SXSW 2014 Interview: OPEN WINDOWS' Director Nacho Vigalondo and Stars Sasha Grey & Elijah Wood Talk Privacy Invasion
Nacho Vigalondo, the man who brought us the mind-fucktastic Timecrimes (07), is back with the mystery thriller Open Windows, a film that twists, turns, and shocks, setting countless narrative precedents along the way (here is Peter's review). One flagrant innovation is Vigalondo's achievement in telling a story that exists entirely within the space of laptop computer screens and mobile devices. With a stellar cast including the tone perfect Elijah Wood and sometimes actor, Sasha Grey, in a performance that begs for further roles in the fiction film industry, Open Windows is a rare marvel that further proves director Nacho Vigalondo is one of today's most unique and far-out storytellers.
ScreenAnarchy: Can you talk a bit about the genesis of the project?
Nacho Vigalondo: The idea came from outside. I was asked to write a thriller in which the Internet has a big presence. The same way that the Internet was present in the drama Closer by Mike Nichols. So I brought them back the idea of making a movie where the screen of a theatre becomes part of the screen of a computer. That was the beginning.
What were the challenges of telling a story entirely on laptops and mobile devices?
NV: The big challenge - the first challenge - was the script itself because at the same time I was writing the story, I was also writing for the screen. When constructing the plot I had to be able to make the reasons for every window that appears. So every time something happens I had to be specific for the screen as to why are we able to see it and from which point of view? In this case the screen became the technical screen at the same time. And it's in real time so I had to feed the audience with events all the time. I didn't have the benefit of ellipses.
Elijah Wood: And reading the script was complicated. (laughter)
I can imagine. How many times did it take to read it through before you felt you got the vibe of it?
EW: I got the vibe. It's clear the first time you read it. But it's challenging. It's a complicated read because there's so much information. It's not just dialogue it's primarily descriptions.
Sasha Grey: Yeah, you just have to go back.
NV: The thing is I'm not attracted by the idea of making complicated films. I don't think complicated is a positive thing. In fact, I don't want to make a complicated film ever again.
For the actors, when did you first discover the script and what made you want to sign on board?
EW: I knew Nacho socially from Fantastic Fest and elsewhere. So I heard about the idea before he approached me about the film. Just as a friend I knew he was going to make this movie on a computer screen. And I was completely intrigued. And that was kind of it really. I would do anything for him. He's wonderful as far as I'm concerned. I'd wanted to work with him since Timecrimes. So the fact that he wanted me to be a part of this was awesome.
SG: I was also a fan of Timecrimes. And I heard that Nacho was making a new film. I asked my manager at the time to give me a copy of the script. And then he happened to know Nacho's manager. And so I read the script and I loved it and I got a meeting with Nacho a couple of months later.
Given that you guys are public figures what is your relationship with the privacy invasion theme of the film?
SG: Well that's another thing that attracted me to the script. In one respect I'm used to being very public and open about my life. But then at the same time, I don't know what it's like to be an actress like Jill. The ultimate Diva - the girl that everyone loves to hate - I'm used to that. But she deals with fame in a different way than I've had to deal with it. I've had to expose myself in a different way therefore I'm less interesting to people because I have nothing left to expose so in that respect it's different, but I've definitely had to deal with criticism and scrutiny and online haters and cyber stalkers. Those things are very real and very scary and actually while we were shooting the film, I was dealing with something very scary so I had a lot to bring to the film and I'm glad I'm involved. It's a very real thing for me so It was a good experience.
Was it cathartic at all dealing with it in this way?
SG: Oh yeah.
EW: It's familiar to anybody. You're going to have to deal with an element of that. It's something that I've dealt with I suppose. I think what's interesting about the movie is that it kind of comments on that sort of sense of responsibility or lack of responsibility that people have online. I think that the thing that's unique to the online space that we don't deal with as human beings: When human beings interact with each other for the most part they're pretty respectful to one another. When they're in the online space that respect sort of diminishes and a sense of one's own responsibility diminishes. I find that very interesting. You can sort of do things in that space that you wouldn't do in life and I think the movie deals with that and sort of showcases that to a certain degree as well.
To what degree can you relate to the character? Did you have an entry point?
EW: He's kind of an innocent. I think we can all relate to the character if we're being honest. I think that we all follow people online that we don't know. I think that we're all potentially guilty of doing things we wouldn't normally do. And it seems kind of innocent. You know what I mean? I think we can all relate to that to a certain degree. And ultimately, I found the character not to be creepy although one can sort of label him as being creepy, but I think he's just kind of an innocent that happens to love this person, is fascinated by this person, collecting photos. It's all very innocent until it's not.
What's it like having scene partners that basically only exist online?
EW: I found that very challenging to perform in front of a camera that you're looking at and hold conversations with people that aren't there. It's a very different kind of acting. It's one thing to interact with someone - that's natural and it feels comfortable and you find the zone between you - but doing that without something to react to - it's a bizarre thing and it took a lot of getting used to for me and I leaned on Nacho to make sure that he was comfortable with what I was doing because I had no point of reference. It's a weird thing.
NV: It's funny because when you're talking to someone and you're watching the computer you don't know what's on the camera. You realize that if you respect that thing which is the real thing the effect on the screen... it's a little awkward. So it's funny when we found out that you have to look at the camera so people in the audience would understand you're talking to the other guy.
EW: Because often times we look at our own image - you know if we're on Skype or whatever - at ourselves or at the other person. We make a point of trying to look at the camera but it's so awkward because we're not looking at anyone.
Nacho, given that you are a Director who loves cinema and film-fans covet the theatrical experience, one thing I found interesting is that this is one film that actually lends itself to watching on a computer screen.
NV: Yeah, maybe it's the first movie that makes sense on a computer screen rather than in a movie theatre. I don't know.
But would you still rather everyone see it in theaters?
NV: For me, I don't believe in something I've heard many, many times. Which is people thinking that the theatre's a better experience because of the size of the screen. It doesn't have anything to do with the size of the screen.
EW: It's about the intimacy of the space.
NV: It makes sense to watch movies in the theatre because you're sharing this period with other people. That's for me the key. When people say I don't go to the theatre because the size of the screen in my home is the same size. I always answer, "Yes, but you are alone." The point of going to the movies is not being alone. I am being surrounded by people you don't know. If something happens that is funny, you are laughing at the same time as a lot of people. It's an experience at a totally different level so if I want people to see this movie in a theatre it's not because it's bigger on the screen, it's because of the ritual which I think is much better than anything you can do at home.
Sasha, I gotta ask, what would you say the is the fundamental difference between the two industries? Are there as many differences as one might think just in terms of being on set and crew and the like?
SG: I always like to say that Hollywood just has more money. That's one of the biggest differences. At the end of the day...
EW: The sound recorder still has to do his thing...
SG: The crew is... jaded is the wrong word but they're just so used to what's happening. It's just like - "bring a little light here, ya I need more light there", you know... It's up to me to keep it interesting. It wasn't difficult and I enjoyed doing it but now I'm ready for new things. Obviously, I've performed in both arenas and in the adult business there's no acting. There's performance but it's not acting. I think the thing that I appreciate is when I get to work with people that love movies and they enjoy making movies because, like Nacho said to me earlier, there's a lot of people in this business that don't even like movies. It's a shame. But we were all on set when we weren't shooting, cause we all had that in common, which was nice. I appreciate that.
NV: I think that people who love movies in the movie industry is a lot less common than you'd think.
EW: It doesn't make any sense.