Mr. Z shapes student cinema

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October 16, 2020
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October 16, 2020

Mr. Z shapes student cinema

Zydowicz's office features several posters, including one as a souvenir from the Toy Story 3 opening night. Photo: Caleb Olivero

It is freshman Abigail Serviss’ first day of class. She finds her class, Introduction to Visual Storytelling, makes her way to her seat and pulls out her notebook. Suddenly a door slams and the room goes black. A booming voice echoes around the room, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.”

“I knew [then] that it was going to an epic class, and I was going to love it,” Serviss said. The class professor, Christopher Zydowicz, nicknamed “Mr. Z,” starts this class the same way every year. He chose to start the class this way to illustrate the idea of a story in everything, including the Bible. Zydowicz is a professor in the cinematic arts department, teaching five to six classes each semester and producing student projects.

“I’ve always liked and dabbled in film,” Zydowicz said. “The ability to come to school and learn more about filmmaking was pretty cool, [as well as] the ability to help students tell their stories through film.” He has been teaching at BJU for 26 years. He got his undergraduate and master’s in cinema and video production at BJU after choosing to attend BJU on a campus visit. “I came down on a bus trip to visit the University and I thought, ‘I’m coming to school here,’” Zydowicz said.

After Zydowicz graduated from his undergrad program, he was unsure what he wanted to do with his life. He went to Seoul, South Korea, for two years to teach fifth and sixth grade at a school for the children of diplomats and embassy workers.

When Zydowicz returned, he worked on his MA in cinema and video production and then started teaching at BJU. “It was the faculty that made a difference in my life and [I wanted] to have that same impact and help [the students],” Zydowicz said.

Freshman Holly Knighten said the first time she saw Zydowicz teach, she noted his energy and constant humor. “I didn’t know anything he was talking about, but I was so excited to be there,” she said. “[You could tell] just hearing him talk.”

After several years of teaching, Zydowicz decided to further his education. He got his master’s of fine arts in motion picture and television online from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco in 2011.

Zydowicz said his favorite part about his job is the students and the variety of projects.

“Each student is trying to accomplish something different with their film,” Zydowicz said. “[I like] being the producer and helping them accomplish their goals.” One example of a project that Zydowicz has helped with was BJUgrass’s recent video performance.

Zydowicz’s least favorite part of his job is the paperwork and details. “As the producer on the student projects, I make [students] pay attention to details and paperwork, [which is] something I hate,” Zydowicz said. His advice for cinema students is to be diligent. “Work hard,” Zydowicz said. “Be the first to arrive and the last to leave. Anticipate. Anticipate. Anticipate.”

Zydowicz has had several notable experiences in the cinema field. Zydowicz has a Toy Story 3 poster in his office from when he went to opening night at El Capitan Theater and went to the premiere party and the after-party. He had a friend who worked in animation who invited him to the event.

Zydowicz also visited the set of Pirates of the Caribbean where he talked to Johnny Depp. “I realized how short he is,” Zydowicz said. “He’s shorter than me.” He has also met with Richard Sherman, one of the composers for Mary Poppins, and talked about the movie Saving Mr. Banks.

“It’s things like spending time with Steven and Alex Kendrick and understanding their vision and passion for filmmaking,” Zydowicz said. “This is an incredible field and sitting and talking to people and finding out their hearts . . . Connecting [with] people is one of the greatest things in this field.”