It’s taken eighteen years for Motley Crue biopic The Dirt to go from print to screen. Long-time manager Allen Kovac, who is exec producing the Netflix feature film, tells Deadline why it took so long to adapt the memoir and how they wanted to create “Boogie Nights-meets-Goodfellas” set in the debaucherous world of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
The film, which debuts on the SVOD platform on March 22, tells the story of notorious Sunset Strip glamrockers Motley Crue – Vince Neil, Tommy Lee, Nikki Sixx and Mick Mars and is based on Neil Strauss’ book The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band, which was published in 2001.
It’s a raucous story that includes rampant drug abuse – Sixx was famously pronounced dead after a heroin overdose – manslaughter – Neil killed his passenger in a 1985 drunk driving accident – and the film opens with a graphic oral sex scene involving Tommy Lee.
Machine Gun Kelly (Roadies) plays Lee, Douglas Booth (The Riot Club) plays Sixx, Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones) stars as Mars and Daniel Webber (The Punisher) is Neil, while Billions star David Costabile stars as manager Doc McGhee and Pete Davidson appears as a record label executive. Jackass co-creator Jeff Tremaine directs off a script from XXX’s Rich Wilkes, Mid90s producer Amanda Adelson and Californication creator Tom Kapinos. The film is produced by Hell or High Water producer Julie Yorn, Boardwalk Empire and Vinyl producer Rick Yorn and The Book of Eli’s Erik Olsen for LBI Entertainment and 10th Street Entertainment.
The film was originally set up at Paramount/MTV Films in 2006 but Kovac said that the departure of Tom Freston stopped it in its tracks early on. There’s multiple reasons the movie wasn’t made immediately; Tom Freston had loved the book and optioned it. For a year everything was moving along in development and then he gets fired. We lost the reason we optioned the book to Paramount.”
At the time, the band was frustrated by losing momentum. In 2008, Sixx said. “We’re trying to get them out of the way to make this movie that should have been made a long time ago. MTV has become bogged down in its own way. It’s a channel that used to be hip and has now actually become unhip. We signed with them because we believed they were right, but they haven’t come to the table. We need to find the right partner. They are not the right partner.”
Kovac subsequently brought on Rick and Julie Torn and they helped bring it to Netflix. The manager, who has also worked with a range of artists including The Bee Gees and Duran Duran, said that the appeal in Netflix was the long-tail. “We had many film companies interested when we had a turnaround deal with Paramount but we chose Netflix over them because Netflix can promote this movie for the next 100 years,” he said.
Although the Girls, Girls, Girls and Shout At The Devil band is known for being hard-living rockstars with heroin habits and model wives, with the help of Kovac, who has managed the band since 1994, they have been rather savvy when it comes to their finances. They struck a deal with their former label Elektra Records to gain ownership of their masters and publishing rights, which has helped them in the long-run.
Now, they are using data to help market the movie. Kovac said that it would promote the film to its own fans on Spotify, Apple Music and Ticketmaster with a little help from Netflix’s algorithm. To market a movie globally, you’re talking about $100M but to market with data, you don’t need to buy billboards. The old days of marketing a film over 5 or 6 months over hundreds of markets is over.”
The Elektra Records deal also included a slew of video footage, which helped the movie. “When Motley received their copyrights back they also received every piece of video that was shot by Elektra Records. When you can give that to a costume designer or an actor or casting agent, it’s very helpful,” he said.
Tremaine has been on board for a number of years after original director Larry Charles left the project. However, the band were initially concerned with having the co-creator of Jackass to helm their story. “The band didn’t want to meet the guy that did Jackass. They said ‘we’re trying to make Boogie Nights and Goodfellas’ and we’ve had David Fincher come in the room. I said why don’t we give the guy a chance and he sold himself,” said Kovac.
The Dirt has whet Kovac’s appetite for film and TV. He suggested that a high-end feature doc or doc series may be in the works soon. “We are talking about that and that will come with time. Motley Crue are executive producers and when a company agrees to work with the band on their terms, we’ll do it,” he said.
He is also producing a musical version of Sixx’s The Heroin Diaries and is in the middle of developing another, as yet untitled, feature film about teenage drug abuse.
Kovac said that both this forthcoming film, as well as The Dirt, are aimed at deglamourizing the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.
“The mission of this film was to tell Motley Crue’s story but to deglamourize the sex, drugs and rock n roll because of the damage that it can do. I think we’ve achieved that but also made a great movie. These were young kids in the 1980s whose role models with the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Keith Richards, and the Beatles. Look at what they were up to, the Beatles were on acid, Keith was a heroin junkie and Ozzy did everything so if you think about it you could make a movie and glamourize and get a lot of press but what are you doing to the next generation,” he added.