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Interview: Zachary Zises & Dan Waller, Creators of the Film Repetition

By Chris Karr in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 5, 2006 11:19AM

Zachary Zises and Dan Waller have a movie that they would like you to see. Their work, Repetition, is premiering tonight in Chicago at the Midwest Independent Film Festival. (The trailer is available here, and the main site is here.)

Dan Waller & Zach Zises from the film Repetition "Repetition" is a feature-length film that deals with a handful of characters as they confront their personal shortcomings and escapes in modern-day Chicago. Zises wrote and directed the film, while Waller played one of the main characters.

We sat down with them last week to talk about their film.

Chicagoist: Give us the sixty-second elevator pitch for "Repetition".
Zachary Zises: "Repetition" is about four characters who are living incredibly isolated lives who, through circumstances in the film, are forced into uncomfortable and close proximity to each other, where they have to confront all of their deepest fears and ultimately achieve some sort of connection.

Chicagoist: How long has this been in the works?
Zises: Repetition finished shooting a couple of years ago, and we finished post-production probably close to a year ago.

Chicagoist: Was this a part-time or full-time venture?
Zises: Well, from Dan's perspective, he had his three-month ... Dan how long was our rehearsal process?

Dan Waller: About two to three months.

Zises: Yeah, we had a two-to-three-month rehearsal process, and shooting we did in a torrid two weeks. After which, the actors were pretty much done with the whole thing, and we in post-production... Well, it's a truism that the less money you have, the longer things are going to take. This was done on a shoestring budget. From my perspective, it was mostly full-time, but from the perspective of the editor and composer, it was fit into their schedules.

(More after the jump.)

Chicagoist: What do you two do when you're not making movies?
Zises: I am a full-time commodities trader at the Board of Trade.

Waller: I am an actor and I work part-time with a dance company. But I'm not a dancer.

Zises: He is a dancer. He just doesn't want to admit it.

Waller: No. I'm not.


Chicagoist: Where did the idea for this plot come from?
Zises: I have to say that the premise or the basis for the title has partly to do with the fact that these characters are caught in repetitive patterns of self-destructive behavior. On a literal level, it refers to an acting school - the Meisner acting school has an exercise called "repetition". I took a repetition class in Chicago probably a dozen years ago, which I found fascinating, and I also discovered that I have no reason to attempt to be an actor. But a lot of lessons in that class - not just related to theatre and film, but to all human interaction - really impressed me there. So I imagine that would be the seminal event for me that brought this script about.

Chicagoist: So, do you have to be an actor to appreciate this film, or will it be accessible to us in the more general audience?
Zises: Gosh, I hope that if you're a human being who has any interest in connections to people that this film seems quite relevant. Not all the characters are actors, and the subject matter is not acting at all. Rather, one small part of the film is how life relates to this repetition class and how the repetition class relates to life. But ultimately, it's about people interacting.

Chicagoist: When we looked at your website, we noticed that your four main characters have their own destructive habits - how did you choose those, and what are they?
Zises: There are four main characters. Everyone's primary vice is their inability to connect. The way in which it manifests itself in Laura would be her holing herself up in her apartment all the time and eating herself into obesity. Debbie is engaged in serial affairs with men. Michael, the character who Dan Waller plays, I'll let him get to. And David has the habit when he is all alone - which is almost always - of putting on a suit and pretending to be someone else altogether.

Waller: I'd say that Michael's vice is drugs. And the inability to be himself. For the most part, his crutch is drugs and a need for friendship.

Chicagoist: Did you write these characters from experience with friends and acquaintances in these situations?
Zises: Every one of these characters was based on somebody I knew. To one degree or another. But it wasn't such a straight line of "Oh, I want to put this person into the film". The process of the script was involved and unconscious enough that it's incredibly hard for me to retrace how it happened.

Chicagoist: Where have you shown this film so far, and how has it been received?
Zises: We have shown this film at the Ashland, Oregon, film festival and the Syracuse, New York, film festival. The reception at both places has been incredibly positive. The review from the Syracuse festival ... I don't know the words to describe how insanely positive it was.

Waller: It sounded like your Mom wrote it.

Zises: It sounded like my own mother wrote the review. Audiences have been very positive. It's a movie that seeks to provoke. When we're sitting there and a person or two leaves in the middle of the movie, that doesn't mean that the movie is failing - on some level, it's succeeding.

Waller: It touches a nerve.

Zises: Exactly. So, it's not the case that I hope when people see it that they're giggly with excitement over what a great fun time they had. It's really a movie that's intended to make you think and feel.

Waller: You'll have a reaction either way. By touching a nerve, it causes people to think and sometimes that's uncomfortable. There's moments that may be hard to deal with, but that's what these characters are going through.

It's very much a Chicago movie. First of all it's all Chicago talent and crew. My proudest moments are when I'm on stage with these people whose careers I admire and who I think are tremendous actors. It's a real treat. But the aspect of it being so true and the fact that it's unapologetic and in places, extremely funny - when you see the flaws of human nature on-screen and the characters get themselves out of the tangled web - it's quite a treat.

Zises: From our perspective, it was extremely easy to decide to shoot within Chicago. For one thing, I live here. For another, the script is custom-built for Chicago actors who are so much more interested in the craft of acting and less interested in the craft of succeeding financially. Chicago theatre is an extremely visceral experience, by and large. Typically you're in a very small space where you can hear every breath the actor is taking. And this film very much wants to give the audience that kind of experience. Where you are so close to the characters and their experiences that it drives your reaction in a much stronger way than commercial films.

Waller: It's gorgeous. Jim Adkins shot it beautifully. You're not going to see your typical Wrigley Field shot or the Weiner's Circle, but he captures Chicago at its core. The characters' histories are so similar to that of Chicago - the blue-collar bare-bones "what you see is what you get".


Zises and Waller are still looking for a distributor for their film. While they are planning on taking the movie abroad to European festivals, tonight is the one and only Chicago premiere of the film. The premiere is being hosted by The 2006 Midwest Independent Film Festival at the Landmark Century Theatre at 2828 N. Clark Street (Clark & Diversey). Showtime begins at 7:30 p.m., so don't be late.