Anonymity is becoming a more and more precious commodity. Between the government tapping our phones and monitoring our Internet use to celebrity nude pictures being hacked from private accounts and leaked online, some of us are beginning to see that maybe we aren’t crazy to think we’re being watched all the time. Open Windows (our review), starring Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey, explores those issues of privacy in the digital age, following a blogger who has been given access to watch his celebrity idol during her most intimate moments without her knowledge or consent. I had the chance to chat with the film’s director Nacho Vigalondo about the genesis of the film and what his movie has to say about our world in which fewer and fewer barriers to our personal space are being respected.
FreakSugar: A lot of people are concerned about the amount of privacy we have on the Internet—what we give up freely in our dealings with social media and spying by the NSA. Were you inspired by real-life events in writing the movie?
Nacho Vigalondo: I was approached to write a thriller using social media. We decided that the movie would be filmed in real time taking place on a single screen of a laptop and through the lens of the Internet. I was given this nice idea by producers of the film and I gave them back mayhem. [laughs]
FreakSugar: Did you have Elijah Wood in mind as you wrote the script? Looking at his other roles, he seems like the perfect, obvious choice.
Vigalondo: Elijah has that innocence to him that he can take to a darker place. So when I was writing the script, it was almost impossible not to have him in mind. And he’s my friend. Before I offered Elijah the role, I wanted to make sure that the film was finished. We wanted to use him. We weren’t sure he could make it, but had him in mind
FreakSugar: With the film taking place mostly through a computer screen, were there any considerations about how that would affect the pace of the story?
Vigalondo: When we were making the movie, we knew that the entire story would occur on a computer desktop. We were afraid the film would be static and not visual enough. We wanted to ensure that there was a clear visual divide. Since we were telling our story exclusively using a laptop, we had to make certain that the story was as kinetic as we could possibly make it.
When I was writing the script, I would use a lot of British and French novels as references. Those novels explore themes of identity and revelations, which play heavily into the film. I wanted to explore those themes because those British and French novels pushed the imagination of the readers all of the time. by the time I wrote it was British and French novels that explore themes of identity and revelations. That’s the reason the main character is moving the plot. He’s acting as the viewer. The film has a side to it that is trying to be relevant in how we treat people through new media and the Internet, but I wanted it to also be an open fantasy.
FreakSugar: So much of the interaction between the characters is filtered through the Internet or cell phone. How difficult was it for the actors to have to interact with one another while not sharing the same physical space and have to just use the camera?
Vigalondo: It was very complicated for them. Each one of the characters is separated from one another. Even in the last sequence, the actors are not actually together. I wanted to stick with this reality of separateness until the very end. The actors had to interact with just the camera the entire time. They had to stay credible as characters, and it did complicate the whole process.
FreakSugar: Being married to one, I know librarians are very interested in information literacy and issues of privacy on the Internet. Did you reach out to consultants while writing the script?
Vigalondo: I had conversations with computer hackers, but mostly I was interested in looking at my own experiences. We have all had situations interacting with people on the Internet who are not acting like themselves. We know that the way we live on the Internet is different than how we live in real life. We live in anonymity, which makes it easy not to respect other people’s privacy. Normal people care about privacy, but people on the Internet sometimes act differently.
FreakSugar: This film is particularly timely with the news of the hacked celebrity nude pictures being leaked onto the Internet.
Vigalondo: The thing is, it has been happening since the beginning of the Internet. I am horrified that the leaks keep getting worse. I am horrified that people, even some media, are blaming the victims. The ethics of the Internet are so different. Young people should be taught empathy.
FreakSugar: Exactly. You wouldn’t go into someone’s home and steal his journal, so I don’t know why people think invasion of privacy is okay online.
Vigalondo: People do that on the Internet because their identities are hidden. They tap into your identity while their identities are protected. They don’t care because their faces are hidden and they have nicknames.
Open Windows is available on VOD today and hits theaters November 7.