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Jon Avnet

Jon Avnet (Director/Producer) has directed, written and produced more than 60 motion pictures, television movies and Broadway plays over the last 25 years, from box office hits like Risky Business and Fried Green Tomatoes to the critically acclaimed Uprising and The Burning Bed for television, and The Tony Award-winning The History Boys and Spamalot on Broadway. His work has won or been nominated for multiple Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, Directors Guild of America awards, as well as Writers Guild of America awards, the Peabody, the Humanitas, Tonys, and CableACE awards. His career has taken him literally all over the world. Some of the highlights include: working with Nelson Mandela in South Africa while he was in Polsmor prison and interviewing him in his home in Soweto in the days following his release; dealing with and aiding Chinese dissidents in Beijing shortly after Tieneman Square as preparation for his film with Richard Gere, Red Corner; interviewing most of the principals of the Civil Rights movement for Taylor Branch's Pulitzer Prize winning Parting the Waters; and studying with leading Holocaust experts all over the world and personally interviewing over 200 survivors in preparation for his film about the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Mr. Avnet most recently directed Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and 50 Cent in Righteous Kill, which was shot in New York City. Prior to Righteous Kill, he directed and executive produced The Starter Wife, a six-hour limited series for the USA Network, which was shot in Australia, starring Debra Messing, Joe Mantegna, Miranda Otto and Judy Davis. Based on the novel by Gigi Levangie Grazer, it aired May 31st as the highest rated limited series on cable that year. The Starter Wife received ten Emmy nominations as well as Directors Guild of America and Producer's Guild of America nominations for Mr. Avnet. On Broadway, he produced the Tony Award winning Spamalot, The History Boys by Alan Bennett, which won six Tonys including Best Play. He also produced The Pillowman, by Martin McDonough, which was also nominated for Best Play by the Tonys. Avnet also produced Inherit the Wind, starring Brian Dennehy and Christopher Plummer, which garnered 4 Tony nominations, including Best Revival.

Currently, Mr. Avnet is a producer on The Seafarer by Connor McPherson. His next venture on Broadway is the Mike Nichols directed Country Girl, starring Morgan Freeman and Frances McDormand. In 2004, Avnet produced and co-financed with Aurelio DeLaurentiis Paramount's Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow starring Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Angelina Jolie. This film was shot entirely on a blue screen stage in London and was comprised of 2200 CGI shots.

In 2002 and 2003, Avnet executive produced with Graham Yost and directed Boomtown on NBC. The series received a Peabody award, an AFI award, a Humanitas Award, and the Television Critics Association Award for best drama and best new drama. In 2001, Avnet directed, co-wrote, with Paul Brickman, and produced the miniseries Uprising for NBC, which won raves from the critics as the first motion picture to deal with the Jewish resistance during the Holocaust, specifically the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. It was shot on location in Poland, Slovakia and Austria. Starring Leelee Sobieski, Hank Azaria, David Schwimmer, Jon Voight, and Donald Sutherland, Uprising was nominated for a Golden Globe and a DGA Award and won the ASC Award for Cinematography and an Emmy. Additionally, he received a Christopher Award for this film, as well as the prestigious Janus Korchak Educational Award.

Prior to Uprising, Avnet directed and produced Red Corner for MGM, starring Richard Gere for which he was honored with the National Board of Review's Human Rights award. He also directed and produced Up Close and Personal for Disney starring Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer. Previously, he directed, produced and co-wrote the highly acclaimed Fried Green Tomatoes for Universal starring Jessica Tandy, Kathy Bates, Mary Louise Parker, and Mary Stuart Masterson. It received multiple Oscar, Golden Globe, and Writers Guild nominations. His first directing outing (which he also co-wrote and produced) was the TV movie Between Two Women, starring Colleen Dewhurst and Farrah Fawcett, which earned Dewhurst an Emmy for her performance.

In 1984, Avnet produced Paul Brickman's film Risky Business, which launched Tom Cruise's career. Avnet also produced Brickman's next film, Men Don't Leave, starring Jessica Lange, Joan Cusack, Arliss Howard, and Chris O'Donnell. In 1985, Avnet produced The Burning Bed, starring Farrah Fawcett, which garnered eight Emmy nominations and remains the highest-rated television movie ever aired on NBC. Along with Jordan Kerner, Avnet produced Less Than Zero, When a Man Loves a Woman, Miami Rhapsody, the Mighty Ducks films and George of the Jungle, to name a few, as well as Mama Flora's Family, based on the Alex Haley novel.

Mr. Avnet attended the University of Pennsylvania and received a BA from Sarah Lawrence College. After working with director Wilford Leach at the La Mama ETC theatre company, he made his first film with a then unknown actor, Richard Gere. On the strength of that film, he received a fellowship in directing at the Conservatory for Advanced Film Studies at the American film Institute

Today, Mr. Avnet is Chairman of the Board of Directors at the American Film Institute where he has been a guiding force for over 20 years. He is also a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the Directors Guild of America, the Writers Guild of America, the Producers Guild of America, and the Screen Actors Guild. In addition, he serves on the Board of Overseers of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Avnet participates as a mentor in the Director's Lab at Sundance and its sister program Emergence in France. He also lectures at numerous universities worldwide and has supported a diverse range of charitable organizations.

Mr. Avnet lives in Topanga Canyon, California, with his wife, artist Barbara Brody. He has three children, Alexandra, who works as an associate producer at CBS in the election unit.; Jacob, who received his master's degree from USC's Peter Stark Graduate Program and has begun his own producing career; and Lily, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, who has written a rather hilarious first screenplay.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2008.
Read earlier biographies on this page.

Jon Avnet Facts

Birth NameJonathan Michael Avnet
OccupationProducer, Director
BirthdayNovember 17, 1949 (72)
BirthplaceBrooklyn, New York, USA

Selected Filmography

The Life Inside
Things You Can tell Just by Looking at Her
Pilot-Hours 1 and 2
Red Corner
88 Minutes
Righteous Kill
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