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CULTUREARTICLE

Under The Hood: 'Open Windows' and How To Make Transmedia Work

Nacho Vigalondo's new film demonstrates an effective way to approach transmedia storytelling.

While it's not a work of transmedia itself - it's a straight-up feature film - Nacho Vigalondo's new movie Open Windows, which is currently available on VOD in advance of its theatrical release next month, offers so many lessons about how to make storytelling via contemporary technologies work that it begs to be viewed by those filmmakers who are interested in telling transmedia stories. Over the past few years we've had a number of filmmakers —Lance Weiler and Tommy Pallotta among them—who have worked quite seriously in the realm of transmedia, but the format has yet to catch on in any major way. This, however, seems to be more a matter of time than anything else. 

Narrative storytelling needs more than complexity and technological innovation to compel. 

But there's something lacking from the vast majority of transmedia efforts, strong entries into the format notwithstanding. Often, the forays into this complex, technologically dense, ill-defined medium leave viewers confused as to how, exactly, they're supposed to feel and navigate the works, with a poor conception of what, exactly, they have just seen. Various technological hooks and gimmicks pervade these various works, but narrative storytelling needs more than complexity and technological innovation to compel. 

This is a lesson effectively demonstrated in Open Windows, which is a truly ingenious thriller that takes a brilliant approach to storytelling in the modern world: it concerns a webmaster of a fan site for a popular actress named Jill Goddard, who is excited to be going on a date with the starlet that evening, a date he's won via an online contest. However, after being contacted by a hacker who quickly embroils our webmaster in a dangerous and criminal situation, it becomes clear that all is not as it seems, and the date with Jill was actually a pretext for putting Jill's life at risk. Our webmaster has to find a way to save Jill from the hacker who is menacing them both. Sounds like a compelling story, no? But what makes this film unique is that it is told entirely with one continuous take of an angle on the webmaster's computer monitor, which, over the course of the film, features various windows of video - his computer's webcam, Jill's cell phone camera, Jill's webcam, the hacker's video camera, etc. 

The vast majority of transmedia works try to push the importance of their gimmicks over the importance of their narratives, a fatal flaw.

It's a stunning visual display, one that brashly and ingeniously utilizes the majority of popularly used modes of video communication that exist in the modern world today, and for this alone the film would be noteworthy. But what makes Open Windows so smart - the reason it succeeds where so many films trying to push the envelope on transmedia filmmaking fail - is that it understands that a simple, compelling story is an absolute necessity for any kind of formally inventive filmmaking of this sort. The vast majority of transmedia works try to push the importance of their gimmicks over the importance of their narratives, a fatal flaw. Regardless of however compelling one's technological approach is, a compelling narrative will always be the basis for successful filmmaking - without characters we care about and a situation that earns our emotional investment, displays of technological prowess will leave us cold.

Additionally, Vigalondo understands that storytelling such as this - that is, technologically complex storytelling - requires extremely simple stories. While Open Windows gets quite twisty by the end, the framework of the narrative is exceedingly simple: Hacker controls Webmaster. Hacker threatens Jill. Webmaster has to save Jill. It's within these very simple narrative bounds that the technological ingenuity can thrive, because the audience has enough of a challenge keeping up with the technical aspect of the filmmaking that an overly complex narrative would simply be too much to handle. 

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