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Interview with Nick Alonzo, director of SHITCAGO

June 10, 2016

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In my late night procrastinating ways, I’m lucky to find a fellow film enthusiast to talk to. I find such an individual in local filmmaker, Nick Alonzo. I got a chance to chat with him online about “Shitcago”, his directorial debut which he wrote, produced, edited as well as directed in 2014. You meet people in the most random and coincidental ways. I happened to have been recently taking a film class at Harold Washington College here in Chicago, that his brother, Noah (who stars in his film) was also taking, which was being taught by another local filmmaker, Michael Glover Smith. Small world. Not long ago, Nick reached out to me, letting me know about his film and asking me if I’d review it. I had heard about it through Michael – it has a name that’s hard to forget. 

What’s it about? You can read my review of “Shitcago” here. The film will be shown tonight and tomorrow night (see poster above) and below is our conversation….

David J. Fowlie: Hey there! How goes it?
Nick Alonzo: Pretty good, just got back home from a concert with my brother.
DJF: which concert?
NA: Tame Impala at UIC pavilion. It was pretty great. Shitty seats and the sound was passable but it was the first time seeing the band and it was a great experience.
DJF: Nice. See, the different worlds we live in? I just woke up from putting my daughter to sleep!
NA: Hahah, that’s awesome. I have a two-year-old son actually and he ended up making me fall asleep last night and he went to bed on his own. Sorta bizarre. And I had him for the evening before the show. So, we’re not that different!
DJF: Indeed. Which is funny, because that’s how I felt after watching your film – we’re not really all that different….
NA: I’m glad you feel that way! For the most part, a lot of people watch the film, vent with it and say a lot of great things (and constructive things), but then some are just thrown off of it and don’t believe me when I tell them things in the film actually happened to me.

 

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DJF: We all have very similar experiences, regardless of where we live or come from, but definitely if we’re from or live in Chicago, there’s a lot in “Shitcago” to relate to.

NA: Yeah exactly. I sent my film to a few people outside of the US that were able to relate to it so that was good. What was one scene you were able to relate with the most if you don’t mind me asking?
DJF: Yeah, that makes sense – I think there is an international/very human appeal to it. what one scene? Well, I feel like I’ve been approached by strangers in very similar ways that this loner was approached, that happens when you ride the public transit system late at night – but, I found the interaction with he cigarette dude at the bus stop pretty on the nose. That’s happened to me and very common actually.
NA: That’s awesome! I played the Cigarette dude and honestly, I get super embarrassed when I watch that scene because the acting isn’t perfect but I’m glad that out of all the scenes, that’s a lot of people’s favorite!
DJF: Ha – okay, Hitchcock. Take it easy on yourself, because you were quite good (as was your brother) and a good balance the character Jeremiah plays.
NA: That’s really kind of you to say and my brother just told me that he’ll give you a free donut for saying so!
DJF: Haha – as tasty as they are, I don’t need one! I found that since the main character we follow says very little, lives alone and does not really interact with anyone he knows as we travel with him, he is very much a conduit, or avatar, for the viewer – was that always your choice?
NA: I think one thing I was trying to do is make a character that was only relatable to me and based a lot of the mannerisms of how I react to people that I don’t know. I wanted him to be extremely passive toward everything because I’m very distant when it comes to just randomly meeting people in public. However, ever since I made the film, I’ve been more observant and interactive with people now. I think for a while before making the film and during, I started to mature more as a filmmaker and didn’t want to be that guy who just hates people and doesn’t want to reach out, now I’m the total opposite. It also could be due to the fact that I have a son as well. A lot of the loner’s personality was based on me during the time the arrival of my son, wasn’t doing much with life and didn’t know what I wanted.
DJF: I suppose making the film for you was a sort of catharsis – documenting that very relatable perception of yourself out there – and then looking back and learning from it and asking, “wait, do I want to be that way?”
NA: EXACTLY! The film is really interesting to watch for myself because a lot was going on. For example, my main actor was put on house arrest during filming and we had to stop for about 3 months. I didn’t want to rush production but because I was taking care of my son 24/7, not employed, and not in school, I felt very stressed and nervous about what I was doing with the film. I think one thing I’ve been nervous about was making a film with no money, no experience, and with no coherent plot. It just wasn’t something I saw that was being done in Chicago so I gave it a go and watched some films from other filmmakers I like and watched their earlier works.
DJF: Ah, very interesting. that’s some good behind-the-scenes stuff, right there. well, regardless of money, EVERY filmmaker feels stressed about their work….so you’re in good company!
NA: Thanks man! For a while, I was nervous to send my film to people or even screen it. I’ve been rejected by 17 festivals and numerous people didn’t ever respond when I would send a link and just ask for just any form of feedback. But it’s been great now, it got picked up for distribution, I’ve been featured in Time Out because of Michael, sent it and got great feedback from one of my favorite local filmmakers, and now you!

DJF: That’s a struggle! But, if you can still run with 17 rejections then that’s impressive – and something you’ll always remember in the future. Obviously, the first thing people see about your movie is its title. You knew what you were getting into with that. Talk about the origin of the title and what kind of reactions you’ve received about it.
NA: The title was the second thing that was thought of from the start. I had the idea of a “day in the life of a Chicagoan” for a while and then I was thinking of titles. Originally, it was the Chicagoan but it just seemed lame. Then, I remember seeing a thread on Twitter going around and it was just SHITCAGO. A lot of it was just people bashing Chicago sport teams but then I started to think the title would work for my film because of what I was trying to do with the idea I had, I just wanted to make something that was honest and portrayed Chicago in a different light that isn’t normally done in traditional Hollywood filmmaker. I’ve gotten a lot of interesting responses. A lot of people on the web got super offended and just automatically assumed that I was a pretentious hipster not from here or that I’m just a guy trying to bash the city because I’m broke. But I’ve gotten a lot of laughs, a lot of people agreeing with the title and saying that the city is shit, or just a simple response like “how are you going to sell the film?”, which is a question I hate the most. This one actor dude who I was trying to work with didn’t think it was a smart move to use the title because I wouldn’t “be able to sell it to Netflix”. I basically told him I never had intentions of selling the film at all, but the distribution deal I got was something that I had interest in and the guy who wants to distribute it had a lot of great things to say and told me that he believes there’s an audience out there.
DJF: Yes, there is an audience for this, obviously. the title is what many of us who live here feel about the city often – we love it and we hate it. I though it was funny, kind of couldn’t believe it – then I looked it up on IMDb and there it was. it’s like a title of a book that hooks you and makes you want to pick up, read the summary and then the “about the author” info….
NA: That’s really awesome and I’m glad you enjoyed it and took the time to watch it. My brother and Michael mentioned about Keeping It Reel and I dig the stuff you post. I also was in your class while you guys watched “The Long Goodbye” and I loved the side comments you were saying.

 

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DJF: Ha – funny. I think I do remember you being there. Did you go with us to the Music Box too, for “Inherent Vice”?
NA: Yes I did!
DJF: I thought so.
NA: That was the 10th time seeing it. Even better on the big screen.
DJF: Holy smokes!
NA: Even better on the big screen – and in 70mm.
DJF: I found a new appreciation for it that night.
NA: It’s one of those films that I like better and better each time I view it. Same thing with “The Master”.
DJF: It demands multiple viewings, for sure. So, to be clear, this is your first film, correct?
NA: Yes sir! I’m shooting a new feature this July. With a budget! Sorta. $5K.
DJF: Great! Film school or no?
NA: Nope. I’m at Harold back and forth.
DJF: Gotcha
NA: I plan to go to Columbia just for editing or sound. I just wrapped up an internship at a high school called ChiArts.
DJF: I think your story is a very interesting one for aspiring filmmakers. 

NA: That’s really kind of you to say!

 

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DJF: Film school is nice and all, but it’s not necessary nowadays, at least not for everyone.
NA: Yeah, I totally agree. I definitely hope my son looks up to me when he starts to find his passion.

DJF: We all have out motivation.

NA: He’s literally the only reason why I work hard at it. I have a lot of friends from Columbia, a lot of them can’t take it seriously. They just like using the equipment and networking.

DJF: Well, that has to do with life experiences and maturity levels.

NA: Yeah, that’s true.
DJF: While watching your movie, there were definitely things I felt like could’ve been tweaked here and there – maybe done differently for my taste – but I understood the heart of it and that’s what matters. I also understood, this guy’s starting out. he’s gonna learn a lot, but he’s doing it!
NA: Oh I totally understand what you mean. Every time I watch it, I rethink about things, how I could’ve done things differently and a lot of that stuff, but I think just accepting it and just learning from it for what’s to come next is a lot better to do. This next project is like a major upgrade from Shitcago because I’m collaborating with a bunch of great people and getting a team together instead of doing things basically myself.
DJF: There’s comes a point when you just got to be done with it and put it out there!
NA: Exactly! Not saying that I’m going to sit back and relax, it’s just more of that I feel more like a professional by having people surrounding me and asking me questions of what to do.
DJF: That sounds great – I’m happy and excited for you.
NA: Thanks man! The editing process was brutal. Edited on a really shitty program, drank 2-3 red bulls a night, and the laptop I had would die every 3 hours.
DJF: Oh man, I bet you learned a lot though. that’s a lot to take on, but when you’re doing it, you’re probably thinking “who else is gonna do this?”
NA: Definitely. That’s what I told a lot of people when they would tell to me to take a break from filming after what happen to my main actor. A lot of people told me to reshoot stuff with a new actor or just to not do it. I totally didn’t listen.
DJF: It’s a good thing you waited and held out or it woulda turned out like Linklater’s “Slacker”, following one dude and then another and another – and turned into a totally different animal.
NA: Slacker was a huge influence and is also influencing my next project.

DJF: Tell me about the musicians you used on the film. how did you arrive at kind of a jazz score and land the musicians involved?
NA: There was a long period of me trying to figure out what music I wanted and for a while, I was listening to a lot of jazz or just hearing it around me. I then turned to Craiglist and asked for people to send me their stuff. Sadly, a crapload of it was stuff that didn’t match at all of what I wanted so I gave up for a while. Then I got contacted by a young guy named Sal who was my age who basically knew a lot of jazz majors at Harper College and told me he could set something up. He wasn’t interested in money, just wanted to get his stuff out there. We talked for a good three-four weeks and then we recorded everything in about two days. Everyone was great especially Sal and a lot of the music were just things that he wrote as small homework assignments but then reworked them into the film as original recordings.
DJF: See, the internet isn’t evil!
NA: Especially Craigslist!

DJF: Well, that’s debatable – but, I always say, it’s like anything. It’s all in how you use it.

NA: But for real, a lot of the submissions I got were ridiculous. “Hey, I don’t really do jazz music but I was in this heavy metal band for a little”.
DJF: Oh. lord….
NA: Yeah, I usually like Craigslist and bought a good amount of stuff on there. Nothing recent though, since my mom has Amazon Prime and I find good prices on there.
DJF: Craigslist always feels so clandestine to me, you know – when you actually meet up with the buyer, you have to pick a public place (at least I do) and describe what you look like, etc…or maybe that’s just me.
NA: Yeah, I think that’s why I stopped using it. A lot of strange people I had to meet up or this one guy who didn’t want to buy a camera off of me because I didn’t have the original box but I told him that I didn’t have the box a few times before hand. I usually use it now to find some kind of video gig.
DJF: Speaking of family, how supportive has your family been in all this? obviously, your bro is all-in, but what about others?
NA: For the most part, my family is fairly supportive and they respect me more since I’ve done this. I think before they just thought it was a small hobby and that it wasn’t anything I was trying to pursue.
DJF: Yeah, that’s common.
NA: I know one funny thing was my sister apologizing to me for not helping because I was trying to shoot a Scene with her – haha…
DJF: How funny.
NA: Yeah, and the baby crying on the train was my actual son. He got upset about something so I recorded it for a small amount of time.
DJF: I was wondering if that was just a recording!
NA: Yeah, it’s a bit unsettling to listen for me because he was so young and it’s not a great feeling to hear your little one cry. Now he just fakes it.
DJF: Now he’s a pro.
NA: Pretty much.

DJF: Before we finish off here, tell me about this Pilson Outpost event….
NA: So, it’s a two night screening, 6:30-9:30, there’ll be some time before hand to settle in and then someone is screening a small short documentary before hand and after my film, there’ll be more time to relax and there’ll be a Q&A. It’s BYOB, free, and Pilsen donuts and horchata.
DJF: Nick, it was great talking with you. Let’s keep in touch. Good luck with the event!
NA: In the future, I’m planning to screen other films at the shop and have open discussions about them. I’m planning to screen ether “The Holy Mountain” first – haha!
DJF: Oh, man!
NA: Thanks David! You’re super cool to talk to and hopefully we can catch a movie and talk more film!
DJF: I’d like that! Thanks again and let’s keep in touch.

NA: For sure!

 

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