Born in New Mexico and raised in New Jersey, Mayfield began making "vacation films and neighborhood comedies" when he was in the fifth grade, after his grandfather gave him an 8mm camera. At the age of 14 he won the Kodak Teenager Movie Award and began looking forward to attending film school. During his first year at the University of California, Mayfield and a fellow student formed ZM Productions.
After graduating from the prestigious USC School of Cinema and Television in 1982, Mayfield began his career as a behind-the-scenes director for his own company, creating television and film documentaries. However, it wasn't until he found work as a gofer in the telefilm Psycho II (1983), where he was introduced to producer Hilton Green, that he found the help he needed to get into the mainstream. Mayfield served as an executive producer on the critically acclaimed documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse and the Emmy Award-winning Images of Life: Photographs that Changed the World. He also directed specials on the making of films like Empire of the Sun, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Mayfield made his non-documentary feature film directorial debut in 1992 with the box office hit, Encino Man. With the first hit under his belt, he went on to direct three more hits, Miracle on 34th Street, Flubber and Blue Streak.
American Outlaws (2001) was a box office flop, but remains notable as Colin Farrell's first starring vehicle. Mayfield has since gone on to direct The Man (2005) starring Samuel L. Jackson and Code Name: The Cleaner (2007) starring Cedric the Entertainer.