“Open your heart, and your mind,” Mia Doi Todd sings on her new single, and after hearing the song and watching this day-brightener of a video by esteemed director Michel Gondry, you can’t help but comply. The song, among the material on the Los Angeles songstress’ forthcoming ninth album, sprang from a demo version recorded with Money Mark – and the song was not completed when the video was shot. In a nifty bit of musical choreography, the final version was produced by Jon Brion to match the video.
How did she and a rainbow coalition of friends pull it off? Todd explains via e-mail: “Making the ‘Open Your Heart’ video was epic. Michel had had the color concept of the video for many years but hadn’t managed to realize it yet. He proposed the idea to me, and I took up the challenge to write a new song that would be vibrant, upbeat and universal to match the visual palette.
“Michel had assembled a rainbow of clothing and along with a great costume team, we sewed all the 100 outfits for the video. I designed and sewed my own dress. Michel and I went out location scouting around my neighborhood, looking for unassuming urban settings with interesting or else very mundane architectural elements. We knew that concrete surroundings would show off the colors of the costumes, and we wanted to find staircases where we could assemble our rainbow. L.A. is such a driving city, that the landscape is often out of human proportion and gets lost in the rush. The video would bring the human element back to those spaces.
“The days for shooting were quickly approaching, and we did not have a final version of the song. We decided to go ahead with the shooting schedule and make a new challenge for Jon Brion. He would produce and orchestrate the track after the video was edited and customize the sounds and arrangements to the images. Of course, the two-day shoot landed right in the middle of a heat wave. My mother and two aunties helped with craft services and had the great idea to distribute cold hand towels from ice chests at the hardest, hottest time of day. I was concerned about sweat stains on my dress, so I had made two identical versions just in case I needed a fresh one. We were sewing costumes until the night before the shoot.
“Everyone working on the video was doing so out of love for their work and respect for Michel. It was a great team effort. The two days of shooting went so smoothly. While everyone was assembled at the Metro station, Michel decided spontaneously to use the green taxis and yellow buses passing by. Probably the most magical, surreal moment was at the enormous spiral staircase at the 5 and 110 freeway interchange. There are pedestrian walkways up there that are out of the way and mostly forgotten; the cars drive by at 60 or 70 miles an hour only a few feet away. The entire rainbow of 100 people were lined up and we walked up and down the stairs and along the concrete channels, creating this amazing double helix. All the care that had gone into preparing the event had created something grander than we had imagined.
“Another special moment was the last shot at City Hall. The Riverside Community College Marching Band, who we had recruited to be in the video along with a dozen of my close friends, had been working hard all weekend, standing and dancing in the hot sun. We had to coordinate the the most complicated section of the choreography for the finale on the staircase, and we were all exhausted. At first, the camera angle was not right, the sun was so blinding the colors were washed out, and morale was falling. Then Michel and Sean the D.P. found a better angle, and we all managed to pull though. The fellow behind me in the last shot nearly collapses a second after we finish the song. It’s the most endearing moment in the video. When we were planning, it seemed that the colors would dominate and make everyone very uniform like a lego block, but I think the opposite happened. Everyone’s individuality came out.”
||| Live: Mia Doi Todd performs tonight, Feb. 9 and Feb. 16 at Spaceland.