SXSW Interview: Nacho Vigalondo, Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey, 'Open Windows'

Working a film festival, selfies and internet privacy. These were just a few things that writer/director Nacho Vigalondo and actors Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey chatted about regarding their latest film, Open Windows, shot partially in Austin. 

The movie premiered at SXSW (my review), and I was beyond eager to hear firsthand what went into the making of this film. Check out what they had to say about what drew them to the idea, as well as the technological hurdles they had to overcome.

Slackerwood: Congratulations on the premiere of your film here at SXSW. How does it feel to bring it back to Austin?

Nacho Vigalondo: It's amazing, but I prefer to come here [to this festival and others] without a movie because I enjoy movies -- I love watching them. I love other people's movies more than mine. I enjoy making my films, but I don't enjoy watching my own films. I hate to be a critic to myself.

Elijah Wood: Sometimes it's tough to be at a festival when you have a film screening because you're working so much. You end up not having the time to see other films, which is such a bummer. There are always so many great films to be seen, and with SXSW there are so many good options. It's just a bummer to be stuck working and not having the time we'd like to see all of these other films.

Vigalondo: It's difficult because I think film festivals are the best venues for movies, but at the same time it's the worst because you are forced to be judgmental. I don't think one should watch film just to judge it, but rather to just enjoy it and have a good time.

Tell our readers where the idea for Open Windows came from.

Vigalondo: I was asked to make a movie in which the internet had a big presence on the screen. You remember Closer by Mike Nichols? How the movie suddenly turned into a computer screen and you could see their messaging conversations*? Well I was asked to do something like that but in a three-layered structure.

So, I offered to take it to the edge and make a movie that is seen entirely in front of a computer -- that was the initial idea. And later, when I started writing, the motivation I found was the ambiguity that we have when we're on the internet. I think the internet is playing tricks with your morals, and sometimes I feel that my morals are being tested all the time. I wanted to talk about myself on the internet, which is everyone on the internet. 

I found myself wondering if the film was ever going to be from a perspective other than Nick's computer. Was that always your choice to keep it that way, in such a confined space?

Vigalondo: There was a period of time where we didn't know that film was going to be just within the laptop without the camera...

Wood: ...Without the exterior, outside camera.

Vigalondo: Right. But we soon realized that that was going to be impossible. And that was hard for me as a filmmaker because I love to move the camera. For me, the camera is alive in a movie, it's a character by itself.

Sasha and Elijah, what drew you two to the script?

Sasha Grey: I had actually just heard that Nacho was making a new film, and I was a huge fan of Timecrimes so I somehow managed to get my greasy paws on a copy of the script. There was a lot that I could relate to, like Nacho was saying, with the moral ambiguity of the internet and how we all just co-exist. I've had my fair share, Elijah has, you have -- we've all experienced this insanity and duality of people's onlines personas.

There were a lot of similar experiences that I've had that Jill has in the film, and a lot of little nods to things that have happened to me in my past throughout the story. I've never wanted to run or hide from who I am, and I think this is a fun way to continue my journey. The fact that the character actually stands up for herself in the end is one that I really admired, and one that I don't think you see a lot in films.

Wood: I'd also wanted to work with Nacho for a long time. We met here in town at Fantastic Fest and have been friends ever since, so in some ways I credit [Alamo Drafthouse founder] Tim League for the fact that I made it into this film. I was excited when I heard the concept: He was going to be making this film that takes place entirely on a computer screen, and I found that really interesting. And I think aside from that concept, which I think is an interesting device, the other thing I liked was that the story is happening in real time. 

Grey: Yeah. Technologically speaking, it's so cool to just watch and look at. When I first met Nacho, he showed me on his iPad some of what they shot for their investors. It's really great to see it come to life on the big screen.

After the film's first screening, I saw a lot of people on social media comment on how they liked your usage of "selfie shots..."

Wood: Selfies must end. Immediately. (laughter)

Oh, totally. But the film itself, the camera work, is very constricting. Can you three talk about how it was to direct actors, and for you guys (Sasha and Elijah) to be on the other side of that?

Vigalondo: In a normal movie, you give five or so specific instructions to each actor during a take. In the case of this movie it wasn't five -- it was 500. There were a lot of very particular instructions: Pointing the camera at the eyes, who the actor is talking to. That's already a complicated process, but in this film it was even harder. It's not different, just more complicated.

Grey: But it was nice because at the end of each scene, Nacho would try and let me do more. And it was necessary, because you didn't know exactly how the pieces were going to go together. I personally felt great that we were allowed to try it all these different ways. And for me [to Elijah] -- I don't know if you felt this way -- but for me it felt really constricted sometimes.

Wood: Totally.

Grey: Because you had to be so on point. You didn't have a lot of movement. I often thought, "Am I not doing enough? Am I doing too much?" So to be able to just continue rolling out takes was fortunate, especially on a low-budget film.

Vigalondo: These guys definitely took a leap of faith. It was impossible to picture the result in the shooting.

Wood: I mean literally in filming, you have a camera pointed right at you, and that camera is your webcam. So, yeah, there's a giant leap of faith. But Nacho had already laid out the film in such a detailed way from the beginning so we had a very good idea, effectively, of what the final product was going to be.

This was easily (for me) the most technical film I've ever done. Very, very technical... I mean, every single shot, in addition to the dialogue, which was happening with an actor who wasn't there, there are very specific things that are stage directions that are happening offscreen that we're having to assume.

Vigalondo: Make sure you got that down: The guy from Lord of the Rings said that this is the most technical film he's ever worked on. (laughter) That's really scary.

Wood: (laughter) It's true!

*The scene he is referencing is the cyber chat between Jude Law and Clive Owen. 

[Photo credit: "Elijah Wood and Nacho Vigalondo at the Open Windows afterparty" and "Sasha Grey at the afterparty" by Vivien Killilea from Getty Images, courtesy of Fons PR. Used with permission.]