Jon Avnet has directed, written, and produced more than 70 motion pictures, television movies and Broadway plays over the last 30 years, winning most of the major awards: Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, Peabodys, DGA, the Humantis, and the AFI’s Franklin Shaffner Medal. Mr. Avnet received an honorary doctorate in communications from the American Film Institute in 2013.
Mr. Avnet is best known for co-writing, directing and producing Fried Green Tomatoes, which garnered multiple Academy Award nominations (for writing and for Jessica Tandy, who co-starred with Kathy Bates and Mary Louise Parker), BAFTA’s, Golden Globes and more. Fried Green Tomatoes was nominated for Best Picture by the Golden Globes and was one of the top grossing films in the year of its release.
He also produced Risky Business with his partner Steve Tisch, which launched the career of Tom Cruise. Mr. Avnet was the executive producer of Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman (winner of the Oscar for Best Actress) and directed by Darren Aronofsky. Black Swan received five Oscar nominations in total (including Best Picture) as well as multiple nominations and wins from the PGA, WGA, SAG, BAFTA, AFI, and the Golden Globes.
Mr. Avnet most recently directed and co-wrote Three Christs, starring Richard Gere, Peter Dinklage, Walton Goggins, Bradley Whitford, Julianna Margulies and Jane Alexander. Based on the controversial study in 1959 and chronicled in Dr. Milton Rokeach’s “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti,” the film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and is slated for release in 2019.
He is Co-CEO of Indigenous Media with Rodrigo Garcia. His son Jake Avnet is the Chief Operating Officer. Indigenous Media produces 60 Second Docs, which has received over 2.5 billion views since its debut. IM has also produced, in association with Kerry Washington, Five Points, the first scripted drama for Facebook Watch. It premiered in the spring of 2018.
In 2001, Avnet directed, co-wrote with Paul Brickman, and produced the critically-praised Uprising, starring Leelee Sobieski, Hank Azaria, David Schwimmer, Stephen Moyer, Jon Voight, and Donald Sutherland. This film dealt with the resistance during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943. Mr. Avnet was nominated for a DGA award for best directing.
In television, Avnet produced (with Steve Tisch) The Burning Bed, starring Farrah Fawcett, which garnered eight Emmy nominations and was the highest-rated television movie ever aired on NBC. It received a Golden Glove nomination for Best Picture. This film is credited with creating the “battered woman syndrome” as a legal defense for victims of domestic violence.
Mr. Avnet directed ten episodes of FX Network’s Justified, starring Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins. Justified received a Peabody award and Margo Martindale won an Emmy for her performance. He reunited with frequent collaborator Graham Yost, directing an episode of Sneaky Pete Season 2 for Amazon, starring Giovanni Ribisi, Margo Martindale and Marin Ireland. In 2018, he became an executive producer of Sneaky Pete and has directed 4 episodes in Season 3.
Mr. Avnet previously directed Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in Righteous Kill, released in September 2008. He also directed and produced Red Corner starring Richard Gere, and Up Close and Personal starring Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer with a script by Joan Didion and John Dunne. 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.
He directed and executive-produced The Starter Wife, a six-hour limited series for the USA Network starring Debra Messing, Joe Mantegna, and Judy Davis (who won the Best Supporting Actress Emmy for her performance). Based on the novel by Gigi Levangie Grazer, it aired May 2007 as the highest-rated limited cable series that year and received ten Emmy nominations as well as DGA and PGA nominations for Mr. Avnet.
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. 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.
On Broadway, his plays have received 35 Tony nominations and 12 Tony awards. He produced, with Bill Haber, the Tony Award-winning “Spamalot” and “The History Boys.” He also produced “The Pillowman,” “Inherit the Wind,” starring Christopher Plummer, “The Seafarer” by Connor McPherson, and the Mike Nichols-directed “Country Girl,” starring Morgan Freeman and Frances McDormand.
Mr. Avnet attended the University of Pennsylvania, received a BA from Sarah Lawrence College, and was awarded a fellowship in directing to the American Film Institute. Today, Mr. Avnet is Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors at the American Film Institute, where he has been a guiding force for over 25 years (and Chairman for eight years). In addition, he serves on the Board of Directors, the Western Directors Council, and the Pension and Health Plan Committee of the Directors Guild of America.
Mr. Avnet is a member of the Board of Overseers of the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania and participates as a mentor in the Director’s Lab at Sundance and its sister program Emergence in France. He lectures on film and holocaust studies at numerous universities worldwide and has supported a diverse range of charitable organizations.