It was 1983 and my first film as a producer just lost $80,000 on its opening weekend after roughly zero tickets were sold. I had thrown away my legal career and had no idea how I'd make my way in the film business, but luckily I had my first-ever computer from Apple. It sat in the box for a month because in those days you couldn't just turn it on and use it. The thing had to be programmed from scratch -- and that's how I met Jonathan Lawton.
Jonathan, or J.F., Lawton was a rail thin, quiet and brilliant 23-year-old earning his livelihood as a beta software tester. For three weeks Jonathan came to my office and programmed my Apple computer, all while I shared with him the ins and outs of my work as a literary manager. We slowly became friends and one day, he dropped a pearl in our conversation that made me ask if he was also a writer. Turns out he had dropped out of film school and already written a half-dozen screenplays that were all unread.
At first I told Jonathan, "Let me read something you've written and, if I like it, I'll help you find an agent." The first script was good. The second script was better. By the third script, I changed my tune to, "Forget an agent, you're talented and I want to work with you, represent you." But I did have one condition. His earlier scripts were quirky and I insisted he write a "spec" script, a fresh story I would use to introduce his writing talent to producers and studios. I asked him to write a classic romance with irresistible male and female lead roles and to use a one-week clock so the story would take place over a tight time frame. Finally, the story had to have real power; I wanted Jonathan's story written from a deeply personal life experience.
Jonathan had just ended a significant relationship and lived in a tiny studio in a tough part of town, on an alley that literally looked out on a steady stream of pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, homeless and the police whose flashing lights constantly lit up the Hollywood sky. I could tell he was sensitive to all of this and felt he was ready to tell a different kind of story.
A few short weeks later, Jonathan handed me the first draft of a new script titled Three Thousand. That evening I read a riveting, beautifully written, dark, emotionally powerful story that would later become Pretty Woman. It would be seven long years before the world saw Pretty Woman and that journey saw the film nearly die three times, a cast that could've ended up with Molly Ringwald opposite Highlander (Christopher Lambert, a friend I later worked with), and a dark drama with a devastating ending become a beloved romantic comedy.
I've been very fortunate to have had a 25-year career in Hollywood as a literary manager and producer, and I'll also soon be publishing my first book to help writers build a professional career in Hollywood, currently available on Kickstarter. There are many more stories to tell about the road Pretty Woman and I traveled, all of which might have been lost without Steve Jobs, the purchase of a 1983 Apple computer and a chance meeting between a newbie Hollywood producer and a young film school dropout turned computer technician.
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