Machine Gun Kelly’s ‘Downfalls High’: ‘Grease 2’, ‘Kids’ and the key pop cultural influences

Filmmaker and producer Andrew Sandler walks us through his pop cultural playground

Machine Gun Kelly’s ‘Tickets To My Downfall’ was a love letter to the bratty pop-punk he grew up on and the accompanying musical is no different. Set in the fictional (and titular) school Downfalls High, the 50-minute movie sees Fenix (Chase Hudson) experience love, loss and the thrill of a really good gig as he turns to music to help him cope with the world around him.

Using a blend of found footage styles, surreal live performances and the everyday drama of graduating high school, Downfalls High seemed an ambitious project even before you consider the script was bashed out in a week and shot in 4 days amid the global pandemic. Written and directed by Colson Baker (aka Machine Gun Kelly) and Mod Sun, it was the job of executive producer Andrew Sandler (best-known for his documentaries and music video work with Ariana Grande, Blink 182 and Mac Miller) to quarterback the project and make sure their unique vision came to life. Here, he tells NME about the biggest influences behind Downfalls High.

Emo music videos

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“I was always a fan of emo music so when MGK first played me the album, I got really excited because I grew up listening to bands like Good Charlotte and Blink 182. We wanted the whole project to reflect that nostalgic feeling of what it felt like to watch those [classic] music videos.

“I feel like ‘Tickets To My Downfall’ opened the door for emo to be cool again. With everything we went through last year with COVID, it’s the perfect time for this genre to have a resurgence and for people to know it’s okay to be emotional. It feels like there’s a musical renaissance with artists like Mod Sun, jxdn, Nessa Barrett and even Chase, who has a music career of his own (under the name Lil Huddy) all doing cool things. We wanted this film to capture that lightning in the bottle.”

Steven Spielberg

“I started my career as a child actor and ended up working around Spielberg for Minority Report. Being in front of the camera is where I found my love for being behind it and I’m always pulling inspiration from his cinematography for music videos I’ve worked on, especially with MGK. I feel like everybody pulls from his work though. We wanted Downfalls High to be a coming-of-age story so we were really able to relate to a lot of his films. His whole body of work is inspirational.”

Downfalls High
Machine Gun Kelly performs his latest album throughout the new film. Credit: Press

Grease 2

“We looked at Grease for the aesthetic but it was actually Grease 2 that was a bigger inspiration for this film. It felt a bit more modern to us and we liked how the musical intercut with the narrative. We wanted to create a juxtaposition between these big Broadway performances on these elaborate sets with the intimacy of this [story] about two kids falling in love. We wanted it to feel like two different worlds, so we looked at the stage version of Grease as well.

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Kids

“We looked at a lot of John Hughes films as a reference for the coming-of-age story of Scarlet and Fenix – especially Stand By Me – but it was Kids (directed by Larry Clark and co-written by Harmony Korine) that was the real inspiration. We asked ourselves, how do we make a 2021 version of Kids that feels authentic and relatable to [teenagers] nowadays.

“Fenix doesn’t get a happy ending but we didn’t want to make a sad movie. We wanted it to feel real and, in the end, we’re just seeing life as it happens. Our main character doesn’t meet someone new and learn to love again. Instead, he doesn’t get over his loss but through that pain, he’s able to find his passion and live out his musical dreams. I feel like this is really a first of its kind. We purposefully didn’t have a happy ending and we deliberately didn’t do what you’d typically expect a coming-of-age film to do.”

 

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