Gabriel Zavala remembers vividly what Friday nights where like when he was a teenager growing up in Anaheim. The director would get ready for a night of dancing at Cloud 9, a popular dance club inside Knotts Berry Farm where kids of every subculture– punks, goths, material girls, and rudeboys– would congregate religiously to hear the biggest New Wave hits, as well as two-tone ska tracks by (now classic) heavy hitters like The Specials, Madness, and The Selector. Zavala and his buds counted themselves as rudeboys from the suits to the vespas.
It was these experiences, and Zavala's undying love of ska, that inspired him to create a film based on the scene, and to reconnect audiences with a style of music that has seemingly been left out of cinema and people's imaginations. That film is Rude Boy The Movie, which will be holding a special screening this Friday at the Frida Cinema in Santa Ana.
As an adult, Zavala admits he hadn't recalled anything about his youth until he and some family members waxed nostalgic on a vacation in Cancun some years ago. "My brother Oliver and I were enjoying some cocktails and reminiscing about when we were kids. We used to share a bedroom and so naturally he witnessed my adolescent transition from geeky nerd to copacetic 'rudeboy,' Zavala explains.
"He was only 10 at the time and I was about 15, but his recollection of the era was so vivid and detailed we found ourselves just laughing and reliving all the crazy stunts I used to pull with my scooter friends. It left me yearning for those days -‐ the fashion, the music, the 80's."
At the time, Zavala was working as a sound engineer, directing and editing music videos, when he and brother Oliver decided to develop a screenplay. The Zavalas wanted to make the film as reflective of Orange County as possible, from the actors to the crew to the locations, so familiar landmarks of OC like Boysenberry Park appear in the film, and some cast members are from local ska bands: Tara Pearce, lead singer of ska band Half Past Two plays Rudy's sister Veronica in the film; Jonas Cabrera of 3rd wave ska band The Skeletones plays an older version of Rudy.
In making the film, the Zavalas and their friend Julian Camarillo, who served as producer, found plenty of heavy difficulties in production and finances; after a failed kickstarter, Zavala was able to pool together $10,000 dollars, and was able to call upon creative friends to act as extras or make cameos. Both brothers, who work in the music industry in their own way (Oliver has been a musician for Starpool, Save Ferris, The Untouchables, Fishbone, and more), were able to call on musician friends to help in the movie: Clinton Calton of punk band D.I. acts as music composer for the film.
The end result became Rude Boy The Movie, a story about a young Mexican-American teenager named Rudy Gonazales, who is an awkward outcast at school and at home until he discovers the two-tone ska movement and becomes a rudeboy.
Much of the story is based on Zavala's personal experiences as a youth, from his rudeboy period to his being bullied at school, an element that he admits had reservations about being so open with. "This was particularly difficult for me because he was able to put into words the torture I went through during that part of my life. After several read-throughs and much contemplation, I knew the story had to be told," Zavala says.
While Rudy's underdog story is relatable, audiences will surely get a kick out of checking out the dance scenes at Cloud 9 where everyone joins in a skanking frenzy at the start of The Specials' "Concrete Jungle" and other massive ska hits. With tickets to Friday's screening at the Frida flying fast, it's safe to say this film will resonate with many devoted rudies, and prove that the scene isn't completely gone.
When asked about his favorite part of the filmmaking process (which took over 5 years), Zavala replies it was teaching the actors how to skank and time traveling to his cherished memories. "Recreating the '80s, and visiting my old stomping grounds gave me an opportunity to reflect on where I had come from and where I was going."
Peep the trailer for the film below, and secure your tickets (ASAP, for sure) to the screening here. See you there!