The Dirt is a new film on Netflix based on the autobiography of 80s hairband Motley Crue that tells the tale of their rise to fame, adventures in debauchery, and the hardships of humanity and Melanie Jones helped bring the neon and spandex world to life as production designer.
If you haven’t watched The Dirt, it’s a rockin’ ride through the lives of four guys who came together to become global rockstars. In the 80s, rock was alive and well and existed in many forms. But perhaps the most memorable iteration was known as the “hairband” which typically consisted of four white guys, a lot of hairspray spread across a lot of hair, and some hard-hitting rock tunes that have aged better than the look. Behind the scenes, many of these bands lived the cliche rock life that was fueled by ego, sex, and drugs. Like many stories, the volatile combination worked for a while but then it didn’t. The Dirt, like many rock biopics, is a story that’s insanely fun to watch and also has a profoundly human core.
PopAxiom got a chance to talk with Melanie before she heads off to work on a long-awaited sequel that we’ll get to at the end of the article. So, read on as the production designer tells us about her work on The Purge, the Oscar-winning Whiplash, and The Dirt.
Dancing to the Movies
Melanie’s connection to movies started early on “My parents took me to the movies a lot.”
Growing up a small town “We have a few smalls theaters. This one would play, like, all the Planet of the Apes movies.”
At a young age, Melanie’s artistic soul was driving her decisions “I started dancing when I was 11 and got into theater. I could draw. And I ended up making props and then designing sets.”
Making The Purge
The first Purge film pretty much takes place all in one house, and so choosing the right place was a priority “We found a house out in Chatsworth out in the valley in Los Angeles and left a note on the door. The owner got back to us. They’d just had this house built, and there was no furniture.”
The narrative of The Purge wasn’t the only thing that relied on the location “That house became our everything. The garage was my office. We had two trailers outside.”
The film takes place in a not-so-distant future. So to get that point across in the production, Melanie turned to a tried-and-true style “Deco comes back and comes back and comes back and it’s often a fundamental component of future-fantasy design. Repeating patterns, layers. The furniture we picked is very influenced [by that style]. I had a scenic artist paint deco-influenced murals.”
Melanie adds “And then we trashed it.” Of course, for the record, everything was fixed while the owners stayed a hotel paid for by the production.
Six months after shooting The Purge, Melanie got a call about additional shooting required “The production wanted to create a game room, and shoot in the dining room. But we didn’t want to go back to the house, and the owner had fully moved in by this point. So we rebuilt those rooms. I also built a hallway that didn’t really exist at the location.”
Work On Whiplash
Melanie brought her production design skills to the Oscar-winning Whiplash and unabashedly says about the film’s writer/director “Damien Chazelle is incredible.”
About Whiplash, Melanie adds “We shot that film, the L.A. portion of it, in 17 days. The schedule was really, really tight.”
To make sure the short time frame was used wisely, Melanie suggested finding a versatile place to shoot “We landed on the Palace Theater. We did multiple locations there. We used every inch of that place that we could. Then we moved down the street and shot the rest.”
The overall vibe of Whiplash feels very gritty 70s film, and there’s a reason for that “I treated that film like it was a 70s period piece with the colors and the sets that we built to create a look and a mood.”
About The Dirt
What was the first thing you thought of when you read the script for The Dirt? “Oh, well, a production designers wet dream.”
Melanie dishes some more on The Dirt “We shot in New Orleans, but we had to make it look like 80s Los Angeles. Building their apartment with the terrible carpet, the linoleum, burn spots from where they kill roaches. It was so much fun.”
The fun came in the time period and the evolution of the film over the course of about twenty years “As it starts it’s the late 70s and the movie moves into the 80s, so I got to reflect that in the design, the use of colors, starting with more muted colors then moving into the neon of the 80s.”
What did the band think of it all? “They were really excited about it. We submitted questions to them to get insight so that we could honor things as true to life as we could.”
Making the movie meant there would be a bit of a back and forth between creative license and sticking to reality “There were places where we pushed it. But I got to ask Nikki Sixx, ‘When you died …’ which is a weird way to start a question ‘when you died at the Franklin Plaza Hotel what did the hotel look like?’”
There were no reference photos of the hotel “What I saw in my mind was the Chateau Marmont which is infamous for celebrities and the wealthy to go when they don’t want anyone to know what they’re doing.
However, Sixx revealed to Melanie that “‘… the Franklin Plaza Hotel was a shithole.’” The reality was tweaked, and the scene in the film takes place in a fancier location than reality.
Melanie is a big fan of the movies and gives us the two extremes of her taste and influences “… I love Spike Lee. The red walls in Do The Right Thing rocked my world. It’s super-simple. But I love the look of that film, it’s one of my favorite movies. But I also love Young Frankenstein.”
Outside a film there’s a related force that drives Melanie’s creative eye “I worked with Annie Leibovitz for a while, so I’m really into photography.”
We finish off with a question worthy of arena rock legend status. If they were remaking any classic movie, and Melanie was going to be the production designer, what movie would she want it to be? “Let’s hope they don’t remake this, but that would be Gone with the Wind.”
So, that sequel I talked about earlier? That’s Melanie’s next project “I’m going … to work on Bill and Ted Face the Music.” It will be quite bodacious.
Thanks to Melanie Jones and Impact24 PR for making this interview possible.