant credibility. But what I don’t go into is the fact I never got screen credit on it. I feel I should have, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really bother me. It wasn’t my story. The original script – 3000 – was written by a fine writer, J.F. Lawton. The Julia Roberts character was a coke addicted street walker. The Richard Gere character was a manipulating socio-path. It was gripping, dark and moody and was very real. What it wasn’t was a romantic comedy. And yet someone at Disney – perhaps it was Jeffrey Katzenberg – thought it could be. They believed it so much they’d already hired the director, Gary Marshall, who was sort of the Sidney Lumet of comedy and they’d hired Julia Roberts, who was not yet Julia Roberts but was undoubtably going to be.”
Stephen Metcalfe
From 2008 article Pretty Woman on his website

So if you’re keeping track, so far the writers attached to Pretty Woman were J.F. Lawton, Barbara Benedek and Stephen Metcalfe. Robert Garland did a version of the script and I don’t know if Marshall counted himself as the fifth writer or if it was someone else. I don’t know who to credit with writing this excellent opening description of the Richard Gere character:

EDWARD HARRIS stands at the window, impassively looking down at the party. Edward is a handsome, well groomed man around forty. He looks tired: the kind of fatigue that can’t be cured by a night’s sleep.

What I do know is that Lawton is single credited on the screenplay and received an WGA nomination for the script.

And while there is no shortage of essays about Pretty Women’s role in feminism, capitalism, and morality, or debates about the cliche of the “hooker with a heart of gold” and the businessman with daddy issues—the simple fact is Pretty Women captured the magic.

The film has sold more tickets in the United States than any other romantic comedy (yes, including My Big Fat Greek Wedding). And I think it captured the magic many ways using several tried and true methods including sex, shopping, and Cinderella. Along with a touch of Pygmalion,  rags to riches, fish out of water, low class/high class, the American dream of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps (even if they are knee-high hooker boots), finding the love of your life, and the classic transformation theme.

Of all of those, I think the transformation theme is what resonates the strongest. It’s one we put the put our personal hopes in. Nowhere is that more evident than in a class I once had with evangelist Billy Graham’s grandson (Tullian Tchividjian) who once surprised and amused the class in a talk by saying his grandfather really liked the movie Pretty Woman.

I’m guessing that it was the transformation aspect that emotionally connected with Billy Graham rather than the sex or the shopping spree. After all, Graham has spent his life in the transformation business.

“It is true that I look for the Cinderella aspect when I am making a film. Most good stories are Cinderella. Audiences like to watch characters whose lives change for the better.”
Garry Marshall
Interview with Leslie Elizabeth Kreiner

Yes, one side of Pretty Woman is silly, superficial, and demoralizing to women, etc., etc.—but another aspect of it touches a universal longing. And that is that no matter how low we are in life that there is hope that the winds of change will blow in our direction.

Have you ever seen a scarecrow filled with nothing but dust and weeds?
If you’ve ever seen that scarecrow then you’ve seen me
Have you ever seen a one-armed man punching at nothing but the breeze?
If you ever seen a one-armed man then you’ve seen me
Bruce Springsteen
The Wrestler

While I’m no expert on world religions, I imagine that most deal with the concept the broken made whole,  the weak becoming strong, and the lost being redeemed. And for the broken, weak, and lost—what else is there but hope?

Hope is why some people buy lottery tickets, some go to church, and why others go to movies. Check out my post Hope & Redemption to see a list of films that I think follow those themes and have found large audiences, critical acclaim, and awards. Kind of the triple crown of filmmaking.

Interesting Pretty Women triva—considered for the role that Julie Roberts shined in were Molly Ringwald, Jennifer Connelly, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Daryl Hannah, Mary Steenburgen, Karen Allen, and Meg Ryan. Film historian David Thomson compared Roberts beauty in Pretty Woman with Elizabeth Taylor’s role in George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun. (A once every fifty years kind of thing.)

Screenwriter Ben-Hur Sepehr wrote a screenplay called Temporary Arrangement in 1984 and sent the screenplay to an employee at Disney. He sued for copyright infringement but lost in court in 1992. The Entertainment Law Reporter wrote, “Sepehr argued that in both stories ‘a Hollywood  Boulevard prostitute is transformed emotionally, socially and morally through her employment by a super-rich business tycoon. A further result of the encounter is the transformation of the businessman also.’ The theme of ‘transformation’ was an unprotectible plot idea, stated the court. Judge Byrne, citing the ‘well established’ principle that broad character types are not protected by copyright law, concluded that the characters in the two works were not substantially similar – other than the fact that the two heroines were both prostitutes, they were entirely different characters, as were the two ‘successful, hardworking business executives.”

Scott W. Smith

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“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 has a 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.

Scott W. Smith

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