Originally, Colón wanted to make a short film about fans of the label, which has released many pop-punk classics since its founding in the early 1990s. But the more people he interviewed and the better he got to know the label, A Fat Wreck became more about the label itself and the impact it has made (and continues to make). Co-run by Mike Burkett (aka Fat Mike) and Erin Kelly (Burkett's ex-wife), the label has put out records by bands like Burkett's NOFX, Lagwagon, Against Me!, Face to Face, Strung Out and so many more.
"It's set up for someone who has no idea about Fat Wreck Chords," Colón says of the documentary. "By the time we're finished explaining, you have a better understanding of who the players are."
Colón wanted to tell the label's story in a tight and concise way in an hour and a half. Over 100 people were interviewed, but he wound up only using 88 interviews for the final cut. (Still a lot, mind you.) He had a lot to work with and worked on the film virtually around the clock while he took on the responsibilities of a husband and father to a newborn daughter.
The label's first handful of bands, Strung Out, Lagwagon, Propagandhi , Good Riddance and No Use for a Name, all get profiles in the film. With the help of fellow filmmakers Justin Wilson and Johny Cane, writer Greg Pratt and a handful of interns at the Charlie Uniform Tango production house, and with the support of his wife Jenni, Colón has made something he's proud of.
A Fat Wreck is his first feature for his Open-Ended Films company and he hopes to do more in the future. Colón had been working a full-time job when he started work on the film, but he left the job last fall to fully commit to the film's completion. "At a certain point, the movie just demanded everything," Colón says. Work on the project got so intense that he suffered a herniated disc in his back and couldn't use some of the fingers in his right hand for a few days. Taking medicine for it, parts of his stomach enflamed and he couldn't hold down anything, even water. He slowly recovered and resumed work on the film.
Colón went to California twice to do interviews, but he did the majority of his interviews in Dallas whenever bands would come through town. He got in touch with people he didn't know through friends, dropped e-mails and sent tweets, and he was able to interview even more than he had imagined. When he was ready to show a rough cut, he did a few test screenings, including one at the Fest in Gainesville, Florida, last fall. Feedback from those screenings helped make the film better.
With future screenings planned in Nashville, Newport Beach and San Francisco, Colón is happy to set up a screening anywhere that wants it. Very similar to how movie distribution used to be in the drive-in era, this is a grassroots sort of thing, just like how Fat Wreck Chords began. "The goal is to get as many people to see it in a theater as possible," Colón says. "It's in 5.1 [sound mix]. The [aspect] ratio we use is more cinematic. Lots of motion graphics."
The arrival of A Fat Wreck in theaters coincides with the arrival of an authorized biography of NOFX (which touches on Fat Wreck Chords) called The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories in bookstores. Jennie Cotterill, who plays in Fat Wreck band Bad Cop/Bad Cop, designed the book's cover and also worked on A Fat Wreck, supplying puppets for many scenes that help illustrate the stories. Both the film and book tell the story of where the label and the band came from, but also stress that so much of their ethos is still intact to this day. Neither one is meant to be the final word.
Working with Justin Wilson, who had a major hand in making Filmage, the fantastic documentary on the Descendents, Colón hopes people rally around A Fat Wreck the same way. "If you're a Fat Wreck Chords fan, you're going to want to see it with other Fat Wreck Chords fans," Colón says. "It's like a concert. I want to tour it. And then it will be available on DVD and streaming services."