How Production Designer Melanie Jones Designed a Comedy, Horror Film and Rock and Roll Biopic in One Season

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

Production designer, Melanie Jones, most well-known for her production design on Damien Chazelle's Oscar-winning Whiplash, is having a busy spring with three new and completely different projects debuting. 

Here's the list of what she's currently been working on:

For Warner Bros' horror filmThe Curse of La Llorona, starring Green Book's Linda Cardellini, Melanie created a haunting, supernatural storyworld where a family tries to survive the wrath of La Llorona, the ghost of a woman who drowned her children.

On Netflix's period biopic The Dirt, Melanie was responsible for recreating the iconic venues and places that the notorious band, Mötley Crüe, played at.

For ABC's comedy seriesBless this Mess, starring Dax Shepard and Lake Bell, Melanie shaped the rural Nebraska home and farm town that newlyweds Rio and Mike leave everything in New York for.

She talked exclusively about her experiences on all of her projects and what she's looking forward to next. 


PH: You've been incredibly busy lately hard at work on a few projects including Warner Bros' The Curse of La Llorona, Netflix's The Dirt and ABC's Bless this Mess. How did you jump on board and hear about all of these opportunities?

Melanie Jones: The Dirt and La Llorona came through my agent, Alex Franklin. I interviewed for those jobs. So thanks to both Jeff Tremaine and Michael Chaves for hiring me! Bless This Mess came via writer/creator Liz Meriwether. I had done a pilot for her a year prior, and she asked if I wanted to do this new show. We just really get each other. She's amazing! All of these directors were.

 

The Curse of La Llorona

PH: Working on one project is already a lot of time! How did you manage your time effectively working on these projects simultaneously?

Melanie Jones: There actually was almost no overlapping - just a little when we did an additional shooting for La Llorona - it was straight from one project into the next. La Llorona was 2017, The Dirt late 2017/early 2018 and the pilot for Bless This Mess in June of 2018. So not as fancy as it may seem - they just all landed at the same time.

PH: Can you talk a bit about the design direction for each and how you made those choices?

Melanie Jones: Story, story, story. That's where I start. Developing the character, the mood and serving the script through the visual. I'm a theater kid so a script is God. Color choices. Tons of research, particularly if it's a period piece. For La Llorona, it was making an inviting home that feels warm and lived in so it can turn a corner when you know who shows up. The Dirt was serving the story of the band and the time periods as authentically as possible while adding rock n' roll fun and thrill to that. Bless This Mess - the house they inherited from Aunt Maggie - what's that story? Who was she? She lived in that house forever - showing that through age, wallpaper, furniture, junk, etc. How do these bougie New Yorkers interface with Nebraska farm folk? How do they learn from one another? There was also making LA look like Nebraska as much as possible.

PH: What were some of your favorite design choices?

Melanie Jones: For The Dirt - the exterior of the Whiskey A Go Go - creating that facade on a corner building in NOLA was great. I enjoyed creating custom adverts for the side of it that reminded me of 1981 - everything was black, white, red, or pink. Very punk. Also, building a soundboard for the recording studio that is an homage to the Trident A series board they originally recorded on. The board we made is beautiful - my art director Hunter Brown worked really hard on it. The board in the studio where we shot was made in 1994 - I was not going to shoot that and make some fans mad. I wanted something more authentic.

PH: How challenging was it to switch gears and design one minute for a horror film, comedy and also a rock n roll biopic? How did you handle those challenges?

Melanie Jones: I don't want to be typecast as a production designer that just does one style - and the way I approach it, from the story first and then the visual second allows me to move across genres. I like to watch a variety of styles, I enjoy them all pretty equally. There is some tweaking you do, however - a comedy might be a little broader with the color range perhaps, with a horror project more narrow or graphics, depending on the impact you want to have. The Dirt was about getting the palate correct for each time period. Starting muted 70's, then going punk, then neon later in the '80s, then into the jewel tones of the '90s.

PH: As a production designer, what are some of your favorite elements to lean into? What speaks the loudest and resonates the most to you on-screen?

Melanie Jones: The first tool I use in the design is overall color palate. I deeply respond to color - colors tell me stories in a way. Create a mood. It makes me feel things. Color can give me some subtext about who a character is, where they came from. That's the first place I go. After that, it is about where the story takes me. Then I research. I pull hundreds of images.

 

Bless This Mess

PH: If you had to choose a favorite shot from each project, what would it be and why?

Melanie Jones: Bless This Mess - Episode 1, the POV of Mike and Rio when they first step into the house. It's a fast sweep of everything you can see from the front door and it really tells a story in about 1.8 seconds.

The Dirt - so many good shots! Toby Oliver our DP is a true talent, but I love the slow-mo move through the "Franklin Plaza Hotel" room (which I made more like the Chateau Marmont because I couldn't find any images of the FPH and The Chateau Marmont is well known for celebrity debauchery). That floaty, creepy camera move feels heroin-induced.

La Llorona - the opening shot of the film following the daughter through the entire bottom floor of the house. You see everything up front and get a feel for the tone and texture of this family life we are entering.

PH: What are some other opportunities you're looking forward to working on in the upcoming year or two?

Melanie Jones: I am working on Bill and Ted 3: Face The Music. I have my hands full for the next six months - So awesome! After that, who knows. I would love to do a season 2 of Bless this Mess if that happens. I'm hoping to work with Jeff Tremaine again soon. I am very lucky. I work with lovely people on many varied projects. It's always an honor to do this work.

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