Behind the scenes with Justin Baron and Eliminator

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Eliminator: Ron Schneider, Jerry Matula, and Bob Zielinski

Eliminator: Ron Schneider, Jerry Matula, and Bob Zielinski

ZZ Top
tribute band
works with
filmmaker
Justin Baron
to put their act
on national stage

 
In March, Redworks director Justin Baron bundled an introduction, a sales pitch, an interview, a documentary, an audition, and a music video into a film for the ZZ Top tribute band, Eliminator.

Packed among photographs and other promotional material into an electronic press kit (EPK), the video is designed to help the musicians get on the national stage.

Eliminator on AXS TV's "World's Greatest Tribute Bands"
Eliminator on AXS TV’s “World’s Greatest Tribute Bands”

“We need to showcase the band in the best possible light and include some performance for the viewers to enjoy and create some intrigue,” says Baron. “The audience is press and booking agents.”

With 25 years of experience, loads of talent, and tons of enthusiasm, Eliminator deserves the chance.

The band’s achievements include rocking a 2017 performance on AXS TV’s World’s Greatest Tribute Bands and growing a pair of foot-long beards, just like ZZ Top’s bass player Dusty Hill and guitar player Billy Gibbons have (the drummers in both bands are clean-shaven).

The film that Baron created is the main attraction in Eliminator’s EPK. It’s a cover letter, an elevator pitch, a three-and-a-half minute response to people who say, “show us what you got.”

And they got a lot, but where should it begin?

“I knew we were going to open on ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ and end on ‘Tush,’ explains Baron. “I just had to figure out how to get there.”

 
ELIMINATOR | ZZ TOP TRIBUTE BAND

 

Baron is a Chicago-based filmmaker who began working with bands in the early 2000s, completing jobs for the likes of avant-garde metal outfit Yakuza and contributing to work for KISS vocalist/guitarist, Paul Stanley. Since then, he’s finished dozens of music videos that have scored hundreds of thousands of online views.

Justin Baron
Justin Baron

“I’m a cinema guy who loves music and concert films,” he says. “ACDC’s Let There Be Rock, Woodstock, and of course, The Last Waltz, which is one of the best cinematographers in the world shooting all 35mm, which was unheard of at the time.”

The film that Baron created for Eliminator combines the band’s undeniable musicianship and lively stage presence with clips from the AXS show, one-on-one interviews, and cheering fans.

“I just wanted to showcase a glimpse of these guys so viewers would realize that they’re solid and hire them,” says Baron. “The thing I really, really like about Eliminator — besides their music — is that they are supercool, hardworking, blue collar type guys from the Chicagoland area. They take the shows seriously but they don’t take themselves seriously.”

Eliminator is a Chicago-based outfit that includes Jerry Matula on drums, Ron Schneider on bass, and Bob Zielinski on guitar. Along with the beards, they sport trademark ZZ Top cowboy hats, wear western-style clothing, and play fuzzy rotating guitars onstage.

Add solid chops and a lot of practice, and the band ranks up there with any of the national acts that play tribute shows for a living.

The ZZ Top catalogue goes a long way as well. From party staples like “Legs” and “Cheap Sunglasses” to bluesy standards like “LaGrange” and “Tush,” songs by the legendary Texas-based bluesy-rock group arouse drunken bar patrons and serious musicians alike, especially when they’re played to near perfection.

Baron on set with Eliminator
Baron on set with Eliminator

Baron met Eliminator in 2011 through a Logan Square photo studio specializing in vintage-style pinups called VaVoom, which was located in the same building where he rented space at the time. VaVoom had worked with Zielinski and Schneider’s daughters, and they had asked for recommendations of filmmakers who could help create a video for their dads’ band.

“Eliminator was trying to break out of the Greater Chicago bar scene,” he recalls. “They had been playing together almost 20 years at that point and they had a story to tell.”

In 2012, they went to work.

“My partner Dennis Best and I filmed Eliminator at Durty Nellies in Palatine,” Baron says. “We had two hand-held cameras and a multi-track audio recorder.”

The plan was to make a six-minute promotional video. But that all changed when “the film gods smiled on us,” according to Baron.

“The show was great,” he continues. “The Loop was crowning the new Loop Girl, so we counterbalanced that with the band’s beard energy onstage, and I also shot interviews with their sound guy and a handful of fans. Then I sat the guys down and interviewed them in their practice space.”

In post, they added a few famous ZZ Top effects — “like the guys dissolving like apparitions in ‘Legs,’” says Baron — and created a thirteen-and-a-half minute EPK that helped elevate Eliminator “from a local band to a festival band.”

It also attracted the attention of AXS TV in 2017.

“The World’s Greatest Tribute Bands’ host Katie Daryl saw the video online and thought that the real beards looked great,” recalls Baron.

In the months leading up to the gig, Eliminator told Baron that they wanted to reshoot the video.

Eliminator: Ron Schneider, Jerry Matula, Bob Zielinski
Eliminator: Ron Schneider, Jerry Matula, Bob Zielinski

“I said let’s focus on one song from the performance and I’ll add some ISO shots of you guys playing it live and we’ll put some b-roll around it,” he recalls. “That was the intention: just one song.”

But when they received the footage from AXS, the director and the band had pretty much no choice but to expand the length of the film.

“It was awesome,” Baron says. “I was like, man, we cannot not use this stuff. How can we not have this part of ‘Cheap Sunglasses’ and this part of ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ and this part of ‘Tush?’ And the host is really charismatic. You guys killed the cow and we got all this great meat here. Let’s not throw it away.”

Back in Eliminator’s rehearsal space, he filmed interviews of the band in monochromatic black and white with a pair of Canon DSLRs — one hand-held and the other on a monopod.

Keeping the musicians on topic came naturally to Baron, who spent two years on the field team of the Steve Harvey Chicago TV show. “I’m a filmmaker,” he says. “I’ve been directing stuff for years.”

Baron and Eliminator eventually created another 14-minute film. It’s an adequate synopsis of the band, no doubt; but a little long for the people considering to hire them.

“Their booking agent told them he needed only three minutes,” Baron says. “So I took the hits and trimmed it down.”

 
Send your film updates to Reel Chicago Editor Dan Patton, dan@reelchicago.com.

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