Some videos are complicated, some are stressful, some make you break out and some don’t make any sense until you see the final cut. If you’re lucky, all those things don’t happen all at once.
Hot Hot Heat? Not so lucky.
When the band got together with director Olivier Gondry — who has directed clips for the Vines and is also the brother of music video/ film director Michel Gondry (White Stripes, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) — they thought his concept for “Goodnight Goodnight” was great.
“This is an idea I had a few years ago,” said expat Frenchman Gondry in his heavily accented English. The concept arose out of a video he shot with his brother for the group Lacquer that was a stop-motion trip from Los Angeles to New York.
The brothers intended to shoot a second video for Lacquer, but when it didn’t happen, Gondry kept the concept he’d developed for the clip in the back of his mind.
“I wanted to have a guy standing there who has nothing to do with the music, but he is animated on a T-shirt that goes along with the song,” Gondry, 40, explained. “The contrast would be between his face in real life and the face singing on the T-shirt. Then [the band] wanted me to shoot the album cover, and I wanted to take a picture of [the singer] wearing a T-shirt with a picture of him on it.”
Even as he casually describes his vision, as if he’s explaining how to make something as simple as a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, the idea is a bit hard to wrap your head around. But when Gondry heard the frantic Hot Hot Heat single, he said he could immediately picture the oddball T-shirt gag working.
The first step involved an all-day shoot on December 28 in which Gondry filmed the band playing the song in a performance space in Los Angeles. Gondry — after testing the idea out on himself first — edited the footage into four separate videos and used still images of the footage for 4,000 T-shirts.
Each bandmember had 1,000 numbered T-shirts assigned to them, an organizational nightmare that kept the production assistants insanely busy. Gondry then had the band walk around downtown Los Angeles for two 12- to 14-hour days, taking the shirts on and off at a rate of 2-3 per minute. He used this method to achieve the time-lapse effect in which the story would be told on their chests in an animated, flipbook fashion. But it quickly became evident that that was going to be, well, painful.
“We went back to L.A. and did all this time-lapse photography, taking T-shirts on and off for days,” frontman Steve Bays recalled. “It was a really long process, and after a while we were starting to get extremely red from taking T-shirts on and off. It was hard work.”
Gondry said the shirts had never been washed, so the gritty material chafed the band’s faces over the course of the shoot, making them uncomfortable. The band persevered, though, and Gondry got enough footage to create the Charlie Chaplin-esque sequence of them shuffling down the street as their performance plays out on their shirts.
In an homage to the rough finish on the shirts, Gondry then treated the film of the performance in post-production so that it had the feel of a wrinkled T-shirt. When Gondry was asked to shoot more live performance footage of the band after he turned in the first cut, instead of making them go through the whole difficult process again, he had them put on white shirts and digitally inserted old footage.
Given what he knows now, when asked if he would change anything about how he shot the challenging video, Gondry paused for a moment and laughed, “Because nothing happened the way I wanted?” Well, at least he got a few thousand souvenir T-shirts out of the deal.