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How does someone get inspired to make a movie like ‘High School’? It certainly doesn’t hurt to go to high school in Los Angeles, California followed up by college in Boulder, Colorado – both bright stars in the universe of marijuana. Of all the characters director John Stalhberg, Jr. encountered attending school in Boulder; one became the inspiration for the movie’s Psycho Ed character, unforgettably played by Adrien Brody.
The inspiration for the character of Psycho Ed showed up at a friend of a friend’s barbecue one day, holding a glass jar of crystalline powder protectively in his hands. Lit by the overhead red bulb, he announced to all the shady characters present that the jar contained the pure THC crystals reaped from an entire harvest of his scientifically home-grown chronic.
He proceeded to pour it into the host’s hookah pipe for everyone to try. Somehow Stalhberg was expected to go first. He had an intramural basketball league game later that evening, but there this wiry dude was, staring at him with his red beady eyes, sadistically egging me on. There was no escape.
The next thing Stalhberg knew, people’s faces were turning green. What time was it? Where was he? Who were all these long-haired guys wearing burlap sacks and Moroccan caftans staring at him? He checked my watch and then it hit him, “Wait. Today is Thursday, right?” he asked. The shady characters shrugged. They were oblivious to those sorts of details.
Then the realization hit Stalhberg with both barrels— he had fifteen minutes before he and his friends were due on the basketball court for their intramural league game. They’d never make it. And Stalhberg had to round up the team… where were they? Who were they? And why was he sitting on Tupperware containers filled with freshly harvested marijuana?
The power forward, Wysong, sounded drunk when Stalhberg called him, but he agreed to meet the team at the court. Doug and Ziegler were at the barbecue with Stalhberg. Catatonic on a nearby Salvation Army couch, but alive. They had also been victims of Psycho Ed.
That made four players including Stalhberg, but he was still one man shy of the minimum required to properly play the sport of basketball. He caught the eye of a kid he didn’t know who was visiting from New York. The kid was in bad shape. “Can you play basketball?” Stalhberg asked him. The kid stared for what seemed like an hour. Finally, through parched lips and dried mouth he crackled out, “Basketball? No dude… I can play lacrosse though.” Stahlberg started tripping out on how swollen and bloodshot the kid’s eyes were, but there was just no time for that kind of analysis now. The team was due on the hardwood.
Doug and Ziegler shuffled out after Stalhberg and the New Yorker. As they split, Stalhber muttered some excuse why they were leaving to the beady-eyed weed-sadist who had done this to them. The junkie smiled goodbye, revealing a prominent gold tooth.
They arrived at the basketball court with no time to spare. Stalhberg somehow managed to check in his team, and then he saw their opponents. Old guys. Then the recognition flooded into his brain during warm-ups, just as Stalhberg’s bug-eyed Humanities professor, Jim Tasse, pump-faked his teammate (Stalhberg’s albino Archaeology professor Mr. Gould) out of his tight shorts and buried a crazed, three-point jumper in the back of the net… They were about to play the faculty. Apparently the faculty had assembled an intramural squad to compete this year. What on Earth was going to happen? Disaster was averted as Stalhberg’s team proceeded to get their asses handed to them by the duck-tailed baby boomers.
The story of this game, including all the cheap elbows, dirty play and the green New Yorker’s half-court, buzzer-beating miracle shot were the seeds of the story “Intramural,” which ultimately became the essence of the movie ‘High School’.
Stahlberg developed the prototypic “Intramural” into a script for ‘High School’, spinning off the central character of Psycho Ed into his own story, but Stalhberg was never satisfied with it until he met a surfer named Travis Breaux from San Diego. Stalhberg pictured a high school character with that name… and he instantly saw the whole movie. After that, he sat down and banged out the new script in a month.
The lead character would be a skateboarder named Travis Breaux. The other lead would be the polar opposite… the valedictorian Henry Burke. They would be childhood friends who grew apart as they entered high school. The awkward tension of fading childhood relationships passing by the same high school hallways day after day intrigued Stalhberg and he was familiar with it. It felt like an interesting dynamic between the two leads of the film.
Image Courtesy of http://www.highschool-themovie.com
Photo Credit : NEIL JACOBS