Director Mel Jones on why her Sundance debut, Leimert Park, will make cinematic history

Mel Jones
Between the trailer and description for Mel Jones’s new web series, it’s easy to understand why she describes Leimert Park as “Sex in the City but black girls in Leimert Park,” the latter in reference to the namesake South Los Angeles neighborhood that serves as the series backdrop. As for sex, there’s plenty of NSFW.

“I personally love sex — I do — so I tried to make that a part of my creative expression,” Jones, a former associate producer on Dear White People, told Digital Trends. The six-episode series debuted at the Sundance Film Festival as part of the new Indie Episodic section.

“There’s tons of artists and really cool people, and I used to live there, so I used to be cool, too,” Jones joked. The semi-autobiographical show, which she created and directed, follows three roommates, Mickey (Ashley Blaine Featherson), Bridget (Ashli Haynes), and Kendra (Asia’h Epperson).

“They’re millennials; they all live together and they have their loves and their things that they want to do and the things they need to do to survive,” Jones said.

Is this real life?

After her daughter was born, Jones said she wanted to tackle a new project. On a late-night shuttle from the airport to the Sundance Film Festival in 2015, she started discussing the project with Aaliyah Williams, who is now the Chief Content Officer at Macro, a company that helps finance film and other content created by people of color.

“I took her down to Leimert Park and drove around, and I gave her the whole spiel and showed her all the landmarks and talked about all the crazy stuff that happens in my house,” Jones said. “All sorts of shit happens in the house, much of what you see, some of it made up. I won’t tell you which is which.”

Leimert Park

Each episode follows the three women as they deal with their individual problems, though sometimes a thread connects their stories.

“The first episode deals with Yoni Eggs, so they all get these Yoni Eggs, and they all have their wants for what it’s gonna do when they pop it in their vagina,” Jones said. “And there’s an episode called ‘Date Night,’ and you see what all of their versions of date night looks like.” Yoni Eggs, hawked by Goop in a jade version, are supposed to help women have better sex by strengthening pelvic walls and increasing chi (now you know, you’re welcome).

“All sorts of s**t happens in the house.”

That’s what Mickey is looking for. The aspiring DJ hasn’t had an orgasm in three months, something she hasn’t told Miles, her husband.

“She got the Yoni Egg hoping that would warm it up in there,” Jones said. “But it’s because she’s not happy with her life. It’s not really her husband, exactly.”

It’s a combination of disliking her job and paying the bills while Miles finishes school. Meanwhile, Kendra, an installation artist, spends her time trying to figure out new and shocking ways to get attention.

“She hasn’t been able to find her niche yet, and it gets her into trouble,” Jones said. Rounding out the trio is Bridget. “This is probably the first time (Bridget) ever not lived with her parents. When it comes to love and men, she’s just a little bit inexperienced. She mistakes sex for love.”

This s**t is bananas

Though it’s been three years since Jones first had the idea for Leimert Park, once she found a writer to help her shape the script and partnered with Macro, things happened fairly quickly — they shot the series in 10 days. She wanted to make sure it reflected her experience, as well as the neighborhood. Bananas, the club Mickey DJs at, is real, as is the eccentric character Verbs, who runs the place.

Leimert Park

“He gets the biggest laughs, and he’s just being himself,” Jones said.

Having attended Sundance for years, Jones said she’s noticed more diversity this year, with more directors of color.

“Being able to see your community of filmmakers who are telling stories very similar to yours and with similar experiences isn’t really normal,” she said. “Usually there’s one person that then has to be the spokesperson for all of us, which sucks because I know there are going to be people that are like, ‘That is not my life’ when they look at my thing. And I would hate for my thing to be the only thing, so it’s nice that there’s more.”

“You don’t feel the pressure of a traditional movie.”

Giving first-time directors a shot is part of the reason Sundance introduced the Indie Episodic section.

“I really do think that as a first-timer, working in the episodic drama, or whatever you would call it, is a little more forgiving,” Jones said. “You don’t feel the pressure of a traditional movie in which people have an expectation, like the first 15 minutes is some type of exciting incident and then you have this whole big chunk in the middle that has to be interesting and then you have to resolve it. You just get to tell this story forever.”

Kettle corn and cinematic history

Despite the tight shooting schedule, the format also lent itself to a major last-minute change. Jones ditched an entire episode so the budget could accommodate one very memorable scene.

“That’s going to be a scene you’ll hear about,” she promises. “There was a line that a character says, and I was like, oh my god, this line, this should be happening.” Was it worth it? “Totally fucking worth it. It’s cinematic history. You’ve never seen anything like it.”

On that note, we asked Jones to pick the perfect snack to eat while watching Leimert Park.

“Let me describe Leimert, and then I’ll think of a snack that’s like that. So, I think Leimert is kinda spicy, but it’s smooth spicy, like curry.” After first suggesting Hot Cheetos, she reflected on her favorite thing to eat while watching: “I like the Trader Joe’s sweet kettle corn popcorn. That’s a good one. And I really like the sweet cream ice cream, with strawberries. And kettle corn on top? That’s what it is. It’s very feminine. You wanna just kinda snuggle up. Maybe some wine, too. Gets you a little warm on the inside.”

This article is part of a series of reports from the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Digital Trends was a guest of Adobe Premiere Pro during the event.

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