Oakdale production company hopes new TV series ‘sticks’


“Undercurrent” characters having a beer in a scene shot at Sidewinders Bar in North St. Paul. (submitted photo)

Oakdale film production company CyBick Production owners Cynthia and Bick Smith in North St. Paul, where they shot scenes for their new “Undercurrent” TV series. (Solomon Gustavo/Review)

A scene from CyBick Production’s “Undercurrent” TV series in North St. Paul. (submitted photo)

Making movies or TV is like “shooting spitballs and hoping one sticks.”

Cynthia Smith knows the grind that comes before the glamour of show business. She’s been hustling in the creative worlds of theater and screen acting, cobbling together work in plays, TV commercials and movies since the 1980s.

Now, she is one half of CyBick Productions, a film production company based out of an Oakdale home she shares with the other half, Bick Smith. The company is working on its second creative endeavour, a TV show called “Undercurrent,” which features some familiar North St. Paul landmarks.

A career in show business

The ‘80s and ‘90s were a golden era for finding acting work in Minnesota due to “snowbates” — financial incentives for filming in Minnesota — which lead to a stretch in which more advertising was shot in Minneapolis than Chicago. It was during this time that Cynthia — an East Side St. Paul native — gained a lot of her show business experience, a time that included a role, that was later cut, in the 1991 major motion picture “Drop Dead Fred,” which was shot in Minneapolis.

Cynthia and Bick met while doing a play at a Stillwater theater house in the early ‘90s. 

“I played a baseball guy,” said Bick, who had moved to Minneapolis shortly before for a job in news radio. “I can’t remember his ...”

“Wayne,” said Cynthia. 

They bought the theater in 1994 and ran it until they had to close due to a fire in 1998. “We were casting, building up sets, tearing down sets. It never stopped,” said Bick of theater production. 

In all, they produced 28 plays in under four years. 

“Which is stupid,” Cynthia said with a laugh, adding that they were burned out just as the fire arrived.

They had a daughter in 2000, while Bick, who also has experience in TV news production, continued to work in radio.

Cynthia continued jobs she did throughout her life to subsidize her acting, like bank telling, sales, and clowning. They both gave and wrote tours for the historic Wabasha Street Caves in St. Paul. 

 

Birth of CyBick

Always looking for opportunities, in 2006, another unexpected challenge arose and engulfed them like a flame. 

The Minnesota Historical Society was looking for people willing to make documentaries about their family members. 

Cynthia decided to make one about her father, who fought in World War II.

After the project — which they shot using low-fi, mid-2000’s camcorders — they turned to making a documentary about a local jazz musician. 

Cynthia and Bick started seeking out projects, slowly improving their production through practice, and, crucially, borrowing equipment form Suburban Community Channels in White Bear Lake.

In a few years, after getting their name out through offering pro bono work to companies and school districts, CyBick Productions was making money. 

“It became a full business,” said Cynthia.

Bick was able to leave his career in radio and TV and concentrate on the production company. 

More lucrative ventures like industry videos paved the way for more creative passions like their documentary-style movie “Gangsterland” about the gangsters that hid and passed through the Wabasha Street Caves. 

CyBick Productions had collaborated with other companies to make short films. “Gangsterland,” was their first foray into an entirely in-house creative process. 

They won a $1,000 grant from Suburban Community Channels and continued to use their equipment. 

“We didn’t spend much more than that,” said Bick, who wrote “Gangsterland.”

“Actors like food,” said Cynthia. CyBick incentivized actors by paying for gas and making sure a choice craft service spread was on hand. 

After getting actors, the other challenge was finding places to film them. Cynthia said Bick is skilled in landing film locations, like a log cabins in Hastings, or Neumans Bar in North St. Paul. 

The “Gangsterland” crew was small said Cynthia. She remembered agreeing to hold a boom mic, noting that everyone involved had to be flexible. The boom mic, for example, said Cynthia, was made by Bick from a long broom. 

They also had to trust their own instincts in shooting and editing. “You just have to teach yourself how to do stuff,’” said Bick. Cynthia said the two learned by talking to friends at local TV stations and others with video editing experience, and watching YouTube tutorials. 

 

New TV series

“Gangsterland” was the learning experience for CyBick. Cynthia and Bick feel more confident and prepared for their newest creative endeavor, a TV series called “Undercurrent.”

The story is set in Confluence, a fictional Minnesota city where the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers meet, and where corruption flows like water.

Bick wrote this as well, using characters he’s been developing for 25 years. He said the idea for the characters came to him while he was golfing with a couple of goofy TV guys. 

“I thought, ‘these guys are characters,’” Bick said. 

Bick took those two slapstick characters and built a comedy-drama around them about two investigators trying to find the sources of Confluence maleficence. 

CyBick is able to pay actors, now, said the owners. And gone are the days of low-fi cameras and simple editing software. “Undercurrent” is shot with 4K cameras, there are elaborate sound and light set ups, state of the art editing equipment, and a larger crew that includes services like makeup artists. 

The main characters are a grizzled detective and the sneakily talented, out-of-work actor he takes under his wing. 

It has the making of a budding buddy cop relationship Cynthia and Bick hope to deliver with grit and guffaws. 

They also shoot scenes locally. They’ve shot scenes in North St. Paul, in Sidewinders Bar and on the Seventh Avenue sidewalk. 

“We feel with ‘Undercurrent,’ we finally got one that’s really gonna hit,” said Cynthia.

They’ve shot three episodes of the series so far. When it’s done, they plan to showcase the series to streaming services and TV fans at the Catalyst Festival in Duluth this fall. 

More information about the production company can be found at their website www.cybick.com.

 

 

–Solomon Gustavo can be reached at sgustavo@lillienews.com or 651-748-7815

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