So in addition to being a film and music video director, I’m also a huge fan of online streaming personalities such as Jackscepticeye, Corpse Husband, Valkyrae, Sykkuno, Toast, and others.
In the gloomy days of 2020 when I was isolated from my friends and colleagues, it was fun escaping into the virtual worlds of Among Us, Rust, and Raft with the “Amigops” and friends.
For anyone who doesn’t know Corpse Husband, he is a faceless youtuber characterized by his massively deep voice and genuine, humble personality. He’s known for playing Among Us with AOC, Lil Nas X, and for narrating scary stories sent in by viewers in the early years of his youtube career. Not only does he have a really cool voice, but he has a unique sense of style and is super kind and loving toward his fans, which has caused his popularity to skyrocket.
When I heard that Corpse was collaborating with Machine Gun Kelly I had mixed feelings. I honestly wasn’t the biggest fan of MGK ever since the Eminem controversy, but I figured if Corpse thought he was cool then maybe Gunner wasn’t bad afterall. Regardless how I felt about MGK, I was SO stoked to see the results of their collab since Corpse’s voice is so unique and I wanted to hear how their voices would mesh on a track.
Based on the song’s cover art, I thought that maybe the official mv was going to have a lot of blood and gore in it. Maybe with costumes and horror movie visuals, maybe medical horror tropes (like in Matt Alonzo’s classic music video for “Martians Vs. Coblins ft Lil Wayne” or like my horror/medical video “Crazy by J-Key”).
But I was surprised that when the video actually came out, it was really tame in terms of graphic, gory imagery. There weren’t any blood puddles or broken teeth. Here is what we DID get:
DAY WALKER [0:00]
The video starts out with a title screen in warped/stretched text in red that says “DAY WALKER” distinct from the song title styling of “DAYWALKER!”
Maybe “DAY WALKER” was the original title of the song? Seems like a minor detail, but labels and artists tend to get really specific about this sort of thing.
As the first high pitched tones of the track rise up, we see a roman numeral “I” in red on black, marking the first “chapter” of the video.
This marks the start of a narrative structure that harkens to directors like Tarantino and Lars Von Trier who use titles to section off different segments of a film. There’s a long history of this kind of storytelling structure in cinema and literature. Here’s an excerpt about the use of chapter titles from Quora:
Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt, a distancing device used to constantly remind the viewers that they are not meant to become lost in the plot of the film/play or identify with its characters, but to [analyze] it as a piece of fiction. It was first [popularized] by playwright Bertold Brecht in 1936.
Samples of chapter titles in other films:
So already we’re starting out with an introduction to something psychological and metaphorical that has to do with storytelling. This could be because the verses from the track reflect true and violent stories that each artist has actually experienced – Corpse was held at gunpoint and I read that MGK was talking about dealing with his anger management issues.
CHAPTER I [0:02]
The first is a blurry shot of real security camera footage of MGK walking along a path. The shot has pixellation as well as blur and a vignette, which leads me to believe they shot a screen that was playing back actual security camera footage and it was not a vfx effect.
Next is a crispy and lofi shot of skateboarder, David Loy – a dude in white with BRIGHT RED hair (the red hair is the first of a color motif we see play out through the video, where every scene has a pop of color that references other scenes) standing up from a curb. He’s got a cigarette, which he tosses down with a puff of smoke . I believe that this is a gopro and not a sec cam video due to the perfect framing and quality of the video, but could be wrong.
Camera switches to a high quality cinema camera (a Sony?) before bouncing back to the gopro, now in full wide showing MGK and red hair guy start fighting.
“Punch that motherfucker in the face” is paired up with a MCU of Kelly punching red hair guy in the face – a punch that ACTUALLY lands. These guys are actually hitting each other pretty hard (and Corpse confirms that they were actually fighting each other in this livestream about 9 minutes in). Now, most of the time when there’s a fight scene in a film or mv, you have someone choreographing the scene, or you have stunt doubles, and/or you shoot it in a way where you can hide the blows and make it look like people are actually hitting each other. For them to actually just get into a real fist fight is pretty intense!
The beat drops to quick clips of the fight from different angles, accented by slomo shots of the blows.
CHAPTER II [0:17]
Next we’re in a police interrogation room set. It’s above-lit with cool tones and color grade.
Kelly is alone at a silver table with silver chairs.
The editing transports him from one side of the table to the other as he recites verses, culminating in a screen split technique showing both “sides” of him at the table at the same time.
Now, in Valkyrae’s BTS video about the shoot [9:19], we hear MGK discussing how they used Tik Tok users’ videos as inspiration for the video. They don’t show explicitly which video he was referencing, but it could be this one:
This is also a good time to talk about the use of static (non-moving) camera shots in this vid.
A lot of horror themed videos will use lots of handheld CAMERA SHAKE to create a sense of unease or action. This makes a static shot (tripod/sticks, non-moving) feel more emotional by adding a human touch. It’s used a lot in horror and action flicks to add an unsettling edge to the visuals, as though the viewer watching is nervous, and on the edge of their seat.
But I was really surprised to see that in this vid, most of the camera movement is static with very little camera movement!
After hearing MGK talk about the Tik Tok inspiration, it made me think the static camera work was referencing those Tik Toks. Or maybe the camera work was another nod to cinema, kind of like the chapter titles were?
The use of camera shake became popular for music videos and indie films when DSLR prosumer cameras like the 5DMkII and GH2 hit the market. Their light, portable nature lead to a lot of shaky shots that eventually became an aesthetic for many cinematographers. But Hollywood movies have historically used very little camera shakes, instead opting for much tighter, carefully planned, non-moving shots. Before digital, film stock cost a ton of money and you didn’t want to waste it on a risky shot where you could end up making everything blurry or out of focus, so it was safer to go static.
So, even though I wasn’t totally sure about the aesthetic of the static camera at first, the more I watched the video, the more that these static shots grew on me because the camera usage, coupled with the chapter titles gave the mv an old cinema kind of vibe and I dug it. Bold choice for sure (esp. if they were putting everything together last minute like Corpse said in his stream), cause another good thing about handheld camera is that you can hide mistakes behind it when you’re editing. You can’t hide anything in a static shot.
Back to the music video:
The scene continues with Kelly looking into a mirror (like the mirror in the Tik Tok ref) with a light swinging in the room.
There’s a creepy backlit shot of him crouching in front of the light and performing to camera with a subtle push in (done in post) where we see the camera slowly and subtly move in and out while he performs. Also something I thought was cool but didn’t catch right away – the crouching shot was done by shooting INTO the mirror itself, with Kelly at an angle slightly behind camera. It’s a great technique to get a wider shot of a space (I’ve done it before with dance videos, cause dance studios always have giant mirrors everywhere).
You can tell it’s through the mirror because of the dust in the middle. They probably just took the punching mirror shot and went wider with it and changed focus with no lighting changes. Very economical.
Everything in this room is grey except his pants which are bright RED.
Scene ends with a shot of Kelly on a white background in a YELLOW coat, profile to camera. He’s facing right side of frame, and a cartoon animation effect is overlaid over him as he shouts “FIGHT!” With cartoon blood spurting out his mouth.
CHAPTER III [0:41]
MY FAVORITE PART!
We open on a simple and quaint little livingroom set, out of focus. YELLOW funky chandeliers hang on either side of a yellow vintage arm chair. Blue walls and a little window at the back marked by 3 window panes. I believe the yellow coat along with Kelly’s blue hair in the previous shot was meant to foreshadow this location.
All of a sudden, long brown hair dips into frame and we see youtube streamer and 100 Thieves star, Valkyrae hang down into the frame wearing a black shiny cat suit!
She begins mouthing the lyrics to Corpse’s verse, acting as Corpse’s avatar in the video with one glowing red eye – a feature that Corpse is often illustrated with.
This shot was a completely unexpected and really cool way to introducer her character to the video. Gave me American Horror Story season 1 vibes! The camera focus was on point and must have taken a few takes to get it right. I loved that they had this as her introduction and they totally nailed the shot.
Valkyrae Appreciation Notes:
- Since this was reportedly a last minute production according to Corpse, Rae was not given any prep for this shoot. Typically if there was more time, or more budget, you would order cat suit(s) ahead of time so the Talent (actor, model, or artist) could try them on and select the right size and style that fit waaaay before the shoot. OR you’d hire a wardrobe stylist who might have something in their own closet or have a connection who could bring wardrobe to set, then modify if necessary for talent. MANY models and actors would have flat out refused to go out and buy their own specialized wardrobe out of pocket for the shoot like she did. Rae truly went above and beyond by going out to a random sex shop and purchasing her own wardrobe!
- Not only that, but she got her nails done too! What an amazing detail that totally pulled her look together!!! A lot of people don’t think of nails when it comes to music videos, but you miss them when they’re not on point. Her pointy black nails were brilliant. If it’s part of a specific look and if there’s more time, production can generally coordinate for talent to get their nails done. You can even hire a nail technician to show up to set and do manicures on site if you have the resources for it.
- She did her own hair styling and makeup! On most sets you have an HMU (Hair and Make Up) department. This department could be a whole team of hair stylists, makeup artists, special effects artists or it could just be one person who does everything. When Rae arrives on set, she runs into a MUA (makeup artist) and talks to her, only to find out that the only MUA on set was hired specifically for special effects (MGK has a joker face cut effect later in the video). A special effects artist is a specialty job and for her to do beauty makeup as well would mean she was doing 2 people’s jobs and should be paid for both jobs. It’s possible that she ended up doing Rae’s makeup just to be nice, but it’s also entirely possible that Rae did her own, and if she did she did a FABULOUS job.
- Being able to memorize all of those rap lyrics. I work with artists sometimes who don’t even remember the lyrics to their OWN songs!
- Reciting lyrics upside down when she didn’t even know she was going to be upside down that day.
- Putting a contact lens in her eyeball with dangerous pointy nails!
- Lastly, props to Rae for showing up to set when she didn’t know anyone there and hadn’t even met MGK yet! It’s really cool that she had her own team there to support her. A lot of crews have worked with each other for a long time before, and it can be intimidating if you’re the only one there who doesn’t know anybody, or if you’re one of the only girls on set. Being a female filmmaker, I’ve been on sets many times where I was one of only a few girls, and it can be kinda weird being surrounded by a bunch of production dude-bros.
The rest of the scene shows Rae posed in different areas of the set, sitting on chair, laying on chair, freaking out a bit, all using jump cuts similar to Chapter II, but instead of multiple camera angles, this entire scene is shot from one single angle, all the way through.
There are some shots where they added a camera shake effect in post.
Kelly makes an appearance toward end of scene wearing a RED puffer jacket and shiny black pants. There’s a freaky sped up shot of him that perfectly corresponds with Corpse’s screamed line “I bit the fuckin’ apple I’m surrounded by some snakes!”
Now if I was directing this vid, I might have shot this wider so that we could see the bottom of the chair. It’s a big pet peeve of mine for people’s feet to be cut off, so I try to avoid it as much as I can. It just feels a bit unbalanced to me to have her feet cut off when we see the whole rest of her body. HOWEVER I’m guessing it was shot this way for a good reason – maybe this was the only shot that could work because the set was too small for a wider shot, or they couldn’t get wide enough to have both the chandeliers in frame PLUS the bottom of the chair so they had to choose between them. Those chandeliers are such a funky shape that the might not have looked good if the tops were cut off.
Scene ends with an ECU (extreme close up) of Rae’s eyes in slomo, with high tech graphic effects applied to her red Corpse eye.
CHAPTER IV [1:05]
Starts with a medium (waist up) shot of Rae on a white background, like we saw at the end of Chapter II.
She screams the hook “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!” while blood spurts out her mouth, landing on the white wall behind her and later seen oozing down the wall in a CU.
Her hair is up in buns now.
The blood could have been done in post. There’s a lot of stock video out there they could have gotten of a couple of blood splatters, and then just put them in the background. But it also could have been real splatters on the wall. The way the blood drips down and the lighting on the blood is really convincing. If they did that then they would have probably shot Rae and the blood shots separately, and then composited them in the edit. Otherwise, the blood splatters would ooze downward throughout different takes, creating continuity issues… and that blood runs pretty fast when you’re shooting, I know this from working on a couple of action/horror films that involved blood running down a wall.
If they shot it that way, then it was probably recorded in 8k or something so that they could just punch in for the close up shots.
Wardrobe Note: in the white background shot, you can see that her outfit is a teensy bit loose (she mentions in the BTS that she had to get a size that was a little big for her). A quick fix would have been to take binder clips and clip the fabric together in an area that’s hidden away from camera, so that the garment appears “tailored.” You don’t damage the fabric, and it looks great on screen!
CHAPTER V [1:15]
This scene serves as a kind of intermission before MGK’s last verse.
Handheld camera, outdoor shot, back to the subdued grey hues we saw in the Chapter II interrogation scene.
An ECU (Extreme close up) of a hand. Some people think it’s Corpse’s hand… but after comparing MGK to Corpse’s… but I think it’s MGK’s hand! Here’s a comparison, though I could only find Corpse’s left hand not right.
After blood drips on the ground, the clips are played back in reverse. Subtle and creepy!
These shots were probably done at the same time they did the outdoor fight scene in Chapter I. They probably wrapped the fight scene, then zoomed in to get these shots real quick before going inside to shoot the rest of the vid inside the studio.
When you’re doing a music video where there’s any outdoor scenes, you usually want to schedule those to be first thing in the morning. You never know what could happen. It could start raining, or you could have production issues that’ll delay your shoot. So you want to get those daylight shots out of the way first thing while you have the chance. Anything you do on set is going to take twice as long to accomplish, especially if nothing was planned ahead of time. So it’s pretty typical for crews to be chasing daylight after getting delayed in the shoot schedule thorough the morning and afternoon. Smarter to save studio shots for end of day.
CHAPTER VI [1:25]
Opens with a close up of MGK praying. This is a good transition from the previous hand shots. Lyrics go “I pray to God that I went to sleep with bloody hands.”
I’m pretty sure they’re sitting in a freight elevator here. The background movement and little camera shakes look like something you’d see when you put a tripod on a moving platform. At first glance I thought this shot was a dolly zoom, but after watching it a few times it just makes the most sense that this whole set is moving vertically while camera is zooming in. Corpse said they shot this in a warehouse, and freight elevators are pretty common in locations like that. I actually used to work at a warehouse location in NYC that had a huge freight that we used to let people shoot in.
This shot pretty trippy! The lights are probably set up inside the elevator on either side of MGK, since we don’t see the lights moving at all. Props to them for using every aspect of the location in their video.
CHAPTER VII [1:42]
Same camera angle and framing (close up, shoulders up) but this time we’re on Rae with her hair in buns in a different location.
Camera shake added in post.
Rae recites Corpse’s closing verse all in one single shot as camera moves in! It’s super impressive that she was able to memorize and recite those fast lyrics so accurately. On some shoots they have a teleprompter that sits OVER the camera lens, so that you can look directly into the lens while also reading your lines. I don’t think they had a teleprompter for this shoot, but it’s a nifty tool for this kind of thing.
Match cut of MGK close up looking into camera.
No movement as MGK’s line comes in. Then jump cut to MGK in same position and reciting the lyrics, but this time he has special effects makeup on his face (I think there must be a tiktok reference in this, I couldn’t find one though!). His mouth is slit open like the Joker and a drop of blood is under his eye. Post VFX (video effects) of insects crawl out of his eyes and around his face as camera moves out.
The blood used for makeup like this is higher quality and more expensive than the fake blood you can find in jugs at the Halloween store. A lot of cheaper fake blood has a syrup-like or candy red quality to it, whereas the blood that MUA’s use is drippier and darker red. You can modify bulk fake blood to look more realistic in tone by adding instant coffee powder to it, which darkens the tone.
Upside down shot of a cool looking lighter and a hand igniting the flame.
I believe this is in reference to this Tik Tok:
End with Rae and MGK with the white studio background. MGK pauses briefly to look straight into the camera, then hard cut to credits screen: “Directed by Machine Gun Kelly & Same Cahill” with a secret audio clip of Corpse saying “The End.”
The video has efficient shots, nice lighting, and a strong, logical edit structure that gives it a good sense of direction and cohesion. As a director, there are some things I’d probably do differently creative-wise. Like if it was my vid then I would have had a totally different approach just cause of my personal aesthetic. But I wasn’t there, I don’t know the context of all the situations or why they actually chose to shoot in certain ways. I can only hypothesize!
When there’s no time to plan, it’s super hard to put ANYTHING cohesive together and I really commend the team for making something that was structured so well with strong direction and high quality shooting and editing. I hope this is the first of further collabs between MGK and Sam Cahill, cause they really pulled it off and would be amazing to see what they would do with more time and a bigger crew.
Rae was PERFECT. It is so cool to see streamers hitting the main stream by appearing in different mediums. Before I got into watching streamers, the idea of streaming seemed like this mysterious kind of niche thing, but after becoming a fan myself, I’ve come to realize how HUGE and untapped this market is.
I have a friend who is a producer at a pretty big company, and we’ve had many discussions about how the higher ups in these companies do not have any reference for the power of streamers and other digital content creators, so they hesitate to collaborate with them. I hope that this sort of collaboration will be the start of getting streamers out in front of mainstream audiences.
I also think it’s pretty a interesting juxtaposition that Valkyrae, Natsumiii, and Lily Pichu JUST released a song of their own that is a super cute and sweet little song to piano, and now all of a sudden Rae is in this hardcore intense mv. Kind of like genre whip lash, but a good whip lash!
Anyway, congrats to the team! Props to Sam Cahill and MGK for creating a unique video that makes you want to watch it over and over again and notice something new about it every time.