11 Points

11 Behind the Scenes Secrets From Our Mike Tyson's Punch Out Rap Video
written by Sam Greenspan

On Wednesday, the project that consumed pretty much my entire life for the past 2+ weeks went live.

For those who don't know, when I'm not writing this award-winning blog*, I work as a writer and producer of original videos for Break.com. And I had a huge video launch on Wednesday: A rap video I wrote, directed and produced centering around the old school Nintendo game Mike Tyson's Punch-Out.

(* = awards pending)

Here's the video...


Now that you've watched and, no doubt, enjoyed that, here are 11 behind-the-scenes secrets about the making of that video.

  1. Setting up the shot for the all-group shoot.
    The video getting made in 2 weeks was completely luck. I had pitched the idea for a rap video about Mike Tyson's Punch-Out about a month ago, and my bosses liked the idea. But... the video was going to cost WAY more than a standard video and take way more time to produce (since you have to make music). So... I wasn't optimistic that I'd get to make it any time soon.

    Then, the new Punch-Out for Wii got a release date... and, to make this video come out around the same time, it suddenly got fast tracked.

    And that was the good news and bad news: I had to pull off a professional-quality song and video in two weeks. Which was doable... but was going to take at least 200 hours of my time and enlisting about that much from other staff members as well.

  2. The lyrics weren't always so clean... and the song wasn't always so short. I had to clean up the lyrics (to make the video and song more mainstream)... and had to tighten the script (to make the video a reasonable length). Some rhymes that got cut out:
    From Great Tiger:
    I'll punch you so hard, you'll say it's not fair,
    I'll blind you like the singing kid in Slumdog Millionaire.

    From Mr. Sandman:
    I know you're scared of me, I see it when your knees shake,
    My fists spray like Cheez Wiz on a Pat's cheese stake,
    Lethal, like the kid in My Girl on a bee break.

    From Glass Joe:
    Used to be a nightmare, now my life's a dream,
    And you're a one-hit wonder, like Come On Eileen.

    From Soda Popinski:
    In case you don't know me, I'm Soda Popinksi,
    I'm so fucking great I can out-rhyme Robert Pinsky.
    He's a poet laureate, and I'll get my glory yet,
    When I face Mac again and don't even break a sweat.
    There were plenty more (and several n-bombs)... all that got dropped to make this thing more mainstream.

  3. My inspiration for the song and video came from very strange places. For the concept, I was going for a mix of Snoop's "Ain't No Fun (If The Homies Can't Have None)" and the '85 Chicago Bears' "Super Bowl Shuffle"... big group collaborative party rap songs.

    For the music, I wanted a driving, escalating beat, like something from Dr. Dre's "The Next Episode" or Jermaine Dupri's "Welcome to Atlanta".

    And for the video... well, it was supposed to be a mix of Kanye West's "Gold Digger"... and "We Are the World". Which I think we pulled off perfectly.

  4. The music was done by three white guys -- including me. I worked with a composer/producer to make the music. His name was Chuck and he did that thing that us non-musical people just can't comprehend -- he played the Mike Tyson's Punch-Out music by ear. I'd put on a clip, he'd listen, then play the music on his keyboard. After that we'd tweak it to make the notes different, so we weren't plagiarizing the game's music.

    The third white guy involved was my boss Jon, who worked aggressively on making sure the beat was, quote, "thumping."


  5. In the studio. You can see several of the actors in the back.
    The rapping was mostly done by two white guys -- including me. There are 10 male rap parts in the song and one female singer. We figured going in that the odds of getting 10 guys who looked like MTPO characters was hard enough... trying to find 10 matches who could also rap was impossible. So we took a different approach to the rapping.

    We enlisted a guy named David, who can rap AND do accents. And he and I did the rapping for almost all of the characters. I ended up using his takes for Von Kaiser, Don Flamenco, Super Macho Man, Bald Bull and Soda Popinski. I used my take for Glass Joe. Yes, that's me rapping as Glass Joe.

    I decided we shouldn't do Mr. Sandman, Great Tiger, King Hippo or Piston Honda (the black, Indian, Samoan and Japanese guys, respectively)... because I hate the sound of white people doing all of those accents. So I actually had those actors come in to record their own vocals. And while they weren't rappers, I coached them through it and managed to pull high-quality takes out of all of them.

    Interestingly enough, Omi, who played Great Tiger, was easily the best rapper of the bunch, and knocked out his verse in literally two takes.

  6. There's nothing more fun than a recording studio. This was my first time in a professional recording studio, and it was something I absolutely loved.

    From getting to sit there at the mixing board to talking through the two-way to the rappers between takes to getting to play with the autotune on the singer's voice... once you've recorded in a professional studio like that, I'm not sure you can go back to rapping into a Radio Shack mic plugged into your computer.

    Then again, at several hundred dollars an hour for studio time (and me using every once of charm I had in my body to get them not to charge us for the 45 minutes we went over our session), maybe you have to.


  7. The cast (minus Little Mac and Mario) at the all-group shoot.
    Casting was surprisingly easy. I thought casting would be tough... but, fortunately, with the L.A. talent pool, you can really find actors who look like video game characters easily. I wrote up descriptions for all of the MTPO characters and we posted them on the big casting websites.

    It was easy from there. London, who played Bald Bull, came in and I could've hired him on the spot. Same with Americus, who was King Hippo, and Nate, who was Von Kaiser (and actually has that handlebar moustache -- that's not fake!)

    The only people we had difficulty finding were Great Tiger (ended up needing to reach out to friends for recommendations on Indian actors)... and Glass Joe (apparently it's tough to find adult male actors who weigh about 115 pounds).

    We ended up not casting Glass Joe until about 12 hours before the shoot. But everyone else... yeah, not really too hard. Who knew?

  8. I decided to really ride my director outfit. I've found that, in the different roles I play here, I have eased into different outfits that help me fit the character.

    When I hold a casting session, I wear a nice sweater and my glasses. When I'm at a writer's meeting I wear a hooded sweatshirt and jeans. And when I'm directing... I wear a hat and let my beard grow.

    By beard, of course, I mean "hideous looking, asymmetrical scruff."

    For this project, I really went crazy with that... and decided to keep the beard and hat them going all through post-production. By the time the video was edited it had been more than a week since I'd shaved and I looked, well, ridiculous. But not as ridiculous as some of my actors...

  9. Painting Soda Popinski purple was the biggest issue. We had a few costume issues. We had to adapt a Ben Franklin wig to make Super Macho Man's hair. Piston Honda needed fake sideburns and Great Tiger and Bald Bull needed fake mustaches.

    But nothing was harder than turning Nick, our actor who played Soda Popkinski, purple. Firstly, he's 6'8, so it took a hell of a lot of purple makeup. Secondly, I didn't have a make-up person in the budget, so we had to do it ourselves.

    The first purple body paint I bought didn't work right and looked terrible. So I ended up texting my friend Annette, who's done make-up for a ton of my shoots, begging for advice. The text: "Hey Annette! It's Sam. Can you recommend how to body paint a giant man completely purple?"

    She recommended a Hollywood make-up supply store, a brand and a technique. We followed her advice... and it still took three people almost an hour to completely body paint him.

    And we had to do it on both shoot days.

    Nick was a great sport about it... not even complaining when we ran late on one of the shoot days and he didn't have enough time to totally clean the purple off before he had to drive up to a softball game.


  10. One of our interns, Matt, poses in front of the man pile.
    Choreographing the shirtless man pile was surprisingly tough. I was going to write "choreographing the shirtless man pile was surprisingly hard" but, ya know...

    Anyway, for the end of the video, I wanted to simulate one of those "Simpsons" scenes where a fight turns into a melee and then turns into a pile of knocked out guys. Homoeroticism be damned!

    We shot several takes of the brawl. I asked the guys not to hurt each other and ran around watching my monitor while my camera op and DP, Brian, frantically tried to capture the action. In the end, we got enough to make the brawl scene work... and adding MTPO sound effects helped make the fake punches seem more realistic.

    Ultimately, this was the hardest thing to shoot in the video... and then, when I gave the actors a break after a few takes, we had to take photos of the shirtless man pile, so they could get back in the right spots for continuity later.

  11. It took a shocking number of all nighters to get the video done by the deadline. This is the second comedy rap video I've made (the first was a Will Smith parody called "I Am Legend (Ha Ha)") and I never quite realize how much post-production it's going to take to make them work.

    My co-worker Adam is an editor and motion graphics expert, and he and I edited the video together. And it was... a hell of a project. We needed all-nighters three of the final four nights of post to meet the deadline.

    The effect where the video game characters morph into the actors? Each one took him about 45 minutes to do. Meanwhile I was frantically Photoshopping, cutting out Barry Bonds, Dennis Kucinich, a kamikaze plane and every other image in the video.

    But we got it done. And now, the video is in the world's hands.

So head over to Break and watch it a few times. Much appreciated!

This post was originally published on Friday, May 15, 2009 at 12:01:00 AM under the category Games.

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