© Daniel Torrelló
“People always have their own answer before asking the question,” remarks the old man interviewed in The Hummingbird, the hoax documentary that accompanies the recently premiered feature film The Cosmonaut. Yet when the Cosmonaut production team embarked on the making of this pioneering piece of cinema, they definitely did not know what the answer to their question would be. They were proposing a new model for the film industry, challenging it – and the public. What would people say? Would it work?
Their revolutionary approach was triggered when a Russian backer suddenly pulled out and, having already spent the whole grant, the production team were faced with the daunting prospect of raising the cash to cover it. They mounted a crowd-funding campaign, offering total transparency to their smaller supporters of whom there are some 4000, explaining the problem and asking for small contributions to see the project through. In the first three days alone they raised 120,000 euros. ‘We were astonished,’ said producer Miki Ávila. ‘It was nuts.’
As it happens, The Cosmonaut, which took four years to complete, has become one of the most successful examples of a grant- and crowd-funded film and the première, complete with double bill, Q&A session and after-cosmo-party was a credit to the team’s passion and commitment to the project. The film is not only charting new territory with regard to its unusual funding model, however. Extensive use of transmedia – related webisodes, images, production blog, book – gives viewers unparalleled access to the film’s content and production process, offering a high level of involvement from the public in the creative as well as financial aspect of the project. One particular example of this is the poster competition which ran in relation to the historical element of the film. Of the 400-500 entries submitted, one was chosen as the official Cosmonaut poster. The whole project, amounting to 2 terabytes of data, is available online and includes every frame shot, every image used and all the audio files. Anyone and everyone can watch it free online, rewatch it and reuse it for their own purposes. As one audience member put it, ‘that’s nuts!’
There is a lot about The Cosmonaut that appears to be nuts, and the team themselves admit that even now the project is still ‘a bit of an experiment.’ One thing is for sure, though; they set out to create ‘more than a movie – an experience, a community’ and to a large extent they have achieved that. The viewer’s responsibility to seek out transmedia material, digest it all in their chosen order and so shape their own interpretation of the project as a whole is, of course, fundamental to the creation of an experience. The documentary and feature are particularly complementary, collaboratively building the idea of conspiracy, mystery, geo-historical displacement and the viewer’s own freedom to interpret what they see. The Q&A session, at which actors Max Wrottesley and Katrina de Candole, Hummingbird director Rafa Pavón and Cosmonaut producer Miki Ávila were present, provided an insight into the team’s personal reflections on the project and, of course, an opportunity to pose your own questions. The Cosmoparty which followed, where members of the public and the Cosmonaut team mingled, was a clear celebration of the collaborative nature of the project, drawing attention to role of the audience in a narrative as interactive as this. Virginia Pablos and Nuria Lacalle were busy making sure everyone had a cosmococktail in hand, printing silver hummingbirds on people’s cheeks and having their photograph taken with fans. The inclusive atmosphere and personal touch contributed a lot to making The Cosmonaut into the experience and the community it set out to be.
But if this model were to take off (pardon the pun) and become widespread throughout the industry, could it retain such a personal aspect or would this be inevitably lost? And could viewers be relied upon to play such an active role in storytelling?
It is perhaps a little too soon to tell, although members of the cast who perhaps have their roots in a more conventional model than the young production team indicated that viewers are not yet ready for a transmedia experience. Nevertheless, the transmedia is enriching and invites a greater appreciation of film-making as an art form, with all the thinking and hard graft that that entails rather than a pre-packaged item that arrives on our screen ready for easy consumption.
It is perhaps a little too soon to tell, although members of the cast who perhaps have their roots in a more conventional model than the young production team indicated that viewers are not yet ready for a transmedia experience. Nevertheless, the transmedia is enriching and invites a greater appreciation of film-making as an art form, with all the thinking and hard graft that that entails rather than a pre-packaged item that arrives on our screen ready for easy consumption. Not that film-watchers are not prepared to work hard – we have seen, for example, from the recent influx of foreign dramas to the UK that there is a renewed acceptance of subtitles, which in the past have suffered from unpopularity on the basis that they require too much effort. As such it is perhaps to the public’s discredit to assume they would not bother to explore transmedia. Indeed, with the boundaries between television and internet already blurred by websites offering episodes and films for download, as well as everyday sites like YouTube, the ground looks well laid for this kind of viewing experience, at least among younger viewers. Moreover, alongside the explosion that media platforms and their trusty facilitator, the smartphone, have experienced in the last five years has grown an obsession in documenting everything, and transmedia seems to answer this trend perfectly.
However, the fragmented nature of a model like this means that no single piece is self-explanatory. For it to work, and for such a multi-faceted project to hang together, a crucial balance between teasing, artistic mystery and accessible coherence is required; it’s a fine line between enticing people in and putting people off. The Cosmonaut film itself is a little confusing, taking fluidity and freedom of interpretation close to the limit, which makes it rather necessary to view The Hummingbird first and even then it’s far from clear. Without compromising the underlying theme of mystery and conspiracy, the film could have done with a little more coherence. Yet if we are to fully embrace the example that The Cosmonaut is setting, the film is no longer the necessary starting point, nor the culminating point, and the very nature of what a film is is challenged.
While the prospect of transmedia may seem overwhelming at this stage, the chance it offers for involvement in the creative process of film is exciting; it is so different from the conventional stand-alone film that it almost suggests a new art form. We probably won’t be giving up on the traditional version any time soon, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more projects like The Cosmonaut, albeit with a little tweaking.
Related articles at Brit Es Magazine:
The Cosmonaut Website: https://streamingmoviesright.com/es/pelicula/el-cosmonauta/
Sin Fin Cinema Website: www.sinfincinema.com