Conversations with Creators: Filmmaker and Musician MATTHEW LIZZOTTE

This ongoing project explores the roots and systems of creativity.

Many featured creators will be amateurs. Many will be professionals you’ve never heard of and may never hear of again. What they have or have not accomplished is irrelevant—if someone harbors a creative spark, a unique way of seeing the world, and uses an outlet to interpret life, they qualify. [Full introduction to the series]


Matthew Lizzotte is a 23-year-old Mainer moving to move to St. Louis on Thursday. He did this psychotic one-man metal thing called Saloth Sar, a ton of short films you can’t find online, and he takes pictures. Put simply: He dabbles. But he dabbles well and often.

ZD: What’s the first tangible thing you remember creating?
ML: That would have to be ‘The City of Paper.’ I built it as a 6-year-old. My dad had boxes of that old printer paper—the kind where every sheet was perforated together like accordion bellows. I spent hours building a white city of skyscrapers. That was the first time I got “drunk” off creation. That city exploded the second I got my hands on a camcorder. Not just figuratively—I actually put fire-crackers into the buildings and filmed the destruction. I’m sure it was tied into some incomprehensible storyline about aliens avenging their leaders’ death.

What’s your medium these days?
I’ve spent a lot time contemplating my purpose in art—film, music, writing, etc. I can say now that I’m proudest of my film work. It incorporates all aspects of art, from writing a screenplay to selecting the music in efforts to convey emotion. To me, it is the ultimate form of expression—and the hardest to complete. (Not to downplay the difficulty in writing a book, like, say, ‘The Krishnon Saga.’)

Of course. Did you choose film, or did it choose you?
We chose each other. (Audience: “Aww.”) Honestly, it was simple progression. I’m one to show people rather than explain. I talk with my hands and teach through example. It’s just logical to utilize as many senses a person has to convey a message, story or idea to them. I’m lucky to live in an era where that’s possible.

Tell me about your other creative outlets. I know it doesn’t stop with film; I saw you shred a drum set pretty hard in our sixth grade classroom.
I’ve always used music as inspiration; not based off lyrics or style but the overall sense of emotion that sound releases into the listener. Music will forever be my fuel for creation. I’m not sure there are any creative outlets I haven’t at least tasted. I studied photography, for example; it taught me about perspective and how the brain perceives every little shadow, edge and our sense of time and space. It was disconcerting, but an important lesson. In music, I’ve dabbled in percussion, stringed instruments and piano. It’s a great escape, possibly a fall-back plan in the future. I can easily see myself playing piano in the background of some fancy restaurant.

I can’t see it—your personality is too big to be behind a piano in a corner. But I think you have a knack for music that’s representative of your creative nature. I—and sorry to continually resort to my own experiences with you here, but—I once saw you stand up an acoustic guitar like it was a cello and play it by banging a pencil all over the strings and the body…and it sounded awesome. And it was in a high school classroom when we had maybe a couple minutes to be doing whatever, just a totally impromptu thing. Which is a long way of not really saying, Tell me about your relationship with creativity.
Creation takes a lot of planning. Even the films I do for fun are all predetermined, leaving room on top for occasional improvisation. The idea I start with is very organic and simple. If I decide to water that seed, then the growing process is often tedious and I have to be content with letting it grow the way it wants. Rarely is this not frustrating. Most often these ideas grow out of control and become weeds, but every so often I get a flower that blooms. At this stage, I get nervous. I don’t want to over-water it or just ignore it, so I start to focus on the stem to make sure it’s strong enough. Whatever happens afterwards is fate.

Matt still enjoys fire.

I can’t let you off the hook with just one question here, because you’re one of the few people I know who is absolutely bursting at the seams to create, to express yourself, to leave lasting imprints wherever you go. Like Eryk Salvaggio, you’re restless, but in the actual sense of the word—you really don’t rest, when it comes to creating. Why?
Well, isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black. I always read interviews with successful artists and they always mention the “born with it or learned it” philosophy about creativity. It’s an old and dry topic and they always seem to mention how they didn’t take art in college and that creativity can’t be taught; like god shit creativity into their bodies along with hubris. Anyone can learn anything. Concerning myself, I was brought up in central Maine where art is mostly ignored. Perhaps it was an attempt to add color to a bleak state, or just that drive inside us all to make something absolutely original. There’s no “right” answer. But that satisfied feeling of creating something tangible, after it started in your brain, is unbelievably satisfying to me.

Do you consider yourself imaginative? Is that important to creating?
I absolutely am. I think imagination is fairly important in originality. Everything I’ve ever made was fully conceived in my imagination first and then built. I can’t really see a person living without an imagination.

What about originality. Does it exist? Is it even the goal?
Growing up, I wanted to be the most original artist ever—but honestly, that’s an endless road of disappointment. I just accept the fact that my influences affect my creativity. When you’re honest about it, you begin to embrace your influences and adapt your work to be your own. Originality is always the goal, but you’re not going to find a new, never-before-hit note on a piano—so don’t drown yourself in the impossible.
Do you work for an audience or yourself, or somewhere in between?
Every artist (I’m assuming) has a voice in their head that says, “Someone’s gonna see/hear this,” and I’m no exception. Honestly though, there will be people who love your work and people who don’t—how are you to know what the lovers love and vice versa? There’s always a little critic in your brain, sometimes I like to drown mine in alcohol (smiley face), but mostly I just prove it wrong by doing what I want.

Do you create at certain times or places or in specific moods?
“I dream a lot. I do more painting when I’m not painting. It’s in the subconscious.” -Diego Rivera. Creativity is always in the forefront of my brain. If I’m not making, I’m thinking of making. There’s no mood, place, or time that can stop that; maybe death, but I don’t really think death is real.

Heroes in your field?
Nikola Tesla. You say “your field,” but I have no idea what the hell my field is, so I chose him. As far as creativity is concerned, he inspires me to create things that were once invisible and that’s all I can really say.

How much time do you spend for your passion?
I hate to reiterate this, but my brain never stops observing oddities and compiling them into ideas to be used in creation. I write scripts in my head all day and even though they’re not written, they still exist to me. When I think of an idea, I tend to feel like it’s already done—it’s a strange concept to explain and sounds like I’m boasting but that’s how it feels to me. It’s just endless and I get sleep anxiety from it.

Your proudest creation so far?
I’m opting out of this self-swank question.

Something you’re dying to create?
I’d love to create a film based on an entire concept album, which I would record with a children’s choir. It would probably be a twisted re-creation of a children’s book, yet nothing like Tim Burton would make.

Is there a specific piece of music or art or film or anything where you’ve thought, “Damn, I wish I’d created that”?
All the time. I’m constantly impressed with what people can do and how some artists can be so subtly amazing. Every day I get inspired by artists who work their lives away on something original and never get due credit. A part of me is in love with the irony.

[Matt inserts question for himself] You are very attractive.
Thank you.

Um. What are some typical things that inspire you?
Little things, mostly—a song progressing to a note that doesn’t seem “correct” for the song; a typo in magazines; an awkward encounter or someone staring at me a little too long. It’s all little stuff we mostly ignore that I try to lock down and analyze.

Anything unpredictable that inspires you?
Medieval literature. I’m not elaborating on this.

What five qualities should a creative person embody?
1) Openness to interpretation
2) Optimism (Sorry Glenn Beck)
3) A touch of brash confidence
4) Adventure

Previously: New media maestro and writer Eryk Salvaggio
Next time: Photographer and musician Walter Beckwith