Baltimore filmmaker and musician Skizz Cyzyk, in his own words (ever so slightly edited by Siobhan). Please scroll down to the bottom to check out two amazing animations made by Skizz.
I was born and raised in Baltimore County. I grew up in the Long Green / Jacksonville / Jarretsville area..[and went to] Dulaney Senior High; and Towson State University. I started teaching myself filmmaking in high school, before taking film classes at Towson. Starting in my early teens, I had a fascination with movies. One of my biggest hobbies was checking out 8mm films from the public library, and I was just as fascinated by the science and mechanics of the medium as I was with the stories being projected. My first films were slideshows, because that was the only equipment I had access to. In college, I first got my hands on Super 8mm equipment, then 16mm, and then video.
I’ve made a little bit of everything, from narratives to documentaries, experimental and animation, music videos, industrials…I used to get labeled as an animator, because I had done some animation. Then I got labeled a music video maker, because I had made some music videos. Now I’m getting labeled as a documentary filmmaker, because I’ve been working on documentaries. All those labels are correct, I suppose, but each neglects the other areas I work in. I don’t like to be pigeonholed into one kind of filmmaking. I really enjoy working with digital video these days, because the possibilities seem limitless, while the cost stays relatively affordable. That said, I really miss working with 16mm film. I miss physically handling film, taking a light meter reading, threading a camera, cutting on a flatbed, and running the finished work through a projector. I would still be shooting film if I could afford it.
I try to keep everything I work on. I have a hard time getting rid of anything. I still have boxes of outtakes from 16mm films I made in the 80s and 90s. I have all the cells from my animated films. I have props, both used and unused. It’s all stored at home, and not always in the best of conditions, but I can’t afford a storage space, especially for so much stuff that probably isn’t worth much even to me.
I have made my living as a filmmaker. I have been paid to make some of my films. I can’t say I’ve made a good living doing that, but a living is a living. My day job for nine years was being the Programming Manager for the Maryland Film Festival, which was a nice living. Since I stepped down from that position in 2009, I’ve been paid to make two films, but still had to dig into my savings to survive. In the past year, I have picked up whatever freelance work I can find, mainly shooting and editing weddings and events.
I’m really not sure why I continue to stay in Baltimore, other than my partner and I have a house here, plus our friends and family are here, and she has a job here. I appreciate all the support I’ve received from Baltimore over the years, but with each passing year, it starts to feel like I get less and less of that support. As an artist, I often feel more welcomed in other cities than I do in my hometown. I could be almost anywhere and still do what I do. At some point, I may have to move to where I can find work or the kind of support I need.
I don’t think we [the local filmmaking community] are doing bad. We have CAmm [Creative Alliance Movie Makers]. We have the Maryland Film Festival and the Johns Hopkins Film Festival. We have more microcinemas and screening series than I can keep track of. I think what we don’t have is the feeling of a community like Austin has. Baltimore isn’t a town where people support art and culture for the right reasons, but instead, people support their friends or whoever is currently getting some buzz. Baltimore is too clique-ish when it comes to the arts, and when it’s not, it tends to wait for artists to become somewhat successful first before getting behind those artists. Instead, we should work more towards nurturing artists that do good work, before they are successful and regardless of who their friends are, to get them to that successful level.
MANAGERS CORNER (2004)
*Please be warned: very strong effing language!
I wrote & recorded the theme song for Atomic TV, the local public access TV show (I also eventually animated it). I gave the recording of the song to Scott Huffines on a very high quality 90-minute cassette tape, which I asked him to return once he had copied the song. When I got the tape back, he had recorded the Managers Corner audio clip onto it. Not being a sports fan, I didn’t know who Earl Weaver was, but I thought the clip was funny. At the time (1999), I wanted to start taking advantage of some money I had saved up, and all the 16mm equipment I had amassed but not yet used much. I bought a 400 foot roll of 16mm film, intending to see how many different animated short films I could make with it. MANAGERS CORNER and GUMDROPS were the only two that I finished. They were both started in 1999, sat untouched for several years, and then finished in 2004. I planned out MANAGERS CORNER by finding photos on the internet of Earl Weaver and Tom Marr, and then just thought up odd things to put in the background for each question and answer. I didn’t storyboard so much as I made a checklist.
The funds all came out of my pocket. When I started working on it in 1999, I was employed by Towson University, in the Media Resource Services department. It was my first salaried job, and I was making a lot more money than I had been used to making working as a video store clerk, so I had some money to spare. When I finished working on it in 2004, I was employed by the Maryland Film Festival, so the finishing costs came from that paycheck.
The first thing I did was transfer the audio to a 16mm fullcoat mag track. I did that one day after work, at Towson University’s Visual Media Lab. Then I painstakingly listened to that track, one frame at a time, while logging what was happening on each frame. That log became the blueprint for filming – it’s how I was able to sync the cartoon mouths to the audio. Once I had all the cells prepared, I shot one frame at a time, based on what the log told me to shoot for each frame. I shot 16mm film, on my wind-up Krasnogorsk-3 camera, mounted on a homemade animation stand, with a cheap, Photoflood light kit. I would layer all the cells for each frame, weigh them down with a heavy sheet of glass to get them as flat as possible, shoot that frame, and set up for the next frame.
I shot most of it over the course of two weeks during the summer of 2004, while all of my coworkers were on vacation. I had the Maryland Film Festival offices to myself, so I moved my set-up into my boss, Jed Dietz’s office, and took advantage of his good air conditioning. I had the film processed at Colorlab in Rockville. I edited it in my basement on a 16mm flatbed, and this time I choose not to conform my own A & B roll negatives, but instead I sent it to some company in Florida (I wanted to do it myself, as I had done with previous films, but I didn’t have the right equipment or a clean enough work area). Colorlab struck the answer prints.
Siobhan says: Check out info on Skizz’s new documentary, HIT AND STAY. And please enjoy some GUMDROPS (2004) sweetness to start the week.