Colson Baker (known professionally as Machine Gun Kelly) and Derek Ryan Smith (known professionally as Mod Sun) are childhood pals who like to make stuff. From hit music tracks to feature films, the duo has had great success creating together and individually. But when it comes to their creative partnership, there’s a certain type of magic that can only happen when you’re working with your best friend. According to Baker, he and Smith always have a rotating harmony when working on various projects. “It’s such a good yin-yang situation between us that we meet in the middle every time. We were given the blessing of if my tank was empty, he was full, and if he was empty, I was full.”
When we connect over Zoom, Baker and Smith are eager to share their movie-making insights and their weed smoking exploits, especially with respect to their latest film, Good Mourning, which they both wrote, directed, and starred in. Good Mourning follows London Clash (played by Baker) who wakes up to a message from his girlfriend that reads “I wish I didn’t have to do this thru text. Good Mourning.”—an assumed breakup text. This alarming possibility arrives on the same day that London has an important meeting that will determine the future of his acting career. His day becomes a wild adventure that forces him to choose between his love life and landing the big role. The ensuing conversation is further proof that the combination of both weed and friendship is the perfect formula for any successful creative pursuit.
High Times: Growing up, did you guys ever envision writing, directing, and starring in your own feature films?
Derek Ryan Smith: I did. It was a goal I’d had since I was very young. I probably would say “movie” [instead of feature film] but—
Colson Baker: Yeah, I was gonna say. Every IG Story post that Mod’s done since the start of Instagram has said the word “movie.”
I was always that kid with the giant chunky camera—before they started inventing the smaller ones—filming skate tricks or smoking out of an apple. I was always documenting when I was younger. It kind of felt like everything was leading up to Good Mourning.
On that tip, Good Mourning isn’t your first movie collaboration together. What was the inspiration behind this one and why was it important for you guys to make it?
CB: It’s a very meta movie that came from a real situation that I was spiraling about, which is exactly what the character London was doing in the movie: Misreading a text message and not being able to get the answer back, so asking your friends “What does this mean, what does this mean?” And them just giving you terrible advice.
My favorite parts of the movie are the moments we wrote down that ended up coming to life later. Like the Batman reference. It’s London’s audition—it’s his big day getting his Batman audition—and this was before we even found out they were going to make a new Batman with Robert Pattinson. It’s funny [our] film comes out right after The Batman is the talk of the town.
It reminds me of—and I can’t believe I’m quoting this—Not Another Teen Movie, or Scary Movie, or any of those movies where they reference pop culture moments happening at the time. We didn’t intentionally have any knowledge of these things. Same with the Fake Drake.
DRS: The Fake Drake thing is just mind-blowing to me. I’ll never get over that.
CB: The fact that there wasn’t this viral Fake Drake thing happening when we wrote the movie…[it happened for us] because the role was originally supposed to be Drake. We couldn’t see [the character] as any other person. Drake was going to do the movie, but then because of scheduling, he could only make it one day. But we didn’t have the house that day, and the other day he was back in Toronto. He was like, “If you get a jet, I can make it,” which would have cost the entire budget of the movie to get him via jet to Los Angeles for this five-second shot. It worked even better with the Fake Drake.
DRS: That was my final straw. When I saw the Fake Drake viral thing, I was like, “Dude, stop.” I couldn’t believe it.
CB: Everything manifested from this film. It was a trip.
Do you think in some ways, you guys putting Fake Drake into the film helped it manifest in real life?
DRS: We wrote that skater boy bit and then all of a sudden now I’m engaged to Avril Lavigne [laughs], so I don’t know.
CB: The manifestation from this movie almost feels like it needed to come through some type of vessels, and we ended up being the vessels. Stoner comedies—especially for the new generations—are almost nonexistent, and they’re definitely nonexistent in the sense of actual stoners writing and directing them.
We were not smoking fake weed on set. We had pounds and pounds.
This is High Times, you’re good. We want this information.
DRS: Okay, good.
CB: I reached out to Berner and he sent us a pallet of Cookies and every accoutrement you’d need to get high.
DRS: Whoa. What word did you just use?
CB: Every possible way you could smoke weed, he had it in the package. We knew we had to add to the legend of each classic stoner movie having either a [weed] game that you learn or a new way to roll that you learn. We probably have a 10-minute smoker’s montage in the movie, so if there isn’t one [legendary]…
DRS: Please be “the smorkle.”
CB: It’s either “the smorkle,” “five fingers of death,” or the giant Snoop Dogg joint. I’m hoping one of those lands in the classic stoner archives.
The takeaway being, if one kid emulates your smoking techniques, you guys have done your job.
CB: Absolutely. And by one kid, we hopefully mean one million. But yeah.
What’s the difference in your creative process between making a movie like Good Mourning and making an album?
CB: If we fuck our albums up, that’s just on us. If we fuck the movie up, we embarrass the cast, we embarrass our financiers, we embarrass ourselves.
DRS: Putting your art in other people’s hands is a different kind of monster to sleep with at night.
CB: Or them putting our art in our hands, but them being the ones giving us the money to do it.
DRS: It’s definitely a whole different experience and takes a whole different side of trust to happen. It’s one thing to trust in yourself, it’s another thing to trust in everybody on set.
Is there anything from the music world that you bring into your creative process when you’re making a film?
DRS: I think we might not have believed that we could start a script and finish it if we hadn’t learned how to write a song and be able to finish that. Or if we didn’t know how to finish an album. I think [finishing music] unlocked something in our brains to see something through until the end.
We live in Los Angeles, so how many people are outside this window right now like, “I’m working on [a] script.” And it’s been 30 years, you know?
CB: The other thing I took from music to movies was how collaborative music is. They don’t really bring that into movies too often outside of the Adam Sandlers and the Seth Rogens. There’s a few people who learned that reaching out and being collaborative on films is possible—that you can actually just pick up the phone and ask to collab on films the same way you can ask to collab on songs. That was something we came in with on this.
DRS: We filled this movie with amazing actors and people who have never acted before. People who we just believed could do it.
You’re not only indoctrinating—hopefully—millions of people to new smoking techniques, you’re also breaking in the talent of your friends in a new lane for them.
CB: One-hundred percent. It was an honor to have the established comedians come in and bring their comedy to our film because some of those lines that Whitney [Cummings] and Pete [Davidson] said, you couldn’t write. Those were strictly from comedic genius brains.
People like GaTa—who we’ve watched on a great series like Dave be GaTa—we were able to give him a character to play that’s the complete opposite of GaTa. People like Megan [Fox], Dove [Cameron], Zach [Villa]—we got to watch them explore characters we haven’t seen them portray before. Like, I’ve never seen Dove in a stoner movie, right? She’s coming from a completely different end of the spectrum in film and TV.
And then Boo [Johnson] who’s this rad skater from Long Beach coming in and having a main role in a movie when he’s never acted before. I now have high hopes that I’ll see him in something else.
You mentioned you were well taken care of with weed on set. How does weed impact your creative process?
DRS: I think with [the Good Mourning] script, it was the genesis to everything. Writing a script can feel like homework and we did not go to college. We were done with school when we finished high school, and I’m pretty sure both of us barely finished high school. [Writing the script] kind of felt like a job, but being able to smoke weed with your best friend all day kind of gave it that cushion to be fun.
CB: I think the act of rolling [papers] is almost like a stress ball or something. It’s less even the smoking and more that you’re able to roll something while you’re writing and you’re sitting in one place. Having something to do with your hands is great. It’s either that, or punching each other in the face. I don’t know if that would have been as productive, but it also would have been satisfying.
Was there any particular strain you guys gravitated toward?
CB: Growing up, I loved Green Crack. I will never forget when I smoked Green Crack for the first time and I was driving in a car that still had snow on the roof of it. In Cleveland, it snows a bunch, so it’s not like you brush the snow off the roof, you just leave it on there and get it off the windows. I was so high on Green Crack and my mouth was so parched that I just reached my hand out of the window and grabbed a giant glob of snow and ate it. It was the most refreshing water taste ever.
DRS: Mine was Jack Herer.
DRS and CB: Ohhhhhhhhhhhh!
CB: Jack Herer, dude! That was the go-to sativa.
DRS: That was the designer weed when we were young.
To that end, do you guys have any plans to create your own strains or partner with any brands?
CB: My friend has a great weed company called Rapper Weed. I think the name is genius, but I don’t have any part in it. I just think it’s a great name.
DRS: I still have plans to write a book where every page is a paper that you can smoke.
CB: Oh, that’s sick.
DRS: You can really digest the writing.
You could have your own smokable library.
CB: Yeah, that’s hard. You could light that library on fire. It’s a new twist on Fahrenheit 451, dude. It’s the less-dark version of that.
What was the most challenging aspect of making Good Mourning?
CB: It would have to be never actually having a cast until the day we would shoot. Even when we had the main cast casted the day before we had to shoot, there was always cameos or characters in the script where we were like, “Oh shit, we forgot there’s ‘Unknown Person #2’ that we always wanted to be so-and-so.” We were calling in favors left and right.
DRS: The hours were pretty crazy. [Colson] also had to show up an hour-and-a-half earlier than me every day to cover up his tattoos. And I think just directing the energy of a bunch of people in the same room and keeping the vibe where it needs to be to get the right shot.
CB: We had to break up the weed montage into two days because there was so much smoking. A lot didn’t get used, but one day the smoke set off the fire alarm in the house, which originally was okay because we’d turned the sprinklers off. Or so we thought. One of the sprinklers was actually left on and it sprayed all over the camera equipment and wouldn’t stop. It was like a fire truck hose was going off.
Did that burn a day?
CB: It burned a lot of the day.
DRS: We flooded the house we were in pretty much.
But you still made a movie.
DRS: Somehow. Somehow we did.