Rob Fatal and the Making of La Bamba 2: Hell Is a Drag

The Cast of La Bamba 2: Hell Is a Drag

"I wrote a sequel to From Dusk Till Dawn when I was in seventh grade."

So began the filmmaking career of Rob Fatal (MFA 2012). His obsession with film proceeded apace, but it took him a surprisingly long time, he says, to realize that there was a person called a director -- that movies didn't just spring into existence like Athena from Zeus's head.

Inspired by Quentin Tarantino, Mel Brooks, and Robert Rodriguez, Fatal began writing screenplays at age 12. "I loved camp and sci-fi films before I even knew they were genres." At 19 he borrowed his father's camcorder and made a 30-minute film about DJs with magical turntables. "It was accidentally campy. It was accidentally bad. But it had a lot of sincerity." Much to his surprise, it did well, even getting into a couple of festivals.

Film Maker, Filmmaker, or Artist?

Fast forward a few years. Fatal was still working in film and experimenting with video art, but not quite to the point of considering himself a filmmaker, and certainly not an "artist," whatever that meant.

But one day, in the midst of editing a video documenting an experimental opera by Fatal's collaborator/mentor Juliana Snapper, he recomposed portions of the footage into a new composition and showed it to CCA faculty member Cheryl Dunye.

Dunye delivered the unexpected news that what he was doing was art, and urged him to apply to CCA's MFA program. The faculty there, she said, were pushing the boundaries of genres, and dealing with gender politics and racial identity -- fields of study Fatal had been researching for years in his graduate program at Sacramento State University.

CCA presented Fatal with a place to finally bridge his dual love of film theory and practice.

La Bamba 2: Hell Is a Drag

For his thesis project Fatal reprised his tried-and-true seventh-grade formula, writing and filming a sequel to La Bamba, the 1987 biopic about the Chicano musician Ritchie Valens. La Bamba 2: Hell Is a Drag takes place 100 years after Valens's untimely death in a plane crash in 1959. Fatal, who plays the protagonist, carries out a quest to save his own soul from a jealous gang of rock stars, including Selena, Buddy Holly, and Kurt Cobain.

Watch the trailer:

"La Bamba 2," the artist says, "is a film made by a band of social minorities dealing with confrontational and surreal ideas." He further describes the film as "accessible," "funny," and "infective."

He began writing the script in May 2011 and finished in August of the same year. He shot for a month straight before taking a break to retool the script under the guidance of professors Jeanne C. Finley and Brook Hinton. (He also received invaluable support along the way from advisors Cheryl Dunye, Guillermo Galindo, and Lynn Marie Kirby, among others.) He returned to shooting in February 2012 and first screened the film in March.

"It was hell. I could not have done this without the dedication and talent of the whole team."

The cast is an ensemble of Fatal's CCA peers. Maria Guadalupe (MFA 2012) plays Bob, Ritchie's brother; Alex Hernandez (MFA 2012) plays Donna, Ritchie's girlfriend; Robert Gomez (MA Visual and Critical Studies 2012, MFA 2013) plays Rosie, Bob's wife; and 2012 alumna Mev Luna plays Connie, Ritchie's mother. The assistant director was current student Jessica Leimone. More than 20 additional CCA faculty and students had roles in front of and behind the camera.

A Berkeley FILM Foundation Award

To finish post-production on La Bamba 2 (ETA is early 2013) Fatal was recently awarded a $5,000 grant from the Berkeley FILM Foundation. "It was surprising to win because they traditionally fund documentary works. I don't think they often fund trash/sci-fi sequels to 30-year-old rock and roll films, so I feel very lucky we were awarded such a prestigious grant."

He recalls his pitch to the award committee as going something like: "I'm taking a classic Chicano film that I loved and revered as a kid and remaking it to scrutinize archetypes of Chicanos and queers (or the lack of queers) that we see in Chicano film. These underrepresented voices need to be out there."

The Commitment to Art Award

Fatal's other accolades at CCA included the Ginny Kleker Commitment to Art Award (which involves a generous cash award) and the Rebecca Ora Award for Risk Taking in the Arts (also known as the Nerve Award).

Fatal admits that after his first year in the MFA program he started to have doubts about a career as an artist. "I was kind of just looking for a sign from above," he recalls, "and then I got the email from Lynn Marie Kirby saying that I'd won the Ginny Kleker Award, that I was the first-ever recipient, and that it was a big deal."

He researched the award's namesake and quickly fell in love with her art. "I wanted to meet her, ask her about her work, and have her guide my work, but found out that she'd died by suicide in 2008, just as her career was beginning to take off. I was really inspired by her and I felt like she was present while I was writing the La Bamba 2 script, which investigates fame, the afterlife, and society's collective obsession with celebrity."

Kleker had been a graduate of CCA, and Kirby had also been her advisor. "I owe a lot to Lynn Marie Kirby, and also Ted Purves (chair of the Graduate Program in Fine Arts) and Teresa Ferguson, Ginny's mom. If it wasn't for that award, I couldn't have stayed in the Bay Area, I couldn't have stayed in school, and I couldn't have started making La Bamba 2.

The Nerve Award

There's an equally interesting story behind the Rebecca Ora Award for Risk Taking in the Arts. Rebecca Ora (MFA 2010) won the coveted Toby Devan Lewis Fellowship when she received her MFA. (This award is given each year to exceptional graduating MFA students at several different colleges and universities working in painting, sculpture, mixed media, or performance art.) Ora has since used a portion of her winnings annually to support CCA MFA students who create challenging work.

"Rebecca Ora and I had really heated conversations about politics, the body, and gender identity. It was good for me to be prodded that way and to have to defend what I was doing. Ultimately, she was extremely supportive."

Boot Camp for Artists

Graduate school was not an easy time for Fatal, but he acknowledges that it delivered the right mix of challenge and validation and that he left a stronger and more focused artist. "Grad school puts you through the wringer. It's like boot camp."

Just prior to graduation, he screened the latest cut of La Bamba 2 in Timken Lecture Hall. To a packed house. "It was, hands-down, one of the most inspiring and profound days of my life."

"Because I didn't know any better, the goal had always been to get to Hollywood," Fatal continues, "and now that couldn’t be further from my thoughts. My peers and instructors at CCA have shown me another path. A unique path made by my own ambitions and values."

He has found a niche and a voice he didn't even know existed back when he was writing roles for Harvey Keitel and George Clooney as a middle-schooler in Sacramento.

"CCA has been essential to my development as an artist. The support I got from the faculty and the college's location in the Bay Area were critical. For anybody who is dedicated to creating radical, different, and ambitious work and is looking for a challenge, CCA is wonderful place to call home for a couple of years."