Film Explores How Real-Life College Admissions Pressures Are Mirrored In High School Musical
HBO Original documentary film MY SO-CALLED HIGH SCHOOL RANK, produced and directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg (HBO’s “Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing”), debuts TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 29 (9:00-10:45 p.m. ET/PT) on HBO and will be available to stream on HBO Max.
MY SO-CALLED HIGH SCHOOL RANK chronicles the creation of a musical theater production at Granite Bay High School in Sacramento, CA, inspired by students’ stories of the constant pressures to achieve a top-rank in every part of their lives to get ahead in today’s fierce college admissions process.
In an uncanny case of art anticipating real life, Granite Bay’s musical “Ranked” was in the works weeks before Rick Singer and the “Varsity Blues” scandal made headlines in 2019. The play’s apt timing and subject matter speak to a culture where many students feel driven to succeed at any cost.
As news emerged of the production of a musical exploring these critical issues, other schools reached out to stage their own productions. High schoolers around the country connected with the show’s themes as they themselves struggle to find their place in the world amid intense college admissions competition. The film chronicles auditions and rehearsals at three high schools from Ripley, WV, to Cupertino, CA, as well as to the Bronx, NY, where students face similar challenges despite dramatically different life circumstances. In spring 2020, the students’ worlds are upended by the global pandemic and sociopolitical turmoil in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and through video diaries and intimate verité, the film follows the students and their teachers as they confront unprecedented challenges without the creative connection and community that the arts, particularly theater, had always provided. Despite their isolation, the students find new ways to cope and connect, and we see the realization of their dreams in a final, heartfelt performance in the spring of 2021 on the eve of graduation.
MY SO-CALLED HIGH SCHOOL RANK also charts the success of the musical and the first steps towards the realization of the creators’ dream to mount the show on Broadway, only to be sidelined by the global shutdown.
With the mental stresses and challenges of teenagers seen in the news, the documentary is a timely look at the academic, social, and economic pressures heaped upon today’s youth, and a clarion call to listen to their voices and provide the lifeline of creative expression that performing arts allow. Shot over two years in public schools representing vastly different communities, MY SO-CALLED HIGH SCHOOL RANK reveals the remarkable resilience and similarities that bind this generation across economic and racial divides.
The film features the “Ranked” creators Kyle Holmes and David Taylor Gomes, as well as students, parents and staff of Granite Bay High School and Cupertino High School in California, Fordham High School for the Arts in New York City, and Ripley High School in West Virginia.
HBO Documentary Films presents MY SO-CALLED HIGH SCHOOL RANK Produced and directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg; senior producer Alexander Baertl; For HBO: executive producers Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller; senior producer Tina Nguyen.