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Interview: 'Shitcago' director Nick Alonzo

Written by
Michael Smith

This Saturday, April 2 at 8pm, Transistor Chicago will host a free screening of Shitcago, a hilarious no-budget comedy by local filmmaker Nick Alonzo. Reminiscent of early Richard Linklater and Jim Jarmusch, the minimal plot concerns a day in the life of an unnamed loner (Jeremiah Aviles) who “wanders around the city and encounters many idiosyncratic characters.” I recently spoke to Alonzo about his auspicious feature debut.

All of the characters your protagonist encounters are annoying, obnoxious or outright hostile. And yet, you can still feel your love of Chicago through the diverse locations and the way you shoot the city's architecture. Did you mean to express a love/hate relationship with the city in this film?

I definitely do have a love/hate relationship with the city of Chicago, and I’ve basically been here all of my life. I really wanted to show that relationship throughout the film by having the main character encounter many negative and unlikable characters who are loosely based on actual people I’ve met in the city. I then wanted to establish a lot of great shots of familiar and unfamiliar locations in order to maintain that balance between the love and hate I have for the city.

Jeremiah Aviles, who plays the lead role, has a wonderfully inexpressive face. The fact that nothing ever fazes him is hilarious. How did you find this actor and direct him? Were you influenced by Buster Keaton?

I met Jeremiah during my senior year of high school and since then we’ve been really good friends. One day he posted on Facebook that he wanted to be in a film and didn’t even care what kind of film it was because he just thought it would be cool to be in one. When I was envisioning the main character, I was, in fact, influenced by the style of acting that Buster Keaton portrayed in his films. I wanted to make sure the character didn't have a ton of dialogue and would also be able to keep a straight face throughout the film—no matter how odd or ridiculous the scene got.

I'm impressed by how ambitious Shitcago is for a DIY affair. You take your camera seemingly everywhere: on buses, trains and city streets, but also into a library, the Willis Tower and even the Art Institute. Was it difficult shooting this on the fly without permits?

There was definitely an essence of fear and nervousness whenever we shot something in public because we didn’t have any filming permits and I was worried a police officer or security guard would kick us off the property and we wouldn’t be able to get the scene. There were several incidents when something like this happened, but one of the biggest problems the film ran into while shooting in public was this huge ordeal I got into with the CTA because I shot several things on the train and, according to their rules, I needed to have some kind of verification from their Human Resources Department. However, as a filmmaker, I knew I had to stand my ground, so I basically...told them I didn’t think I did anything wrong since my film was shot on a shoestring budget and I wasn’t planning to make any kind of profit off the project.

The scene involving the "Hot Dog Stand Jerk" is one of the funniest and most Chicago-centric things I've ever seen. What was the inspiration for that?

What’s great about that scene is a lot of people really enjoy it and don’t realize that the actor, Kurt Tarpley, improvised all of his lines. It was really fun to shoot because Jeremiah and I couldn’t stop laughing at everything that was coming out of Kurt’s mouth. Unfortunately, we did have to trim a lot of other hilarious lines because of time concerns. The entire scene is based off the negative responses I always get from my “foodie” friends and family (including Kurt) whenever I eat a hot dog with just ketchup on it. Personally, I just don’t really like Chicago-style hot dogs.

More information about the screening can be found on Transistor’s website.

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