Study Guide

Dirty Dancing Production Design

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Production Design

Dirty Dancing got its title before it was even written. Screenwriter Bergstein was pitching ideas to an MGM producer, and reminisced about the dirty dancing of her teen years. The producer, Linda Gottlieb, recalls "I said, 'That's a million-dollar title! Now we'll figure out the story.' We invented Johnny Castle at lunch" (source). That must have been some lunch.

Allegedly, the producers offered the role of Johnny to Val Kilmer and Billy Zane. The world is so glad that they turned it down.

Fall-ing in Love

The film is set at a summer resort, but believe it or not, it was filmed in autumn. In some of the outdoor scenes, the fall leaves and shrubs had to be spray-painted green to mask their colors. Now, that's commitment. If you pay close attention to the background in those scenes, you can see leaves falling off the trees (source).

The weather complicated some of the other scenes, too. It got unexpectedly chilly that fall in North Carolina, where filming took place. In the lake lift scene, they had to eliminate close-ups because Grey and Swayze's lips were turning blue. Poor Patrick:

It was horrifyingly, hypothermically cold in that lake, and we filmed that scene over and over. And despite the fact that Jennifer was very light, when you're lifting someone in water, take after take after take, even the skinniest little girl can feel like 500 pounds. By the time we finished shooting that sequence, my arms were like rubber, my body temperature had plunged. (Source)

Grey was too scared to practice the lift out of the water, and she refused to rehearse it. The first time she did it was on camera, in the climactic dance scene.

You'd never guess from their onscreen chemistry that they hated each others guts when filming began. There was some leftover chill from their icy working relationship in Red Dawn. With some prodding from the director, they got over it. It shows. (Source).

Some Light Dancing

Patrick Swayze isn't a real life ray of sunshine, but he's close. Most of the time, scenes are lit through the pure force of Swayze's charisma. The rest of the time, the movie makes as much use as possible of natural lighting.

The playful studio scene, which highlights Baby and Johnny's role reversal, features some fantastic lighting. The scene where Johnny lifts Baby in the lake looks like it was shot at sunset, but was actually lit with artificial light, although you might never know it if the DVD commentary didn't tell you.

Emile Ardolino and cinematographer Jeff Jur, who got dirty on TV's Dirty Sexy Money (2007-09) and killed it on Dexter (2012-13), know how to give their actors their rightful places in the sun. Maybe anything can look good in the right light?

Yeah, we'll keep telling ourselves that as we dance in the dark.

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