a TigerRAWk Film

Friday, October 30, 2020

"Spezza Spezza Spezza (Chop Chop Chop)" by Leper (Music Video)

"Spezza Spezza Spezza (Chop Chop Chop)" by Leper (Music Video)

Leper released the album "Beautiful Gray Day" in September of 2012 on Grrr Records. I'm not exactly sure when I got my copy of the full album (I received two different promo copies) but I think it might have been roughly a year later. The entire album is really good but one track stood out to me from the rest. There are several quite unique tracks on this album, but one song had a harsher, more aggressive, even unsettling sound. It was one of the shorter tracks that, to me, always felt like it was over way too soon.

That track is "Spezza Spezza Spezza (Chop Chop Chop)."

While "Beautiful Gray Day" has been out now for over eight years and Leper has had another official album along with several other independent albums and projects released in the years since, I felt a desire to create a music video for "Spezza Spezza Spezza."

Songs can sometimes inspire a concept in my mind. I will get something like a visual idea that fits the song for one reason or another...at least it does for me. I have had that happen with entire albums as well. This was the case for a band I often worked with while in Cincinnati, Still Pioneers, but I never followed through with the idea I had to create the concepts I had in mind in video form. Perhaps I will some day.

"Spezza Spezza Spezza" is one such song that had inspired a concept for a music video. I had an idea in my mind of what a music video for this song could look like for quite some time. I think earliest concepts I had were probably in 2013 shortly after obtaining a copy of the album. I began to sort of formalize a plan for what the music video could actually look like in 2014. I had captured some footage during the hunting seasons in Pennsylvania in 2014 that I thought I could use to bring my ideas to life on video. The footage I captured were mostly simple shots of the wooded area I hunted in but I had also captured footage of the game I had successfully hunted and figured to incorporate it into the "chopping" concepts that would be in the video. I figured I could add to that shots of Skot performing the lyrics. Since it was all I really knew then, I figured I might add live Leper performances as well. Additional ideas I had beyond that included filming someone making chop motions and more "gorier" concepts such as, again, using part of the game I had hunted to be chopped.

I moved from Pennsylvania to Chicago shortly after hunting had finished. I had actually moved a good portion of my things earlier but officially my move was a week or so after the hunting seasons ended. Since filming and editing the video I capture is a hobby, and I work a real job full time, there was footage from that time of the moving, other hunting season clips, the holidays, and footage capturing life in general that would be used in other projects. After settling into life and work in Chicago and embarking on the editing of these other projects, somewhere along the line I lost the footage I had in mind for use on "Spezza Spezza Spezza." My best guess is that when I had finished the other projects, I deleted the raw footage, forgetting about saving and/or moving the clips that I had intended for "Spezza Spezza Spezza" into another folder. I tried to find or or see if I could salvage it but that footage was lost. While I had captured a few images in October 2015 that would work for the concept I had in mind, I think the realization that I had lost all the other footage sort of derailed me and caused me to lose the motivation and inspiration to create the project. I have returned to Pennsylvania to hunt a couple times since, though without success and without capturing footage to replace what was lost. This video concept remained in the back of my mind but I never started to actually work on it using what I had or filming anything new to replace what had been lost.

Life was also pretty busy in other ways. While I am sure there were times I could have focused in on creating this project if I had wanted to, a lot of other things were happening in life and I just didn't think much about creating this project for "Spezza Spezza Spezza" all that often. There were so many shows I would go to. When I go to shows, I usually capture footage that I share afterwards. The editing process for this is pretty minimal but it does take a little time to do. I regularly attend music festivals as well. Music festivals or similar events take a bit more time in regards to editing and whatnot in the process of getting them ready to be shared to others. Also, there have been trips in the time since. I like to capture footage of the places I go and the things I do so these projects take even more time to create in the way I'd like to present them. All that, not to mention just life, it put the creating this music video on a back burner.

There had been times where I was spending more time on these editing projects or going to shows than I was devoting to my wife. I have tried to be more mindful of this and try to create a balance that keeps us in a good place while allowing for my creative output through video.

I revisited the idea of making this video sometime in 2016 after Nate Allen asked me if I wanted to work on some projects for him. He had most of a tour captured on video from 2012 and wanted to share the footage on his YouTube account and website. He also wanted a video showing the crowd participation for the song "Vegetables" from the album "With Our Powers Combined" by Destroy Nate Allen. This took a few months to complete and a whole lot of listening to "Vegetables" in particular, ha! In that time, Josh Robieson was going to make a movie with some friends and asked if I wanted to help on that as well as help create a trailer for it. While making this trailer, I had some ideas for editing and effects but didn't know how to execute the idea. I looked through all the tools in Final Cut Pro while not necessarily knowing what many of them did in hopes of figuring out how to do what I wanted. One example was a double exposure effect or to take multiple shots, layer them, and make it somewhat transparent to show through the other clips. The need to do this on that trailer led me to seeking out answers as Josh sat in the studio with me. Previously, often situations like this would frustrate me into giving up the idea and moving on. Unfortunately, I've had done this a number of times before. Not this time. Josh would eventually leave to go home...I figured out what I needed to do pretty much immediately after he left the room, ha! Figuring out that effect led to my using it often ever since. For the "Vegetables" video, it was the first time I utilized it for a music video or music performance clip and I felt it really worked well in how I used it. I tried to match the footage to sync up with lyrics as much as possible. I probably could have done better in that regard but it turned out ok. It was released by Destroy Nate Allen as the official music video for the song after completion. Here is a blog regarding the making of "Vegetables." Here is another blog regarding the process of working through all the tour footage for Destroy Nate Allen.

Prior to "Vegetables" I had made a promotional music video using "Death Made Its Offer" for October Bird of Death to help promote their EP of the same name. On that, I did basic simple editing of cutting the song then making it appear black and white. Not a lot had to go into that one. I didn't even have to sync it up to the studio track because, at the time, I didn't have a studio track to work with! Here is the blog for that project.

In 2012, some friends and I did a short lived punk band called Crash Cap Hooligans. I documented pretty much the entire existence of this band and uploaded something of a documentary on the band as well as both live shows in their entirety (the sets lasted less than 10 minutes). I also created a music video for our "single" "(Who Are You) Queen City Punks" which was compiled of the live footage as well as other clips used in the documentary and some that didn't get used. I tried to sync up the clips to fit the song and lyrics as best as I could. This is the blog that highlights these projects.

In 2010, I decided to try to make a music video for the song "Apollo" for Brian Beyke. He renamed his music project Ancient Mariner later. If I recall correctly, I told him I planned to make this video. I'm not sure how he felt about the final result because I don't recall him telling me. It was my first attempt at creating something like this. Originally, I tried to sync the footage to the studio track as much as possible but the live performance has moments not captured in the studio where drums are used. I decided to keep one of the live audio tracks and then sync to that instead. I used two clips of live footage of Brian performing the song. At the time, I wasn't knowledgeable on properly obtaining stock footage nor on how to download footage from the internet so I filmed my screen as I had footage from Apollo 8 streaming. I chose Apollo 8 because Brian had an audio track from that mission incorporated into the performance of the song. I used that footage along with the live footage of Brian to make this video. Looking back now, this was one which I wish I had known how to layer clips and make them transparent. I worked with what I knew instead. I suppose it isn't too bad for a first time attempt at something like this.

I had figured out how to sync video and audio a bit from some of the show footage I shot and collected especially during the Covenant Shows era.. I often would have multiple cameras at the shows so I could have a full stage shot and zoomed in shots. When I would create a "trailer" I would usually take a clip of a song from one of the artists who performed then sync "highlight" clips to that. It would play when one put in the DvD if they decided to watch the show.

At the beginning of October, I released a music video that I decided to create for October Bird of Death for the song "Goons" off of Death Made Its Offer. I decided to do this without really asking the band if they wanted it or even telling them I was going to do it. This was a song that I had a concept in mind from the first time I had heard it as well. This was early on in the history of the band so like about five years ago. The band announced its break up so I decided about a week before the official "funeral" of the band that it was now or never to create this video. So I did. I had a self imposed deadline and met that...I released the video the day of the "funeral" for the band. You can check out the blog for that here.

Upon completion of that video, once again the idea to create something for "Spezza Spezza Spezza" came back to the forefront of my mind. There has been discussion to create music videos for other Leper songs as well with Skot but there was never follow through with some of the ideas so it was never done. More often than not, the lack of follow through was on my part but there is one concept that a lack of communication caused for it to never get started. Last year, I filmed some footage that Skot edited and made into a music video for the song "Still I Crawl." Skot, after I showed him the video for "Goons," asked again if I was interested in working on some other videos for Leper. We discussed the previous ideas some more and he sent me footage for a song off of the last recording to make into a video.

The idea to do "Spezza Spezza Spezza" remained at the forefront of my mind. I discussed some differences that I had thought up from what I had originally with Skot. Ideas that would be less "gory" but hopefully unsettling nonetheless. I wanted a horror film feel to this and often "less is more" when it comes to that. I got started on the project with the footage that Skot sent me but kept thinking about the ideas I had for "Spezza Spezza Spezza."

On Saturday, October 10th, 2020, I woke up with lots of ideas swirling in my head for "Spezza Spezza Spezza." We had invited friends over for a bonfire. Skot and Rachel Shaw and Anastasia and Josh Robieson and Sid Duffour. It was to be a small gathering, outside, and socially distant. The day was fairly warm and had good weather so I decided I wanted to try to get some filming done as well so I could create the idea I had. I also figured I could recruit these friends to help with some of it when they arrived! I had Elphie help with some filming and used our yard as the setting since it's a bit overgrown in parts and has an alley going through the overgrowth. I also used wooden cabins that my grandpa created as a prop along with an ax, hatchet, and some knives. The cabins are small and like models. I was filming them up close to make the illusion that they are full size and livable. I had Elphie film me as I walked through the alley. I filmed walking through as well shooting straight ahead and then shooting down towards my feet and the ax. I got shots of the hearse in our driveway and used the props to make "chops" in various ways. I also walked around a bit with the props. I captured a couple shots of the yard as a whole as well as shots of the neighboring tree that looks like its dying. As I got that shot, a mourning dove landed on the power line so I made sure to get a shot of that as well. I played around with the focus some with these shots. There are some gargoyles in the yard as well and I took some shots of those, adjusting the focus for added effect. I also had Elphie film my mouth from both sides and centered saying the word "Chop" multiple times and multiple ways. I filmed her as well in the same way and later, during the bonfire I filmed Anastasia and Josh, again in the same way. Skot, Rachel, and Sid couldn't make it, unfortunately. I also took a few shots of the fire with the skulls in the fire ring and the smoke after putting the fire out.

The next day I decided to get some shots of the lamp outside our door and shots of the skulls without the fire.

I began to arrange the pieces I had and looked into what I had on file from 2015. There had been a Leper show in the basement of JPUSA on Halloween that year. While down there, I captured some footage of the lightbulb as well as the light with a red plastic bag over it. I captured footage of the floor, some pipes, some holes in the wall, and a boarded up window. That same weekend, Elphie and I consumed the heart of the deer I had shot prior to leaving Pennsylvania. Before cooking it, Elphie held the thawed heart and I got a couple shots of that. I got some shots of her hand with blood on it as she washed it off. I had also got shots of her chopping the hatchet into a moldy piece of bread and an overcooked liver. At some point around that time, I dumped a red slushy into a sink and filmed that figuring it would give a decent blood like effect.

As I got ready to start while organizing the video footage, I ran into a complication. The Soundtrack Pro from my Final Cut Pro Studio was no longer functional on my Mac Mini for some reason. I have the program on my MacBook so I just used that to get the studio track of "Spezza Spezza Spezza" converted to use in this project.

I dropped the audio track about 20 seconds into the project timeline. I did this so that I could adjust the footage with a little extra space before as I began to arrange it to the music. The first parts I worked on was where the word "chop" was used. I had to brighten up the clips with Anastasia and Josh because of how dark the footage turned out. I'm not surprised as I didn't use any lighting on them. I felt like I got a pretty good idea of what I wanted with that, leaving space for the eventual clips of Skot as well. I began to work out how the beginning could look and arranged footage in that. I decided to leave probably about 10 seconds at the beginning to put in the title. I ended up only using five seconds for the title but I liked the lead in as I had arranged it so I left a silent 10ish seconds to open the video.

Skot and I met up to got some footage for yet another song he would like to have a video made for on Saturday October 17th, 2020. After we finished that, Skot came over to our house so I could get some footage of him singing the lyrics. We did a few different takes in different locations and expressing the words in different ways. I also took a couple more gargoyle shots. As I began to fit these clips into the project, I felt like there was still something missing. I went back outside, I walked through the alley in the dark with my iPhone 8, filming with the light on. I also thought the handheld props, the knives and hatchet sitting on a table would be a good shot for this. I filmed that and got a couple shots of me reaching for the props. I felt that maybe I had everything I needed at this point. I then remembered a shot I had of a spider. It wasn't in focus but I thought it might work well. I think it did. Those shots of the props on the table and me reaching for them ended up being used in different ways over the lines "words are weapons."

The intro clips ended up being the trees with the mourning dove, walking passed the fence at our house and layering in the cabins, and Skot standing in front of ivy on a wall.  I sort of used a bunch of the clips at the end, parts I hadn't already used and layered Skot into a couple places of that as well. While it was sort of a drop off of  unused or throwaway pieces...there was purpose for it still and I do think it fits well.

A main part of the vision for this was to make it unsettled as much as possible...I felt that included somewhat chaotic cuts, including going quickly in and out of focus. Initially I had the front and back of the video filled in pretty much. In adding in Skot's parts, it looked like there might not be room to "fit" him into those spots without deleting clips. I didn't really want to do that. I rearranged a few things here or there but mostly just adjusted opacity on clips for overlaying them for visibility of both the clip and the shots of Skot. There were other areas that seems like it might be a bit too Skot "heavy" because I hadn't figured out anything else to put in there that was easily remedied. I had a lot of shots of chopping I could use...some never did get used. I decided to add different gargoyle shots over the line "you're the beast" and I went to Wal*Mart to get shots of chains and rope to fit to those lyrcs. I had various shots of Skot that I could switch between as well as the walking through the alley shots which I utilized in a few different ways. I think a good balance was struck. One pleasant surprise ended up being used on the line "maddening voices in my head" where I could use shots of Anastasia and Elphie by adjusting the speed a bit to add to the unsettled feel to their movements.

Throughout the video there are various speed adjustments, pieces cut out to make a "jump" effect, some use of reverse...all to help add that unsettled feel. There was quite a bit of layering of clips adjusting the opacity for the same reasons. I wanted to have the entire project be in black and white that had high contrast. Once I had everything mostly in place, I added that effect. I had to go through and make some other adjustments here and there in hopes to have the appearance pretty uniform. I used gradient colorize effect to achieve this. I realized that the enhanced brightness on a couple of the darker clips added a lot more grayscale so I removed the brightness and increased a feature called "repeat" in the gradient colorize effect on some of it that seemed to bring the brightness up while still in high contrast. I made a few other adjustments where necessary and felt pretty good with that appearance.

Next effect I used was "bad tv" where it added wavy-ness, lines, split the screen, and other effects of an old television with bad reception. I did some amount of manipulating of that effect so that it would be a bit different each time it was used.

Finally, I added a "bad film" and "vignette" effect to further distort things. One thing I hoped would be available in the effects that come with Final Cut Pro is something that would appear like the sprocket holes on the sides of old film slipping into the frame. I looked into how to create this and it seems that I would have had to buy an effects pack. Instead, I decided to download some stock footage that had that appearance. I ended up only using it at the beginning and the end.

I'm not really sure what else to explain of the process. I'm sure I may have missed something interesting...maybe not. Overall, I feel that I achieved the goal of making this an intense, chaotic, and unsettling music video. I even started to wonder if I might have done too much but the feedback I have had reassured me that it wasn't too much. After showing it to Skot, he was pleased with the result. Are there things I could change? Sure. Are there things I will probably think I could do differently? Of course. Already I can say that...the bad film effect wasn't as strong as I had hoped. I also wasn't happy with the compressed file for upload in that it seemed to pretty much remove that effect and just added some blurriness instead.

But as of now, this is done and out for the world to see.

The main change from my original thought really was taking out blood (mostly) or meat (mostly) or other gory elements. Just a lot of chopping...what is chopped? You just don't know because you just don't see it.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems I have had a bit more time to work on projects like this due to the lack of activities available and the absence of in-person live shows. I will be working some more on other Leper videos (at least) in the coming months. Perhaps other projects will come as well. I am enjoying doing this so I am thankful for the opportunity.

Footage filmed using an iPhone 6 and 8 and Canon Rebel T6 in Uptown and Southside Chicago in October 2015 and October 2020. Video arranged and edited using Final Cut Pro, Soundtrack Pro, and Motion 4 on a Mac Mini and Macbook in October 2020.

Video concept by Joel A. Swanson
Filmed by Elphie and Joel A. Swanson
Edited by Joel A. Swanson

Extra "Choppers" are Anastasia and Josh Robieson and Elphie and Joel A. Swanson.

Special thanks to Skot Show for allowing creative license and participating in the filming. Thanks also for the patience in waiting all these years for me to get this done!

I decided also to compile all the music videos I have created (or helped to create in some way) into one playlist.


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