A series of emails took me through the maze of streets in a central neighbourhood of Madrid. Upon arrival, I was led by producer Nahikari Ipiña into the location shoot of Nacho Vigalondo's new thriller Open Windows
. Starring Elijah Wood, Sasha Grey and Neil Maskell, this is Vigalondo's third feature film and first in English. Vigalondo has made a reputation with his time-travel film Timecrimes
, and sci-fi comedy Extraterrestrial
. His unique approach to dissemination of information in contemporary society make his films metatexts on technology and its effect on human interaction. Details of the film are being kept pretty quiet, so I won't be revealing much on the plot. Suffice to say that in continuing with Vigalondo's singular vision, the film is seen entirely on a computer screen, and told in real time.
There likely aren't many other countries whose filmmakers make so many films in a language not native to them. For producer Enrique López Lavigne, however, the current prolific cycle of Spanish genre film, and its worldwide fan base, creates a global environment that means a film in english can find distribution across a wider market. He notes, "There is a tradition of genre films in Spain, not only in Spanish but in English as well, so we are continuing that. This generation, directors such as Nacho, Eugenio Mira and Juan Antonio Bayona, they all have the same cultural references, yet all approach their work differently, creating very different and great films." Good science fiction is making a comeback, with films such as Looper
, and sci-fi has always been a genre well suited to expressing angst and frustration at the modern world.
Vigalondo said, "I worry that we, as a generation, have too much information and not enough attention. Can we no longer read a novel like Anna Karenina
, can we no longer really read a long text, because we are so used to reading so many little things. This concerns me, and is part of the idea of the film." Writing the script was a long process for him, as he first came up with the idea of showing a film entirely from the perspective of a computer screen hooked up to the internet, which was less organic than his usual writing process. "We are discussing the whole formal language of film, not only by not having a straightforward narrative, but an unusual format." For Wood, one of the big draws of the film was its technical challenge of viewing from the computer screen, and he has found speculation about the film interesting. "Nacho is asking the audience to question not only what they watch but how they watch. When the announcenment about the film came out, it was fascinating to read different ideas on what it would be, knowing it's not at all what anyone has experience in a cinema before."
Working out any film's logistics in terms of cameras is difficult, but even more so on this set. The day I visited, there were nine cameras, most of them small ones, designed to capture the action as one would view it on a computer. That meant that Vigalondo and the crew were watching nine monitors at once, their eyes darting back and forth to make sure each camera was capturing its perspective, and that that could then translate to a finished film. López says that they are editing as they are watching, to create the moments of revelation for each character. Today's location was something of a labyrinth. Vigalondo's past films have also been shot on location; "I don't like to shoot on sets, I'm more comfortable on location. I like the conflict that comes from between what I wrote and what I get from the space. One of the most enjoyable parts of my work is solving this conflict, finding a way to make both spaces, the imaginary of the script and the real of the location, crash into each other and become more than the sum of their parts. I like to read the geography, to see what interesting things appear." Soledad Seseña, the production designer, had never worked on a sci-fi thriller before; her work on this space is meant to show a kind of masculine/feminine dichotomy. Sadly, I can't reveal too much about it, other than to say she achieves this very well, and she placed some Japanese erotic art prints on one of the walls.
Like Vigalondo's other features, Open Windows
has a small cast, with just a few main actors. Wood of course has been acting since he was a child; Maskell made a name for himself in Kill List
, and Grey has started making a name for herself since 2009's The Girlfriend Experience
. Vigalondo said, " We have this triangle of main characters, each unorthodox in their own way, and so are the actors. I love Kill List
, so Maskell was a natural fit. Elijah is the only big star in Hollywood making films like this, and for my generation he's becoming kind of something unbelievable, something special. With Sasha, we talked about her past work in adult films, and this film is very aware of that fame; not exploiting it, but not ignoring it either, and I think that's really interesting and provocative in an elegant way." Arguably, the computer itself, as the spectator's means of viewing, is a character too; for Wood, "so much of what my character is experiencing is happening on a computer screen. My first day with the computer rig, and the conceit of being in front of the computer, I wasn't used to it. Components, yes, such as reacting to something or talking to someone that wasn't there. But it took me a day to get used to it, how it was going to work on a technical level."
Vigalondo has a bit of a reputation as a ball of frenetic energy, with a tinge of madness. While this is not entirely undeserved (in a good way,) he is very calm and serious when on set, working with his cast and crew. Wood says that he wanted to work with Vigalondo since he saw Timecrimes
, because of his inventive ideas and scripts. Rushing back and forth between the monitors and the set, Vigalondo has a dry wit that keeps everyone at ease, and drives the energy on set. Make no mistake, his mind works at a quick pace, almost faster than he can get the words out, but he takes his time and listens to input from everyone before making a choice. I'd go so far as to say his is one of the most well-read directors I've talked to, and his films never pander or talk down to his audience.
Watching the filming of what turned out to be the final scene, I was impressed by how well director, cast and crew handled the small space, several cameras and long takes that had to be watched from multiple angles to capture the perfect moment. Vigalondo's English debut will just be exciting and unique as his previous films, and be another example not only of smart sci-fi, but the current renaissance of Spanish fantastic film.